27/06/2011 – Actress Emma Samms, best known for her role as Fallon Colby in the long-running Dynasty, has won a nationwide award recognising her inspirational charity work. The ‘Clarins Most Dynamisante Woman of the Year Award 2011’ was presented to Emma in recognition of Starlight Children’s Foundation, the wish-granting charity she founded 25 years ago. Today, in addition to granting the once-in-a-lifetime wishes of seriously and terminally ill children, the charity also provides entertainment in hospitals and hospices throughout the UK.
Emma’s charity work is rooted poignantly in personal experience: the loss of her eight-year-old brother Jamie when she was nine, through aplastic anaemia. Emma has a crystal-clear memory of visiting Jamie in hospital with her siblings. “I really loved my brother and I hated seeing him in pain. He was incredibly brave.” Within less than four months, Jamie had died. “I had a sense that Jamie wasn’t hurting anymore, but I could see everyone else in pain, and I had a strong desire to make things better.”
In every other way it was a comfortable childhood but Emma grew up pretty fast. “By the time I started acting at 18 it was my third career. I’d been at the Royal Ballet School until an injury put paid to dancing, then I went to college and did a pre-paramedical course at 17 but was lured away for modeling, becoming the face of Kanebo cosmetics and working a lot in Japan.” During that time she was offered the lead in a Pinewood blockbuster called Arabian Adventure with Oliver Tobias, Christopher Lee and Mickey Rooney.
The day after the premiere, Arabian Adventure was shown to the children at Great Ormond Street Hospital and Emma went to visit the children. “When I got home, one of the nurses called and asked if I’d come back after one little boy called Sean’s next operation, because my visit had perked him up. I ended up becoming friends with his family and discovered that Sean’s dearest wish was to go to Disneyland.” The operation to remove Sean’s tumour wasn’t completely successful and sadly his family knew he didn’t have much time left.
By now Emma was living in Hollywood in an apartment the size of a shoebox and working as a waitress while waiting for her big break. But out of her Kanebo earnings she paid for Sean and his mother to fly out to Los Angeles and stay with her cousin. “I went to Disneyland with them and was able to watch them have the most fantastic time.” And so Starlight was born, taking its name from the rhyme ‘Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might…’
The fundraising became easier once Emma’s career took off with the role of Fallon Carrington Colby in Dynasty. “The fact that people knew my name made it easier to cold-call to raise funds or organise wishes,” says Emma. “But heaven help anyone who’s sitting next to me on a plane for a few hours because by the time they get off, I’ve roped them in somehow.”
She’s a natural problem solver, knowing just who to pick up the phone to. “We had one boy who wanted to meet an astronaut. Well, bizarrely, I know an astronaut through my brother.” Other wishes are more challenging: for instance getting the Queen to eat a cake that a little girl wanted to bake her. “The Queen wrote a very nice note to say how much she enjoyed it.” For one nine-year-old diagnosed with a brain tumour, Starlight built ‘Jack’s Little Cinema’ in a caravan at the end of his garden. And there are puppies, ponies, you name it – though Disneyland is still the number one wish.
Today Starlight has a team of 24 working in an office above Paddington Station and it does far more than grant wishes to children with serious or terminal illnesses. Half a million children who are in hospitals and hospices each year get to play the latest games or watch movies on robot shaped Starlight Fun Centres which are now on children’s wards up and down the country. Starlight also provides paediatric nurses with Starlight Distraction Boxes, a toolkit which contains small toys and games designed to provide just enough distraction to enable medical teams to put in a chemotherapy line or take a blood test without distressing the child.
The search to find the UK ‘Clarins Most Dynamisante Woman of the Year 2011’ was launched in January in association with YOU magazine. The response was overwhelming. From hundreds of entrants, seven exceptional finalists were selected for an in-depth panel interview. After much deliberation the judges decided that one woman stood out: Emma Samms.
And the reward? A difference-making cheque for £30,000 for the charity, presented to Emma by Olivier Courtin-Clarins, Clarins Managing Director, at a lunch in London in her honour.
So how will the money be spent? The Clarins Most Dynamisante Award will fund a further ten mobile Starlight Fun Centres to be placed in children’s hospital and hospice wards across the country.
While Emma is the embodiment of the ‘dynamisante’ woman – driven, compassionate, resourceful – she’s modest with it, keen that full credit now goes to the charity’s team. “I feel hugely honoured to have won this award on behalf of Starlight – but I feel that Starlight has been far kinder to me than I have to it. Above all I’m just pleased that something good was able to come out of what happened to my brother.”
To interview Emma or for further information contact:
Clarins Press Office on 020 7307 6790 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact: Henny Breakwell
Tel: 020 7262 2881 #231
Starlight grants a once-in-a-lifetime wish for seriously and terminally ill children, restoring the magic and fun of childhood and giving the whole family happy memories to share, whatever the future holds.
Starlight also creates entertainment in every hospital and hospice throughout the UK. Sick children go to Starlight parties, laugh their way through pantomimes, go out on Starlight Escapes, play games and watch films on the Starlight Fun Centre, and enjoy the toys and puzzles of the Starlight Distraction Box. Happy children respond better to treatment and Starlight helps children to forget about their illness and simply have a bit of fun.
You can make a donation online or by calling us on 020 7262 2881. For every £1 you donate, Starlight can assure you that 91p goes towards helping very ill children. To refer a child for a wish, simply complete our wish referral form.