Helen Walker: The power of a patron

This Carers Week (10-16 June 2024), Helen Walker, CEO of Carers UK, shares her insight into the power of a patron, as exemplified by Carers UK charity patrons, Johnnie and Tiggy Walker.


I am sure most charity chief executives will tell you that patrons/ambassadors/celebrity supporters can be a blessing and a curse in equal measure – often having more requirements than their appearance or contribution of time or press coverage is worth. But this Carers Week I can honestly say that our co-patrons, Johnnie and Tiggy Walker gave the most extraordinary gift to Carers UK that it is possible to give. I wanted to share it with colleagues in the sector as perhaps the most exemplar of acts of generosity from a patron simply because of its profound and raw emotion.

Johnnie Walker, veteran Radio Two DJ and his wife Tiggy have been patrons of Carers UK since 2015. They both have cared for one another over the years and both are passionate about the cause, they’ve walked the Great Wall of China, they’ve attended events, read poems at poem-a-thons for us and Johnnie always shouted out Carers Week and Carers Rights Day on his show.

But Johnnie is dying, he has a terminal illness, Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, and they chose this Carers Week to go public. Not because he wanted people to know he was dependent on an oxygen machine, or an electric wheelchair, not because he wanted his listeners to know that he is too weak to come to London and record his show but instead records it from home so he can take a break for oxygen. It was because they both wanted to share that Tiggy was caring for him again to raise the profile of caring for Carers Week.

And so it was on day one of Carers Week I caught up with Tiggy outside the BBC just as moral support as she prepared to talk candidly on the Jeremy Vine Show on Radio Two with Johnnie calling in down the line. I listened live outside the studio to one of the most moving interviews I have ever heard. They had also recorded a podcast and Tiggy had written about it in her regular Dorset magazine column. All given as gifts to us to raise the profile of carers and the huge amount of care they provide to our society (£162bn worth of care a year – in essence a second NHS). You can read more here and find the links to the article, podcast and Jeremy Vine show.

“It was a big decision to come out with the news that Johnnie is unwell and that Tiggy is in a challenging caring role again, but in our roles as joint Patrons of Carers UK it seemed to be the one thing we could do right now to help the cause.” - Johnnie and Tiggy Walker

It seemed the one thing we could do right now to help the cause! A supremely selfless act shunning their own privacy for the greater good of carers. We are lucky to have them as our patrons and I was honoured to be with Tiggy as she shared such personal and tough news. Caring is hard, it’s often thrown at us unexpectedly and harshly, in fact 12,000 people a day become carers. I know that this 20 minutes of radio will have made a huge difference and I am beyond grateful to Tiggy and Johnnie for supporting our charity and all of those we represent.

Helen Walker is the chief execuitve of Carers UK

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