TV star on the tragic loss of her baby daugh­ter

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - © Evening Stan­dard

When Sarah Parish wants to get things done, she says she “puts on a bit of Anna Ramp­ton”. Parish played the fic­tional BBC head of out­put in mock­u­men­tary W1A. Now she and her hus­band, fel­low ac­tor James Mur­ray, have chan­nelled Ramp­ton’s brac­ing ef­fi­ciency in real life, rais­ing £5.1m for a new pae­di­atric A&E de­part­ment at Univer­sity Hos­pi­tal Southamp­ton.

On the phone from the hos­pi­tal, they talk an­i­mat­edly about how the sound­proof walls will give re­cov­er­ing chil­dren pri­vacy, and the in-house X-ray de­part­ment, mean­ing pa­tients don’t have to be dis­charged and moved to an­other wing for treat­ment. When it opens next spring, the de­part­ment will treat more than 30,000 young peo­ple ev­ery year.

Rais­ing the money was hard work; more chal­leng­ing than their day jobs act­ing, laughs Parish. She met Mur­ray when they both starred in BBC drama Cut­ting It in 2002. They’ve be­come fundrais­ers to build a legacy for their daugh­ter, Ella-Jayne, who died at eight months old on Jan­uary 3, 2009.

Ella-Jayne was born five weeks pre­ma­ture with a con­gen­i­tal heart de­fect and a hole in her heart. For four months, she was treated at the Pae­di­atric In­ten­sive Care Unit at Southamp­ton.

“Hav­ing been through that mael­strom of anx­i­ety, the worst pos­si­ble thing that could hap­pen to a par­ent, you just want to know your child is get­ting the best pos­si­ble shot at re­cov­ery and at life,” says Mur­ray. “When Ella-Jayne was in hos­pi­tal we were sur­rounded by the best staff but you have to make sure they have fa­cil­i­ties to match their ex­per­tise.”

Parish adds: “Every­body’s sit­u­a­tion is dif­fer­ent, but for me, hav­ing been in that des­per­ate sit­u­a­tion, it’s about re­lin­quish­ing con­trol. There is noth­ing you can do, you have to take it one minute at a time to stay as strong as you can for this child who needs you.”

Their char­ity, The Mur­ray Parish Trust, raised £2m for the de­part­ment and it has been matched by the Gov­ern­ment. A fur­ther £800,000 has been al­lo­cated by Univer­sity Hos­pi­tal Southamp­ton NHS Foun­da­tion Trust. “Some­one climbed the Mat­ter­horn to raise money for us,” says Parish. “It’s so lovely to see peo­ple pick­ing up the ball and run­ning with it.”

Parish ex­plains the im­por­tance of the 11 sound­proof cu­bi­cles. “They give in­jured chil­dren the dig­nity they de­serve — they just want to be with their par­ents and not over­heard. At the mo­ment there are just four cur­tained bays with beds in, so if some­one is in agony next to you, you can hear ex­actly what is go­ing on. It is trau­matic,” she says.

I in­ter­viewed the cou­ple in 2014, when they were char­ity novices. They had raised £400,000 for two new bed spa­ces and an ex­panded wing at Southamp­ton. They spoke about the ex­pe­ri­ence of hav­ing a baby, know­ing it was sup­posed to be a happy time, but find­ing them­selves, Parish said, “in the mid­dle of a hideous night­mare”. After Ella-Jayne died they went to Cam­bo­dia for two months to work in an or­phan­age. Parish said: “We had to get out be­cause there is noth­ing worse than be­ing sur­rounded by peo­ple ask­ing if you are al­right. You are not al­right but you don’t want to talk about it all the time. I re­mem­ber one per­son telling me to go and lie on a beach but I couldn’t think of any­thing worse.”

Ten months after Ella-Jayne died they had an­other daugh­ter, Nell. She is now eight and knows all about her sis­ter, says Mur­ray. “If the work is tak­ing us away from her we tell her it’s be­cause of Ella-Jayne and keep­ing her legacy alive.”

