Those where the words Steve Keeble used on the phone to me way back in January 2021 when he asked me to help publicise the film After 82 which he had directed and co-produced with partner and filmmaker, Ben Lord.
There has never been a memorial for those we lost to AIDS in London, yet cities and towns across the UK have had theirs for years. Yet strangely, the epicentre of the pandemic that wiped out almost a generation still waits for theirs.
The London Lighthouse, now home to the Museum of Brands in Notting Hill, London, had been a sanctuary for those who found themselves HIV positive, had been diagnosed with AIDS or simply needed somewhere to go for help and support where they had felt abandoned. Private money was put into the building of the site and it finally opened it's doors in 1986 offering "an innovative model of residential and day care for men, women and children living with HIV and AIDS and provided a refuge and respite to people marginalised and abandoned because of their diagnosis," until its sale in 2015.
Now, the garden of remembrance is the only thing that's left to show the mark of this beacon of light for AIDS and HIV sufferers of that time. A small plaque which had been moved due to weather damage still can be seen on a wall there, but that's all. Hardly the fitting tribute to the many people who not only died there and whos ashes in the garden remain, but to the people who made the Lighthouse work and the dedication they gave to those in their care for almost 20 years.
For me, it was all a learning curve. I didn't know a great deal about the Lighthouse, only through my time on the Ambulance Service. I hadn't been aware of people dying there, let alone how many yet it is through my association with Keeble and Lord and those who have come to be new friends over the last few months, that I have began to truly understand how important the Lighthouse was, and still is.
It was called the 'gay plague' by both the press and the large swathes of society who shunned those who were either infected with HIV, gay or both. We've had pandemics since o course, one we are still coming out of the other side from now, yet back then, there was no information open to the public on how to stay safe and guard against themselves. No internet, no social media, nothing. Only the endless homophobic slurs that the newspapers were offering. For a long time after the first cases in the UK, it was still thought that you could catch HIV from just being in the same room as someone who was infected.
Imagine having Covid-19 and being thrown out of your home by your family because of it and you were dying? Perhaps with only a few weeks to live?
The the AIDS crisis, young men, who were tested (some were frightened to get tested, others thought that AIDS wouldn't really affect them) were cast aside by families and friends who were ill informed. Homophobia was rife, but this was the 80s, still a decade I see as 'recent years.' The media were at the front of stirring up public fear and moral panic. AIDS had gripped the nation, silently and behind closed doors.
Yet it wasn't until Princess Diana and that moment she held the hand of a AIDS sufferer that the mood changed. The world woke up and progress was really made.
We were grateful for someone to break the damaging cycle of shame, persecution and prejudice.
Ten years after the first HIV infections where coming to light, I join the Ambulance Service as an ambulance driver. Although there had been progression, to a point, in care and acceptance of AIDS and those who were HIV positive, (by then, through a number of routes and not just same sex relationships) people were still dying of AIDS.
I remember meeting many AIDS patients through my work, yet where in the 21st Century many HIV patients pop only one pill each day, in those days, patients were being discharged with great big carrier bags of drugs and regimes of daily pills and potions. Times have changed, yet even as a young service person, I was being surrounded by people, mostly men, some the same age as me, looking frail, elderly and close to death, like prisoners of war.
Fast forward thirty years, I am working as a Publicist in the entertainment industry and had recently worked with the Middletons and Kensington Palace. I had always been drawn to social projects, supporting community groups who helped and supported the vulnerable in their towns and cities, yet when filmmakers Steve Keeble and Ben Lord called me that day, I jumped at the chance of working with them. I was so drawn to supporting their film, After 82, that I wavered my fee without question.
The film is an important moment in history and one which I urge everyone and anyone who wants to learn about AIDS and HIV to watch. Yet it is the work through Project Lighthouse which is really making a difference.
So, it is, with great pleasure that we see today, the launch of the first ever UK National AIDS Memorial, which, as big and as global as we expect it to be, still is only being managed by myself, Steve and Ben.
So, what can you expect to see happen? Well, on the first weekend in July 2022, we want to see a new memorial in the garden of remembrance which will require a revamp to bring the garden back to its beautiful and tranquil self. Romany Mark Bruce is kindly donating his skills and expertise to see this memorial take shape. We think it will be along the same lines as the one in Brighton, but with a few new angles.
Next will be a concert, something that I myself, have run away with. I am in the process of gathering as many stars and icons from the 80s as I possibly can. I am thrilled on a daily basis to see how many people we actually have. Details to follow but we expect it to be a showcase fit for the world to see and enjoy.
