14 May A tribute to Tessa

The Benchmark Talent team were hugely saddened over the weekend to hear of the passing of Dame Tessa Jowell. Tessa was diagnosed with brain cancer in May last year and died peacefully at her family home in Warwickshire on Saturday evening.

Tributes have been pouring in from across the sport industry, which Tessa had such a profound impact on by playing a major role in securing the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games for London as culture secretary. More recently she was a Benchmark Talent client and we remember so fondly her ability to light up a room, her endless warmth for all those around her, and her desire to truly serve the pubic in any way she could.

Tessa entered parliament after a 25 year career in psychiatry, family therapy, public service reform and social policy analysis, culminating in a directorship at the mental health charity MIND. In her first government post as Public Health Minister she spearheaded the inauguration of the SureStart Children’s Centres, a service that is still highly praised and valued today. Ministerial positions for Women, Employment, Welfare to Work and Equal Opportunities followed, and later as Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, she oversaw the renegotiation of the BBC Charter in the new digital age, a review of media regulation, the foundation of OFCOM, and secured a decade of funding for the arts. It was the London Olympic Games that really bore all the hallmarks of Tessa’s ability to bring people together however. She is credited with securing crucial government backing for the bid, and throughout the whole delivery process, in government and in opposition, she built consensus, fostered team spirit and led with the emotional intelligence and passion that defined her.

After 23 years in parliament, Tessa stepped down as an MP in May 2015 and as well as entering the House of Lords was hugely enjoying a post as senior teaching fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health and a position as Professor in Practice for the Department of Government and Cities at LSE. In January, Tessa received a standing ovation in the House of Lords after delivery a moving speech on cancer care, appealing for patients to be able to trial new treatments. Prime Minister Theresa May has since confirmed the government would double investment for research into tackling the disease, to £40m. Charity Cancer Research UK has also said it is contributing £25m to the fund, known as the Dame Tessa Jowell Brain Cancer Research Mission.

“With Tessa’s passing over the weekend we have not just lost one of the most remarkable of politicians but one of the most powerful advocates for sport’s ability to change the world for the better and, more importantly, one of the most wonderful spirits that graced our world,” said Nick Keller, chairman, Sport Industry Group.

“Like so many others I feel a deep sense of loss. That was her impact – she had soul and warmth that I can still feel and her passion for our industry was well known. Her belief in sport for social change was unrestrained. She believed that it could change lives and used correctly create more positive outcomes for people and communities

“More telling was how she used her holiday time. Every year she would head to work in the field with Magic Bus – the brilliant NGO that uses sport to help disadvantaged children in India – not for a photo shoot opportunity, but simply her life’s dedication.

“We both lived in Highgate and I loved the fact that in 2012 the year of the Olympics, that she had effectively brought to the country, that I would find her on the 274 bus marking up piles of documents – running the country from the bus. No fuss, simply hardworking and humble to the core.”

Tessa was one of the kindest and yet most determined people we have worked with at Benchmark Talent. She would often donate her speaking fees to local charities in her old constituency, despite being constantly rushed off her feet and unable to take more on. She has been described as Mary Poppins with stilettos, and that is how we will remember her. Always utterly focused and busy, yet always thinking of others.