Yesterday, as Cancer Research UK and Channel Four announced the launch of Stand Up to Cancer, I felt a new era had dawned for televised fundraising in the UK. This unique partnership between the world's largest charity dedicated to cancer research and the UK's most innovative and creatively daring channel feels set to change the paradigm of televised charity fundraising forever.
To have TV, music and film stars coming together in October in a new national fundraising event, will give a fresh dimension to the nation's fight against cancer. With Channel 4 giving its all, including its own big names like Alan Carr, Dr. Christian and Davina McCall over a week of programming, and the promise of an original evening of live fundraising at its climax, this can only be considered big, brave and transformative.
Stand Up to Cancer started in America in 2008 with a simultaneous commercial-free telecast across multiple US networks. It set the standard in harnessing the support of the entertainment industry for cancer, transforming cancer research by raising more than £100 million to date stateside. Gywneth Paltrow has been a longtime supporter and is co-executive producing this year's US programme on 7 September. I am heartened to see her back the UK show and I ask the best of British and international talent to follow her lead.
However much the media might compare Stand Up to Cancer to Red Nose Day, they are chalk and cheese to me, not least as they fundraise for very different issues - and I firmly believe there is ample room for both. In fact, despite our economic woes, the launch of Stand Up to Cancer in the UK couldn't be better timed. Never has the need to raise money for cancer treatments been greater. Every two minutes someone is diagnosed with cancer in the UK and the odds of getting cancer at some point in our life are one in three. But the good news is a cancer diagnosis no longer needs to mean a death sentence; survival rates have doubled since 1970 thanks to the ground-breaking work being carried out by scientists.
With new technologies such as genome mapping and the increasing ability to personalise treatment, we are entering a golden age of research. Cancer scientists are on the cusp of several major breakthroughs, and trials of better treatments for many forms of cancer are being accelerated across the UK. But with half of all cancer research being funded by charities, public donations are more important than ever.
For a disease that doesn't discriminate, the universal and democratic medium of TV seems somehow appropriate to me as a means of raising money across our country. The ability of TV to touch hearts and minds in a way that no other means of mass communication quite manages, will make this campaign all the stronger.
I think no-one knew this more than Laura Ziskin, a great American film producer (executive producer of Pretty Woman, the Spider-Man trilogy and more), who co-founded Stand Up to Cancer in the United States. After being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004, Laura decided to leverage her commercial and creative success at the toughest time in her life and used it to benefit everyone affected by the disease. So, in 2008, together with eight other influential women in the entertainment industry who had been touched by cancer, she founded Stand Up to Cancer.
I first came across Laura before Stand Up to Cancer US's 2008 launch and I thought then that there would be potential in the UK for a similar TV format. So when I was contacted by Cancer Research UK in 2010 to advise on how to get their UK televised fundraising off the ground, I knew I had to help make it happen. Since then, my company, Skating Panda, has been working with Cancer Research UK on creating Stand Up to Cancer UK.
Now, in the hands of one of British television's foremost experts, Malcolm Gerrie, and his team at Whizz Kid Entertainment, and the ambitious commissioners at Channel 4 - a special thanks to David Abraham and Jay Hunt - Stand Up to Cancer is reaching British shores. This marks an incredible moment for cancer research and televised fundraising.
Sadly, Laura lost her battle to cancer in June 2011, but may we in the UK do her and her legacy very proud. Shows like Stand Up to Cancer really prove that transforming television can transform the world.