Claire Black: Inspired by hero Stephen Sutton

‘I DON’T see the point in measuring life in time any more,” said Stephen Sutton.

Stephen Sutton gives his supporters the thumbs-up from his bed. Picture: PA
Stephen Sutton gives his supporters the thumbs-up from his bed. Picture: PA

“I would rather measure it in terms of what I actually achieve. I’d rather measure it in terms of making a difference, which I think is a much more valid and pragmatic measure.” Since his death on Wednesday, at the age of 19, how I have reeled at the enormity of what he did achieve, but also at just how little time he had.

Sutton was diagnosed with metastatic bowel cancer in September 2010. He was just 15. Two years later his cancer, having spread to his pelvis, was deemed incurable. A straight-A student – that’s not just a turn of phrase, Sutton got A* and A grades in all of his GCSEs and A-Levels – he had wanted to be a doctor and had been interviewed at Cambridge to study medicine. After his diagnosis he withdrew his application and turned his attention to his next ambition – a 46-point bucket list.

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His ambitions ran the gamut from skydiving (he did a tandem jump), getting a tattoo (a troll under his left arm), hugging an animal bigger than himself (an elephant as it turned out), playing the drums in front of a huge crowd (at Wembley before the Champions League final) to throwing a massive party for all his friends. His number one aim, though, was to raise £10,000 for the Teenage Cancer Trust (TCT). It didn’t take him long to do that. He was irresistible – optimistic in the face of a terrible illness, committed to living as best as he could no matter how foreshortened his life.

He could have stopped at that. Instead he upped his target – to a million quid. He was well on his way when, last month, his health took a turn for the worst. He experienced breathing difficulties and was hospitalised. He sent out what he thought would be his final selfie – the pose was familiar, he was smiling with both his thumbs up. But by this time Sutton’s story was out there, his Justgiving page was tweeted by everyone from Jason Manford to Benedict Cumberbatch and the money rolled in. A million was raised while Stephen was still in his hospital bed. Say what you want about hashtag activism or clicktivism, but this is a story of what a tremendous force for good social media can be.

Stephen did get out of hospital, but just 10 days later he was taken back in. He died in the early hours of Wednesday morning. As I write, the total he raised is £3,774,809.15, which means that by the time Gift Aid is added, the TCT will receive more than £4 million. It’s a stupendous sum and it will be put to good use. Seven young people are diagnosed with cancer every day in the UK.

Announcing Stephen’s death, his mother wrote that her heart “is bursting with pride but breaking with pain for my courageous, selfless, inspirational son”, and that the “ongoing support and outpouring of love for Stephen will help greatly at this difficult time, in the same way as it helped Stephen throughout his journey”.

So I’m taking my chance to add my voice. Stephen Sutton: what an extraordinary and truly inspirational young man.

Let’s beard the Russian bear

THE parlous situation regarding LGBT rights in Russia is no laughing matter. But when I read that upon witnessing the triumph of the bearded wonder that is Conchita Wurst at last weekend’s Eurovision Song Contest, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, head of Russia’s Liberal Democratic Party, said, “There’s no limit to our outrage. It’s the end of Europe,” I confess I giggled.

Plainly it isn’t only drag queens who have a penchant for hyperbole. Not to be outdone, Vitaly Milonov, the St Petersburg-based legislator behind much of the recent raft of homophobic propaganda laws in the country, said: “The participation of the obvious transvestite and hermaphrodite Conchita Wurst on the same stage as Russian singers on live television is blatant propaganda of homosexuality and spiritual decay.” My giggles had gone by the time I got to this splutter of complaint, I could only muster an eye roll. But things have got worse. The celebratory Conchita Wurst March of Bearded Women and Men which was due to take place in Moscow on 27 May has been banned. Authorities have cited the risk of violence and the need to “respect morality”. Organisers are to appeal but it doesn’t look hopeful – in 2012, Moscow city government enacted a 100-year ban on gay pride marches. So I’m waving a rainbow flag of solidarity and proposing that on 27 May we might all wear a beard. Who’s in?

Fast food for thought

LAST week America’s Mexican fast food chain, Chipotle, started what we can only hope will become a trend. They are printing original short stories by major writers on their food packaging, so rather than smearing salsa on your smartphone you can just read your cup. Featured authors include Toni Morrison, Malcolm Gladwell and Jonathan Safran Foer. In fact, it was Safran Foer who came up with the idea. Having been caught short of reading material he emailed the CEO suggesting they try providing something for book-less diners. And so it came to pass. We are a nation of fast food lovers – imagine the potential. Irvine Welsh wrapped around a chipsteak supper; Ian Rankin round your fish and chips. Come on food purveyors of Scotland – we can do this. «