A homage to Peter Gilchrist (5.9.42 – 27.5.15) – guiding light and Stranger Collective’s founding father.
I haven’t had much time to Feed lately. Yes, work’s been busy. It always is. But we always try to claw back time to Feed. No, something infinitely greater, infinitely more important, infinitely more earth-shattering and heartbreaking and life-changing and still-can’t-actually-believe-it has filled my world.
My dear old dad died one month ago today.
An intensely personal experience, of course. And yet I feel compelled to talk about him in my professional space too. Because he was… [Oh hell, I still can’t get over using the past tense to talk about him…] He was such an incredible inspiration. He influenced my whole outlook, my approach to life, my work, my values, my ambition, my everything.
In fact if it hadn’t been for him, I wouldn’t be living in Cornwall and there wouldn’t be a Stranger Collective.
A Croydon lad with a fascination for physics and an obsession for understanding exactly how everything worked, he’d jacked in a promising career at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell in the 1960s to go and work in the business his dad, Ernie, had set up from scratch in 1948 (with scarcely two pennies to rub together). Together they made it a great success, building it up from selling a small range of adhesive products to being the first in the UK to distribute 3M products (think Post-It notes – now a key ingredient for every brainstorm across the land – and Scotch Tape… Sellotape was always a dirty word in our house as kids).
But in 1989, at the age of 47, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease – the first of several cancers that plagued him for the rest of his life. He sold the business, packed up his entire life into a stainless steel trailer (ferrying loads up and down the A303 for the next five years) and moved to Cornwall (via a trip to Patagonia and Antarctica). He spent the next 26 years sailing, cycling, hiking, motorbiking and being grateful for every day he still trod this earth (“I’m on borrowed time, so I have to make the most of it,” he’d say). He never complained about his health. He just made sure he enjoyed his life.
“I’m so glad I got cancer in 1989,” he told us just a couple of days before he died. “Otherwise I’d have kept ploughing on with the business into that big recession; would never have moved to Cornwall.” That sums him up to a tee. He always saw the bright side of everything. Believe it or not, his cancer changed his life – and all of ours – for the better. “Every problem is an opportunity,” he’d always remind me. When they asked us his religion the day after he died, all we could think of was: Optimism.
He taught me that anything’s possible, if you want it enough. That you make your own luck – both through the decisions you make, the risks you take and the way you respond to everything life throws at you.
He taught me that anything’s possible, if you want it enough. That you make your own luck – both through the decisions you make, the risks you take and the way you respond to everything life throws at you. So after a few years as a journalist in London, I had the crazy idea of moving back to Cornwall to set up Stranger magazine. I wrote ideas (on Post-Its, of course) and business plans and funding applications and content lists and advertising packs and features and photography briefs. I met Clare – now my business partner. And then I met Nick – now my husband – a talented illustrator and musician who walked into the Stranger magazine office with his portfolio one day.
Dad was a huge emotional and practical support throughout – helping me in the darkest days of independent publishing by lending me some money, but insisting I paid back every penny (with his own rate of interest, but one that was lower than the bank’s overdraft I’d already maxed out) so I knew the value of money, never took anything for granted and developed my business acumen.
The magazine grew into the agency which eventually evolved into the Stranger Collective that Clare and I are so proud of today. And every time I stand on the beach after work and gaze out to sea and think about how lucky I am to live here and have a job that I love, I salute you, Dad. The ultimate inspiration.
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Talking dinosaurs, half-naked Finns, radical ideas and paradigm shifts – Helen Gilchrist joined Contagious' Planet Matters event for insights and inspiration on how the advertising and marketing industry can, is, and should be responding to the biggest challenge of our time. Read on for 5 thinking points to give your own campaigns head-turning, planet-saving impact that can boost brand affinity at the same time.