The QT

Thursday 20 June 2024

No dire straits for North East charity

Brave Hearts of the North East prepare for extraordinary windfall after Mark Knopfler auction raises millions more than estimated
  • The Dire Straits frontman is patron of the North East children’s charity
  • Brave Hearts’ expected £150,000 share of auction proceeds looks more like £700,000 following the historic sale
  • Charity was set up in 1989 in honour of 11-year-old Joanne Gillespie
Scenes from the sale room at Christie’s. Credit: Christie’s Images Ltd 2024

For anyone running a charity, an unexpected windfall might sound like the kind of problem you dream of.

“It’s a nice problem to have,” admits Jim Knight, one of the handful of trustees of Brave Hearts of the North East.

“We’re all a bit shellshocked by the amount… but in a nice way.”

The charity was one of those chosen by Mark Knopfler, frontman of the band Dire Straits, to benefit from the sale of his guitar and amplifier collection by Christie’s, the auctioneers.

This promise of ‘money for nothing’ — to echo a Dire Straits hit — had prompted an extraordinary general meeting of the Brave Hearts trustees a couple of weeks before the auction, reveals Jim.

Mark Knopfler is patron of Brave Hearts of the North East

Up for discussion was the question of what to do with a sum of money they had been advised could reach £150,000.

Maybe another meeting is in order.

With the sale realising more than £8m, way surpassing the expectations of Christie’s valuers and Knopfler himself, and with 25% promised to three charities, it appears Brave Hearts could receive around £700,000.

“We normally raise about £30,000 a year to spent on two ceremonies and I know from talking to other trustees that we’ve never had a chunk of money like that in our account,” says Jim.

“I wouldn’t want to be giving you an exact figure because we don’t know what we’re going to get — but it could be around £700,000 plus the extra £50,000 Christie’s have agreed to throw in.

“We’re not really geared up for that. Brave Hearts is quite a small charity and it’s all volunteers.

Mark Knopfler playing at the biennial Sunday for Sammy fundraiser in 2010

“On the plus side, and it’s a really big plus, every penny we make goes to kids and their families, so while this sounds like wonderful news for the charity, it’s really wonderful news for some of the most deserving kids in the North East and Cumbria.

“It’s not a windfall for us. We’re just a conduit for the money.”

Brave Hearts is an inspiring example of the ripple effect of goodness.

It was set up in 1989 by members of Hexham Round Table who were inspired by the courage of 11-year-old Joanne Gillespie.

She captured the hearts of the nation after undergoing repeated surgery to combat a recurring brain tumour.

Her uplifting diary was published under the title Brave Heart — after which the charity was named — and she was interviewed on television by Terry Wogan.

In the audience when Joanne received a national Children of Courage award was Robin Alexander, of Hexham Round Table, who decided to establish regular recognition in the North East for children with similar stories.

A fund-raising dinner in Newcastle raised enough to send 22 children to Disney World while others received gifts. Dire Straits performed at the event and Mark Knopfler has been the charity’s patron ever since.

Excellent scenes from the sale room at Christie’s. Credit: Christie’s Images Ltd 2024

Jim Knight, a former BBC and Tyne Tees reporter who now teaches journalism at Newcastle University, interviewed Joanne, from Middlesbrough, about her book.

“She was amazing, a real child of courage,” he recalls.

He was asked to become a trustee of the charity 20 years ago and has met many more brave children since.

Brave Hearts organises two annual ceremonies to reward children with a Brave Hearts award and a special gift worth up to about £500.

We normally raise about £30,000 a year to spent on two ceremonies and I know from talking to other trustees that we’ve never had a chunk of money like that in our account

Jim Knight, trustee at charity Brave Hearts

Often the children are nominated by hospital staff but also sometimes by relatives.

“Brave Heart awards are given for showing inspiration and courage in the face of adversity,” says Jim. “Honestly, if you read some of the nominations we get, you’d weep, because some of these kids have been through hell.”

Jim says discussions at the meeting before the sale had included the possibility of organising short holidays for future Brave Heart winners and their families, and certainly for rewarding more children.

But firm decisions won’t be made until the full implications of the Knopfler windfall become clear.

Jim says the musician, a generally quiet and retiring chap, has helped the charity before. A few years ago some £10,000 was raised from the sale of six watches from another of his collections.

Robin Alexander, who now lives in Scotland, is still a Brave Hearts trustee and wasn’t in London for the guitar auction, but two of the other trustees were.

A packed sale room watched the total rack up at Christie’s. Credit: Christie’s Images Ltd 2024

Jim says there was great excitement on the day as they passed on news from the saleroom where lot after lot smashed its catalogue estimate.

The next Brave Hearts ceremony is scheduled for April at St James’ Park. It should be quite an event.

And to put its good fortune in perspective, the two other charities to benefit from 25% of the sale are the British Red Cross and conservation charity The Tusk Trust, both with multi-million-pound annual turnovers.

Brave Hearts’ total income during the pandemic year, when the Great North Run didn’t happen and other fund-raising activities were curtailed, only just crept above £500.


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