For more fundraising, we are considering a celebrity auction of a different kind. A gala of amazing and unique lots up for grabs to the highest bidder. One, we hope will comprise of a La tee shirt signed by the cast of Its A Sin! La!
Between now and July 2022 for the unveiling, there will be more events and activities - as many as we can cram in, into the time we have. So stay tuned, and thank you for your support. Steve was right, this is long overdue. 40 Years in fact.
Now is the right time to come together, to celebrate our lives and give thanks to those we have by our side due to medical advancement but also to remember those we lost to AIDS. All the sons, brothers and friends in those early years and also to all the men, women and children we have lost since. We have come a long way since 1981. Let's come together and look forward to the future with greater strength and enthusiasm.
PRESS RELEASE for the National AIDS Memorial
It’s a Sin star, Neil Ashton and The Jam and The Style Council frontman Paul Weller, are joining a growing cast of celebrities and pop stars to support the building of the first ever National AIDS memorial in London.
The memorial is to be built in the garden of remembrance at the old London Lighthouse, which is now home to the Museum of Brands, Notting Hill. The Lighthouse has been chosen for the memorial, as it was a place of sanctuary for HIV/AIDS sufferers at the time, many of whose ashes are scattered there.
The 3 strong ‘Project Lighthouse’ management team are made up of After 82 filmmakers Steve Keeble, Ben Lord and publicist, Michelle Hatcher who conceived the idea when it was decided that a new memorial in the museum garden was desperately needed. Since then, the three have set about gathering around them as many figures from stage, screen, and politics to help them. One of which is It’s a Sin star, Neil Ashton who played Grizzle in the hit Channel 4 series, by Russell T Davies aired earlier this year.
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The memorial will consist of a monument erected in the garden by Brighton AIDS memorial sculptor, Romany Mark Bruce, with an exhibition in the Museum educating the thousands of visitors to the museum on the important part the building played during the AIDS pandemic in the UK. The team are asking music artists and performers from the 80s era to step forward in the hope of staging a benefit concert around the time of the unveiling which has been earmarked for the first weekend in July 2022. It will also mark the 40th anniversary of the death of Terence Higgins.
The project named ‘Project Lighthouse’ will go live on the 7th of April 2021 along with a donation page which can be found HERE.
With thanks to...
As a tiny team of three, we have been fortunate to be supported first by Lord Cashman, Lord Chris Smith of Finsbury and Lord Fowler, of course, played a key role in the 'Don't Die Of Ignorance' campaign of 1986, and we thank all three for jumping on board with us so readily. We could not have done this without you. We thank Chris Griffin, CEO of the Museum of Brands (the old London Lighthouse) who has been a rock from the word go in getting Project Lighthouse off the ground.
Thank you to LGBTQ Inclusion and general force of nature, Shaun Dellenty for your support and being on the end of a Zoom when I needed you!
We also say thank you to the very hardworking and beautifully created Kat Anklesaria, from Creative Quirks for our social media templates and branding.
I would also like to say thank you the very helpful Lisa Davies from Lisa Davies Promotions who has been hugely supportive in helping us get some fabulous big names from 1980s music and in particular, Carol Decker from T'Pau, who for me, filled a teenage dream so thank you Lisa and Carol!
Thank you to those who support us and who have sent kind words of love and best wishes, and this includes the very beautiful Joanna Lumley OBE and Mr Stephen Fry and the very lovely Jo Crocker. Thank you.
Thank you very much for the ongoing professional support from Angela Spence, the CEO of the Kensington and Chelsea Social Council and also to Victoria Stewart Todd from the Kensington and Chelsea Foundation.
And lastly to our friends and family, you know who you are. We could not have done this without you, and especially Steve Keeble and Ben Lord who have become my family. Thank you Steve for phoning me. You have both changed my life.
ABOUT THE PEOPLE BEHIND PROJECT LIGHTHOUSE AND THE NATIONAL AIDS MEMORIAL
About 82 Films Limited and After 82
82 Films Limited founders Steve Keeble and Ben Lord jointly directed and produced their powerful AIDS documentary, After 82 in 2019. It was the first documentary of its kind focusing on the real-life stories and interviews of those who lived through the HIV/AIDS pandemic during the early years of the 1980s, narrated by Dominic West.
Both former actors from EastEnders and Holby City, they have given talks on their work featuring After 82 across the UK including at The Reading Rooms in Soho, The Actors Church Covent Garden, The Wellcome Trust and The Houses of Parliament. They live in London.
About Michelle Hatcher
Michelle Hatcher has worked in high profile PR and Communications since joining the Surrey 2012 Team for the London Olympics in 2011. A former UK broadcast journalist since 2006, she has worked as a talent scout and a publicist since 2004 and started her own PR agency in 2013.