David and Hilda Eastwood started fundraising to find a cure for leukaemia after losing their daughter Susan to the disease in 1960. Since then, the Eastwoods’ vision has inspired millions of people to do a whole range of amazing things to raise both awareness of blood cancer and money to help beat it.
Famous faces lend their support
In the 1970s, comedy legends Morecambe and Wise were the face of an advertising campaign to raise more money for research. Then in 1982, we were the first charity to have a celebrity running team at the London Marathon, thanks to support from TV Times. The team initially entered as a one-off but the event was such a success that they’ve joined us every year since – and we’ve been delighted to cheer on stars including Christopher Ecclestone and Outlander star Sam Heughan, who became our Scotland President in 2016.
In 1997, former England Rugby Union captain Will Carling started the inaugural London Bikeathon, and by 2013 it was London's largest annual charity cycling event with 7,500 riders. Former England captain Gary Lineker, whose son George was successfully treated for leukaemia in the mid-1990s, became the official Bikeathon patron, and has contributed a huge amount to raising funds and awareness in the years since.
In 2003, while still working as Director of Communications for Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell took on the London Marathon in memory of close friend and colleague John Merritt, who died of leukaemia in 1992, and John’s daughter, Ellie, who also died of the disease six years later, aged nine.
The story hit the headlines and he’s since completed several marathons and triathlons – raising over £1 million – and become our Chairman of Fundraising. With his agent Ed Victor – a leukaemia survivor – he started a series of arts events attracting entertainers as varied as Mel Brooks, Stephen Fry, Billy Connolly, Michael Palin, Miranda Hart and Jo Brand.
Cricket legend Sir Ian Botham got involved with Bloodwise in 1977, after taking a wrong turn in a Taunton hospital during treatment for a broken foot and finding himself in the children’s ward where four small boys were playing cards. When he cheerily waved them goodbye, he told them he’d see them again in two weeks when he was back for his assessment, but he was shocked to be told by the nurse on the ward that they all had leukaemia and didn’t have long to live.
Sir Ian – also known by his nickname ‘Beefy’ – was so shaken by the experience that he embarked on a walk from John O’Groats to Land’s End in 1985. The walk took 35 days and raised more than £1 million. Back then, only 20% of children survived the most common form of childhood leukaemia; now more than 90% of children survive.
Since that first walk – with unwavering public support – he’s accepted numerous challenges and gone on to raise over £13 million. He became our first-ever President in 2003, and his incredible efforts to raise money earned him a special place in the nation’s heart and raised awareness of blood cancer on an unprecedented scale.
The Calendar Girls
When it comes to inspiring fundraisers, few have captured the world’s attention like a group of women from a rural village in Yorkshire. Like the Eastwoods, Angela Baker and her friends from the Rylstone and District Women's Institute turned the devastating loss of a loved one into an unstoppable force for change.
It was Angela’s friend Tricia who had originally had the idea for the friends to bare all for an alternative version of the WI calendar – with just traditional crafts protecting their modesty! It started out as a joke but when Angela’s husband, John, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 1998, the group decided it would be a great way to raise money for blood cancer research. Though John had known about the calendar and thought it was a great idea, he didn’t believe the girls would actually go through with it – and sadly didn’t live to see it become a reality. He died after just a few months of treatment, leaving the girls determined to go ahead in his memory.
The ‘Calendar Girls’ initially set out to raise enough for a new sofa for the hospital where John was treated and were amazed that the calendar caused quite a stir, attracting the attention of the world’s media. So far, they've raised nearly £5 million for Bloodwise, creating over seven calendars and their story has inspired a global hit film starring Helen Mirren and a West End musical written by Gary Barlow and Tim Firth. Angela now serves as one of our Honorary Presidents.
Ordinary people doing extraordinary things
For every famous face, there are thousands of other hidden heroes – like Edith Oakley, who at the age of 98 is our longest-serving volunteer. Edith and her husband Laurie began fundraising for a cure for leukaemia after the death of their son John in 1959 inspired them to set up the Radlett branch of Leukaemia Research (as we were then known). The branch has gone on to raise an incredible £236,000 towards blood cancer research.
Fundraising has also become a lifelong commitment for Nicole Harris, who started the Bromsgrove branch in 1988 when her son, Mark, was diagnosed with leukaemia. Nicole set up the very first Bromsgrove fun run, which took place six weeks after Mark’s death – and some of the same runners are still taking part today, nearly 30 years later. With incredible support from the local community, the branch has raised £1 million – but Nicole’s still going strong and continuing to work towards the day when no more parents have to face losing a child to blood cancer.
It’s thanks to the tireless dedication of an inspiring community of people, like Edith and Nicole, that we’ve grown from eight Branches in 1962 into a national organisation with six regional offices and over 100 local Fundraising Groups.