Thursday 28 March 2013, 11:25 | By

The journey to Creative Skills For Life

CSL Insights

Creative Skills For Life has been conceived by marketer and brand partnerships expert Ian Spero, and is the latest in of series of social ventures he has led in recent years which have brought together brands, media, digital platforms and the creative community in support of healthcare and education initiatives.


In this, an article that originally appeared in Bupa Health News, Ian shares the story of the personal experiences that motivated the creation of RockCouture®, the charitable project that inspired the development of Creative Skills For Life.

A life worth living
Life is a journey; mine was kick-started and subsequently inspired by my mother, Phyllis Bush, a remarkable lady who loved life and lived it to the full.

A few years ago, when one of her neighbours was diagnosed with cancer, my mother — a very keen gardener — completely re-landscaped her garden while she was in hospital.

I asked Mum why she’d invested so much time, and indeed money, doing this work for somebody she hardly knew. She said she simply hoped that when her neighbour looked out of her window in the morning, she would feel a little better about life and the day to come.

Ironically, not too long after, at the beginning of 2006, my mother was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a rare cancer that’s generally thought to be incurable. Her doctors estimated her life expectancy to be around six to 12 months.

Choice of paths
Obviously, this came as a huge shock to the family, and we were naturally concerned about the cost implications. Fortunately, we had no need to worry, because Mum was fully insured with Bupa and following local analysis, she was referred to one of the top myeloma specialists in the country, who offered a choice of ‘paths’.

One option was the most advanced treatment available at that time; the other was the ‘cocktail’ path, meaning that as new drugs came onto the market they would be made available under the guidance of her doctors. Mum decided to follow the cocktail option, and in hindsight it was absolutely the right decision. She lived her life to the full for another five wonderful years.

Thanks to Bupa, my mother had access to the very best medical care without any restriction. They were fast to act and helpful throughout her treatment, which was one less thing for all of us to worry about. But it takes more than that to become a ‘survivor’: it’s all about state of mind because, according to my mother’s cancer specialist, Doctor Narat, cancer patients with a positive outlook generally outlive their peers.

Critically, Mum was committed to living with cancer; she simply refused to accept that she was dying of cancer. And it was this brave, sunny disposition that not only prolonged but enabled her to make the most of the rest of her life.

Personal milestones
Mum never complained and was reluctant to even talk about her health, but she did take a hands-on interest in her body and her medical treatment, and was at times able to advise her doctors as to which particular drugs worked most efficiently. In parallel, she established personal milestones to work towards.

These ranged from caravan trips with my father and their dogs, numerous family days out at National Trust gardens, a Mediterranean birthday cruise on the Queen Mary 2 and, most important of all, soaking up the love as guest of honour at my sister’s wedding.

Of course, when you are living with a terminal disease the whole family is affected. We all pulled together, but my father bore the brunt of my mother’s disability. She was determined to stay at home for as long as possible, so he learned how to become a full-time carer. At times it was incredibly tough, but he did what he had to do with a huge smile, which meant Mum spent relatively little time in hospital, and avoided the local hospice altogether — which is the way we all wanted it to be.

Mum’s condition had a profound impact on me. Her first love was singing — she was a critically acclaimed soloist and ran a successful touring choir — so music seemed the right place to start. I knew I wanted to help cancer charities, and had the idea of inviting some of the biggest names in fashion, music, art and design to imagine an electric guitar as a blank canvas.

Thanks to the efforts of my partner Anne-Marie, whose father was also living with cancer, we were able to entice the likes of Bono, Jennifer Lopez, Philippe Starck, Ronnie Wood and many more.

Raising the roof!
The RockCouture® Collection, as we called it, became the inspiration for an award-winning exhibition, which was a big hit in Paris and at the National Museum of Ireland, before taking up residence at Harrods. Thirty RockCouture guitars were subsequently auctioned to support the construction of a new cancer caring centre in London, and other important charitable causes, including Cancer Research UK. If you’d like to see images of the guitars, go to

RockCouture is dedicated to my mum, who passed away peacefully a few weeks ago, but not before achieving another of her milestones: visiting our guitar exhibition at Harrods as an honoured guest of one of the store’s directors. The smile on her face was truly something to behold, and one thing’s for sure – my mother was definitely born to rock!