Earlier this month (November 2020), Sir Tom Hunter found himself inspired by the story of a former music teacher with dementia and the power of music in providing respite for people with the disease, leading to a £1million donation. Here, Enable speaks to Sir Tom about the donation, the power of positive news and his hopes for a treatment breakthrough in the future.
After his son, Nick, posted a video of his father to social media, people across the UK and further afield were left smiling. Having been given just four notes by his son, composer and former music teacher Paul Harvey improvised a song on the piano.
Paul was diagnosed with dementia late last year, but has continued to be able to play piano pieces from memory, as well as writing new ones. This random formulation from a few notes is one of his old party tricks.
The clip quickly went viral and caught the attention of the BBC who then organised for Paul to record it with the BBC Philharmonic orchestra as a single which has since been released.
Like many people, Sir Tom Hunter found the clip heart-warming when he saw it on BBC Breakfast.
“Marion, my wife, and myself were watching BBC Breakfast and saw the video come on about Paul and his son Nick and the four notes, it was such a moving story,” explains Sir Tom.
The power of music and the pair’s relationship resonated with Sir Tom, who then decided to make a donation to further their cause.
“The relationship between father and son and then what happened with the four notes and having this moving piece, and then the BBC orchestra coming – it was just a lovely story,” emphasises Sir Tom.
With his own personal connection to the illness, Sir Tom was motivated to help Paul and Nick in their fundraising efforts.
“Having lost both mum and dad to dementia some time ago, we hadn’t done anything in The Hunter Foundation about dementia because, to be honest, it was very sad and we had decided to concentrate on other things,” reveals Sir Tom.
“But I was brought back and thought that maybe through music there was some sort of respite for [people living with] dementia there, so that’s what happened and it’s as simple and straight as that.”
Sir Tom’s contribution to this worthy cause has not just brought joy to Paul and Nick, who decided to split the donation between the two charities they are supporting through the single, it also made Sir Tom himself happy.
“It was nice to be in a position to do that and they seem like a great father and son that’s for sure,” acknowledges Sir Tom. “When I spoke to Nick he said his dad was always a performer so he was loving being in the limelight and you can see his face light up when he’s on the telly, so it was really nice.”
As the coronavirus pandemic continues, Paul’s story helped to lift Sir Tom’s spirits. The importance of positive news stories is something he feels is a necessity during these times.
“I think during times like these of lockdown, or locked up as I like to call it, people are searching for some good news and I thought it was terrific that there is good news out there and while people are getting on with things, there are good things happening, you might just have to search a bit harder to find them,” expresses Sir Tom.
“When something good was happening, you could see the BBC made the most of it and it just really brightened up the nation I think.”
While he acknowledges that his donation won’t mean a cure for dementia is found, he hopes it will help in any small way to give people living with the illness a brief interval where they are transported back to better times.
“It’s, in the big scheme of things, just a very small donation actually to try and help a very large problem, and this is respite, it isn’t a cure,” urges Sir Tom.
“This is help for people who have the disease and are maybe getting some respite from it and using music along the way for that.”
Hope for the future
This donation will allow the two chosen charities to continue making a difference to the lives of people with dementia, and Sir Tom has hope that we will see more treatment options in the not too distant future.
“There’s some really good stuff going on,” Sir Tom continues. “Bill and Miranda Gates are doing ground-breaking stuff with the science and trying to prevent dementia, and we keep in touch with that.
“Is a cure really possible? Yeah, it definitely is, and someone like Bill and Miranda with their foundation and their resources and their focus, I think there will be some big breakthroughs coming in the future, but people have got to live with it until then and maybe music will be a bit of respite in the meantime.”