This project was in­spired by a cam­paign by the Evening Stan­dard news­pa­per. “We were at a ‘do’ for donors from our first fundrais­ing and go­ing ‘How are we go­ing to raise more money?’” says Mur­ray. “Then a clin­i­cian came in with a Stan­dard. She read that the Stan­dard had matched funds raised by Great Or­mond Street — wouldn’t it be bril­liant if we did the same and the Gov­ern­ment matched our funds?”

“Tak­ing it on was daunt­ing,” says Parish. “It put our lit­tle home­made char­ity on the map and made us feel much more re­spon­si­ble than be­fore.”

Their col­leagues have been sup­port­ive — the cast of Trol­lied came to their last Odd Ball fundraiser and Hugh Bon­neville, Olivia Col­man and Cather­ine Tate have given speeches for the char­ity.

Parish was the first to hear that they’d met their tar­get. “Jim was in an­other room when

You make strong con­nec­tions when go­ing through ter­ri­ble trauma

one of our trus­tees called and I was so ex­cited that in the next five min­utes I’d tell Jim.”

“It’s a cause peo­ple can re­late to,” Mur­ray con­tin­ues. “This could hap­pen to any­one at any time. Like any other young cou­ple it could have hap­pened to, we have suf­fered a tragedy and want to help oth­ers that might be in the same sit­u­a­tion — to help ad­vance pae­di­atric medicine. We are just two peo­ple try­ing to find some pos­i­tiv­ity out of it.”

Mur­ray talks about the chil­dren they’ve met cam­paign­ing. “There’s a boy who was knocked down by a car and be­cause it hap­pened to be on a day where the re­sources were stretched at the hos­pi­tal, he didn’t get the im­me­di­ate care he needed. So his prog­no­sis for be­ing able to walk again is foggy at best.

“If the fa­cil­i­ties had been on hand un­der one roof it would have been more favourable. Now we are able to look his par­ents in the eye and say what we’re do­ing will make a dif­fer­ence.”

The staff who looked after Ella-Jayne will work on the new ward. Parish says: “We met them at the most des­per­ate time of our life, you make these very strong con­nec­tions when go­ing through ter­ri­ble trauma, so I love that we still know them. They work crazy hours and are all ge­niuses, it’s lovely to help them when they helped us. The NHS is bril­liant but they des­per­ately need char­i­ties like us.”

Now it’s back to act­ing. Mur­ray is about to go to the Mid­dle East to play Ryan Reynolds’s brother in an ac­tion film and Parish has just re­turned from Rome, where she was play­ing Lu­crezia de’ Medici in TV se­ries The Medi­cis: “You feel quite a re­spon­si­bil­ity play­ing some­one who was alive.” She’s off to Man­ches­ter next month for ITV de­tec­tive show Ban­croft, adding that she misses Anna Ramp­ton and “would love for W1A to come back”. When they are work­ing in sep­a­rate places they try to Face Time ev­ery night, with Nell.

“Our proper jobs some­times do take se­cond place to the char­ity,” ad­mits Parish. “There are dead­lines with huge amounts of money at stake so I ac­cept that I’ll have to read scripts an­other day or just wing it. The char­ity is triple the work of act­ing. Go­ing to Rome to film was like a hol­i­day from the char­ity.” Mur­ray chips in: “You worry that your au­di­tion will suf­fer and you won’t get the job. Then you get a ma­jor donor and re­alise that’s why we do it. It’s about keep­ing our daugh­ter’s mem­ory alive.”

This is just the start. Parish says: “Hav­ing achieved this makes us want to build on the char­ity. There’s a slight gulp of an­tic­i­pa­tion think­ing about what’s next. This has snow­balled. We have a fan­tas­tic sup­port net­work whom we can’t let down.” They’ve been in­un­dated with ideas. “To have got this far is the stuff of dreams,” says Mur­ray. “If we can build this in two years, if we con­tinue on this tra­jec­tory with more projects, we can make a real dif­fer­ence. It’s be­come Ella-Jayne’s legacy rather than just some­thing Sarah and I are do­ing.”

AMAZ­ING EF­FORT: fundrais­ing cou­ple James Mur­ray and Sarah Parish and (right) Parish in the ITV de­tec­tive se­ries Ban­croft

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