SIR JACKIE STEWART
Sir Jackie Stewart is a three-time Formula 1 world champion. In 2016 he founded Race Against Dementia – a global charity to fund ambitious, innovative and breakthrough research into dementia – after his wife, Lady Helen, was diagnosed with the illness.
How did Race Against Dementia begin?
Helen, my wife of 54 years, was diagnosed nearly three years ago as having the early stages of dementia, which was obviously a shock to the whole family. The sad report was that there was nothing to cure it or to prevent it and that was a big knock back. It’s not a nice thing, seeing the degradation of someone you love, and the realisation that currently there’s no corrective medicine in the world – and worse still, no preventative medicine – was a big awakening for me. So I decided to do something about it.
The name ‘Race Against Dementia’ came about because of the importance of speed. We need to find a way to prevent and cure dementia, and I wanted to fight both of those elements.
How have you invested in the organisation so far?
I’ve put £1m in to get it started. And for every interview I do I ask them to donate or I won’t do it. It doesn’t matter how much it is – it might be £1000 or just £100, but that’s £100 we didn’t have before.
So many people are damaged by dementia and Alzheimer’s. I’m very fortunate – because I was a world champion racing driver I can afford for Helen to have three people looking after her at home. The cost of that is considerable, and I’m aware that most people can’t afford to do that and are facing further hardship on top of being diagnosed with dementia. It’s a very serious situation because statistics suggest that of the people born in the next five years, one in three will get dementia, and around 45 million people around the world already have it. It is a global epidemic. We’ve got to help, but it’s going to take millions in funding to do it. I want to raise as much money from institutions and individuals as I can.
What are you hoping to achieve through Race Against Dementia?
We want to fuel and enable the most ambitious, innovative and breakthrough dementia research, which means we need to connect the best research talent from around the world. My dream is to find and fund a dynamic team of young people who want to break new ground.
I’m extremely dyslexic, I can’t think like the clever folk, so I’ve got to think outside the box. All the successful people in this world have challenged the traditional way of doings things, and turned them around. We need to think about a new culture of speed and pioneering technology in the medical profession and pharmaceutical industry in a way that’s akin to what we have in Formula 1. In the 10 days between the Brazilian Grand Prix and the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, for example, there will be a minimum of six or seven major changes on the front-running cars. That’s because the environment is extraordinarily fast-paced and change is part and parcel of everyday culture.
It’s also about having the right people. In Formula 1, you’ve got to have the best mechanics. I won the world championship three times, because I had reliability. My mechanics were better at what they did than I was at what I did, and above anything else they were saving my life every weekend. The trust I had in them was complete. One was a New Zealander, two were Englishmen – it doesn’t matter where they come from in the world, you’ve got to get the best. The same is true when you’re talking about medicine. I’m looking for the best, young researchers from around the world, who have got a future ahead of them. That’s where I think we have a chance of getting things done.
My biggest focus, unfortunately, is going to be on preventive rather than corrective medicine, because in my life I probably don’t have time to do both. I’d love to have a cure for Helen, but there seems to be nothing even close to that at the moment. So then we have to look at prevention and I think that can be done. Nothing is impossible. As Lennon said, “there are no problems, only solutions".
Has your Formula 1 career influenced your philanthropy in other ways?
I’ve always been associated with some form of philanthropy throughout my career – in different arenas and for different reasons. You pick up a lot of things along the way. You learn a lot about grief and about challenge and how to get things done.
From 1971 I was involved in the Scottish International Educational Trust with Sean Connery, and in 1987 I also started the Grand Prix Mechanics Charitable Trust to help mechanics in times of hardship. I’m stepping away from both those organisations now as I think it’s time for me to move on and let a younger team of people come on board.
Another good example is Dyslexia Scotland, which is now one of the leaders in the world in dealing with dyslexia. We’ve got all the teacher training colleges in Scotland to have a compulsory agenda so that every teacher who graduates has the skills to recognise a child with learning difficulties early on. I’ve also been President of Springfield Youth Club in London since 1965, and it is doing very well.
Is the whole family involved in your philanthropy?
We’re fortunately a very close family – our sons Paul and Mark, their wives and our nine grandchildren. They’re all very loving towards their grandmother, which really does help her, it lifts her spirits handsomely. They are not involved in the fundraising at the moment as I wanted them to be able to focus on Helen, but they do want to be involved and contribute. It will be a family affair.
But first of all, I have to form the organisation internationally and that takes a lot of time to do properly. We’ve registered as a non-profit in the US and anywhere I go in the world – Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia – I am telling the story. We have the help and support of amazing trustees: Sir Martin Sorrell who’s the biggest man in advertising in the world, Edsel Ford II in America, Jean-Marc Huët who was the CFO of Unilever, Dame Vivien Duffield, and David Mayhew CBE who is the UK Prime Minister's Dementia Envoy.
What advice would you give to those who are thinking about embarking on their own philanthropy journey?
Give! Don’t just wait for your own family to be hit by something. Give as much as you can afford, as much as you can – it will help any number of people. Philanthropy is a very important part of all our lives and I encourage anyone to give who has even the smallest opportunity to do so.
It seems that it is not easy to motivate people to support work on old age. I was on the board of Save the Children for years. It’s a fantastic organisation and it raises a huge amount of money, as do many other charities, but when it comes to dementia we just seem to think it is part of the ageing process. All the people who are growing old have been successful in their lives in one way or another – not to do with money but in being important to their families, being good citizens – then suddenly they get hit with a disease like this. Who is going to help them? Our biggest challenge is to find treatments that will give these people a better quality of life. That costs money. The Race Against Dementia is on!