Today’s Christmas song is ‘Don’t They Know It’s Christmas?’ This song was written in 1984 by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure in reaction to television reports of the 1983-1985 famine in Ethiopia. It was first recorded in a single day on 25 November 1984 by ‘Band-Aid’; a group of famous artists put together by Geldof and Ure and consisting mainly of the biggest British and Irish musical acts at the time.
The single was released in the United Kingdom on the 3rd December 1984 and aided by considerable publicity it entered the ‘UK Singles Chart’ at Number 1 and stayed there for five weeks, becoming the ‘Christmas Number One of 1984’. The record became the fastest-selling single in UK chart history, selling a million copies in the first week alone and passing three million sales on the last day of 1984. It held this title until 1997 when it was overtaken by Elton John’s ‘Candle in the Wind’ of 1997, released in tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales, following her death. The original version of ‘Do They Know It's Christmas? The song was also a major success around the world, reaching Number 1 in thirteen other countries outside the UK.
‘Do They Know It's Christmas?’ was re-recorded three times: in 1989, 2004 AND 2014. All the re-recordings were also charity records; the 1989 and 2004 versions also provided money for famine relief, while the 2014 version was used to raise funds for the Ebola crisis in West Africa. All three of these versions also reached Number 1 in the UK, with the 1989 and 2004 versions also becoming the Christmas Number 1s for their respective years. The 2004 version of the song was also a UK million-seller, with around two million records sold.
Whom among us could ever forget those iconic images of death and destruction that emerged from BBC Television Presenter Michal Buerk’s series of reports that highlighted the famine in Ethiopia in 1984. One would have had to be inhuman not to have been emotionally rocked by the images of hunger and death on our television screens. This image shall remain forever embedded in my mind’s eye as will the image of mass compassion across the world as the ‘Live Aid’ benefit concert’ of 13th July 1985 was simultaneously screened across the globe from the Wembly Stadium in London as well as John F. Kennedy in Philadelphia. On the same day concerts inspired by the initiative happened in other countries, such as the Soviet Union, Canada, Japan, Yugoslavia, Austria, Australia and West Germany. It was one of the largest-scale satellite link-ups and television broadcasts of all time; an estimated audience of 1.9 billion, across 150 nations, watched the live broadcast, nearly 40% of the world population.
This year, please don’t forget it is Christmas and especially, the true meaning and message of Christmas, ‘To love our God and our neighbour as ourselves’. Let 2020 be a year when we give the best of our talents to the world.
The four people to whom I jointly dedicate my Christmas song today essentially made it possible for me to get my books published and make them highly popular when I initially started as a children’s author way back in 1989/90.
I wanted to write books that dealt with situations and emotions that young children find extremely difficult to cope with in their lives, like separation, bereavement, loss, bullying, homelessness, racism, sexism and all manner of discrimination. Therefore, I needed to keep control of the content of my own material. I also wanted my books to raise money for charitable causes in perpetuity from their sales, so I had to become my own publisher for my own works at a time when such options were not available to budding new authors as they are today. For me to achieve the quality of books I wanted to sell in every Yorkshire School, I had to make them cheap enough to buy and also present them in the highest quality of format and illustrative presentation possible. I wanted high-quality books at a low cost.
In order to produce the highest quality of book at the cheapest possible price, that helped to inform, educate and entertain my child readers, of which every penny of profit from their sales would go to charitable causes in perpetuity, I needed a captured market for sales. So, I gave Yorkshire schoolteachers subjects that were considered highly appropriate to make their pupils aware of and which could be fruitfully used in ongoing class discussion. I also needed to sell the books to schools at a price they could afford during cash-strapped times, so I contained the profit on every book sold to £1 maximum (200,000 books sold within Yorkshire Schools between 1990-2002 that raised £200,000 profits for charity).
I also required to establish a system whereby the schools, after endorsing the quality and substance of my work, would be prepared to pre-order books one year before they were published and thereby make all my first publications sought by making them ‘limited-editions’. By making my books ‘exclusive’ to be sold in Yorkshire schools only, ‘and in limited editions’, I was able to create a demand for them that was greater than my supply of them. I could have sold ten times more copies of any book I wrote between 1990-2002 had I wanted to, but that would have eaten into my available time to publish many books of ‘limited edition’ upon the many many themes I wished to cover. It was never as important for me how many books I sold as how many important themes I could make children aware of and help them to cope better with.
By 2002 I had written and had published three/four dozen books. I co-opted over a hundred people in my locality to voluntarily help me to promote the ‘awareness events’ I put on weekly in conjunction with arranging for hundreds of national and international stars, celebrities, politicians and famous people to come into Yorkshire school assemblies and read my books to the assembled schoolchildren.
Between 1990-2002, over 800 famous national and international names read from my books in over 2000 Yorkshire school assemblies. Naturally, the daily presence in Yorkshire schools of famous film stars and famous names from royalty, stage, screen, theatre, sport, art who endorsed my work, provide me with £1 million of free publicity and over 2000 press articles about me and my work. The more well-known I became in Yorkshire as ‘a friend to the stars’ (as the Yorkshire Post once described me in an interview), the more popular I became, and the more demand was made for my work.
I knew that I had achieved what I wanted to in order to keep all the cogs in my elaborate machine of volunteers working when the late Princess Diana contacted me and requested I send her two books to read to her young sons at their bedtime, and then President Mandela phoned me up at my home to say that he’d read three of my African stories that he enjoyed. When the late Chief School Inspector of Ofsted, Chris Woodhead, (responsible for the educational standards for all British children, read a book of mine in a West Yorkshire school and then told the Guardian newspaper in an interview he gave them that my writing was ‘of high-quality literature’, I knew the standard to be good enough for the educational establishment.
None of the above would have been possible had I not had the ongoing support of hundreds of people who gave their time and resources free of charge. This included two printing works who did my books of high quality and all at nil profit.
Chief among these people who made it possible for these things to happen were West Yorkshire artists who believed in what I was doing that they illustrated my book covers and the inside of many books for the cost of their materials only. Getting a cover Illustration done to my satisfaction was not an easy task for them as I have the highest of standards. Mary Jackson, for instance, painted me illustrations for two books with the aid of a magnification glass when she was going blind during the last two years of her life that she devoted entirely to this work.
These four people made my work possible and the books I wrote and had published highly presentable. Whatever monies the books made in the past and will continue to make for charitable causes in the future (any book profit today is used to give free books away to schools, churches, and other organizations), they are as responsible for having achieved every bit as much as me.
The generosity of these ‘Four Musketeers’ in helping to produce my publications also enabled me to canvas for Lottery Funds in later years, with which I wrote, produced and supplied a musical play that can be downloaded from my website free of charge globally. I was also able to include on my extensive website www.fordefables.co.uk audiobooks of some of my more popular children’s stories for children to listen to. This enables blind people or anyone who cannot read to hear some of my stories professionally read (some stories read by famous names).
To my Four Musketeers, Dave Bradbury, Robert Nixon, Joel Stephen Breeze, and the late Mary Jackson, I gladly dedicate my Christmas song today. God bless you all and all your families to have such good people as yourselves in them. Thank you for all your past help for which I and over 200,000 Yorkshire children are eternally grateful, as well as every charitable cause that benefited from these publications. Thank you all for being an important part of my life.
Sheila and I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Love and peace Bill xxx