I'm the youngest of five, born and raised in Muswell Hill, and I had a very happy childhood. My father managed to flee Nazi-occupied Vienna in 1938 and arrived on these shores after travelling on one of the Kindertransport trains. School wasn't for me, not that I wasn't bright enough; I didn't have the passion for education or the aptitude to study. All I really wanted to do was leave school, do something creative, and deliver some social good. So I left school, fairly uneducated, without a qualification, and did a number of particularly menial jobs in the 80s. I was writing freelance, lots of satirical journalism for the likes of Viz and Private Eye because, even without my education and limited desire to study, I was given the gift of language. Sadly, none of my writing put food on the table, so in 1991, I formed my own agency, without a clue what it was going to do. I just knew creativity and social good, and over time, with a great collection of people, I managed to establish the leading agency in corporate social responsibility and cause marketing in the UK.
I’ve been with my beautiful wife Emma for almost 33 years. We had four children together: Jack, Joshua, Sam and Charlotte. Emma and I both came from big families and we’d always wanted the same for ourselves. I often liken the young Morgans to the von Trapps. Myself and Em would go out with Jack on a BuggyBoard, Joshua in the buggy, Sam and Charlotte in a double pram and, of course, we had dogs too – you could imagine what we looked like in the park. We had wanted five children, but after we had Sam and Charlotte, who were twins, we decided that was it. The shop was well and truly shut. Emma built me a shed at the end of the garden, and it was probably the best contraceptive in the world; putting your husband in the shed at the back of the garden.
Jack was mildly autistic, and a bit quirky. He used to kiss the hoover goodnight. We ascertained very early on that he had a high functioning brain, and was always inquisitive about how things worked. He had a great brain for science and maths, but he also loved music and dance. He was superbright; one of those children who could just look at a paper or a book the night before an exam and fly through it. He was also very entertaining and funny and very into his physical shape – what went into his body and his training. I remember being in the TV room one day – Emma had bought Jack a juicer – and I heard ‘Mum, how do I turn it on?’ I looked at her and mouthed ‘11 A stars at GCSE but he can't turn the bloody juicer on’, and that crystallised Jack. He was a magnet; other human beings were drawn towards him. He had this infectious smile, he would light up a room, and he had a penchant for the ladies.
I have lots of memories of him as a child taking things apart and putting them back together. When Jack was two or three, he’d been bought a Thomas the Tank Engine backpack from the Early Learning Centre, but he’d found lots of components around the house and turned it into a leaf blower. I remember coming home one summer’s evening and seeing him in the garden with his makeshift leaf blower, working the shrubs and grass. I also remember taking him to Currys and we couldn't leave until he'd kissed every hoover goodnight. He was kind, had great manners, and was also quite an aloof older brother. As far as Jack was concerned, Joshua was an idiot, Sam and Charlotte were young, and that sort of superiority complex stayed with him for quite a while until Joshua joined him at university.
Jack and I had the most phenomenal relationship from the day he was born to the day he left this world. We had similar interests and I saw a lot of me in him. I marvelled at his genius and I always wondered where it came from and how it was going to be channelled. He wasn't gifted great health; he had a form of colitis, veering on Crohn's, and he’d contracted salmonella later in life. He wasn't constantly ill, but he didn't enjoy the greatest of health. We all as a family have different blood clotting disorders, and he had one of those. We spent a lot of time together. We went to Arsenal together, and I spent a lot of time watching him play football.
In 2017, Jack was probably in the best shape he could have been physically and mentally. He went to Mexico with his then girlfriend, and when he came back, he told Emma he had a bit of a watery eye. The doctor told Jack he had blepharitis, an eczema of the eye. Jack thought that this was nonsense and asked if we could get him an appointment with a consultant. To his last few breaths, Jack always maintained that we know our body better than anyone, and he pretty much self-diagnosed that day. He told me that this was sinister. He had no medical training, but he was very well-read on any subject that he wanted to be well-read on.
Emma got him an appointment with a consultant and, a few meetings on, he was diagnosed with NUT midline carcinoma. ‘NUT’ is the genetic makeup, midline is where in your body that appears, and ‘carcinoma’ is a tumour. He had it in the right eye, between the eye socket and the bridge of his nose, and by the time he was diagnosed, which was 24th October 2017, it was already secondary. He almost immediately started at The Royal Marsden Hospital with intense chemotherapy, followed by intense radiotherapy.
Jack had always been very protective of us, me especially because he knows how emotionally sensitive I am. We walked up to the consulting room and he said, ‘Right, I'm going to go in and hear what the consultant has to say. I want you two to stay here, and then I'll come and get you.’ He knew that I wasn't going to be good with this information, and he didn't want me to break down. After what seemed like an eternity, but was only 10 minutes, he told us to come in. We weren't told that Jack needed to go home and get his affairs in order, we were told that he had a tumour and were going to be referred to see someone at the Marsden, and we were going to take it from there. My glass is always half-full, so in my mind Jack was going to be fine.
I remember turning to Emma at the time, and I said, ‘Let's not forget we've got three other children, and whatever happens from here on in, I never want them to say that while Jack was ill, you disowned us. Let's just be mindful of that.’ And we stayed true to that through the entire journey. Even when he was ill, we never ever lost sight of our other three children. We've spoken about it since, and I'm glad that I had the presence of mind to set that in stone from day one. Both Emma and I have always been able to compartmentalise and that's exactly what we had to do in this situation.
In February 2018, Jack was declared cancer clear and we went away as a family to the Canary Islands. Jack was bald, pale and thin, but we had a great holiday. He spent the next few months building himself back up to look better than he ever had. He was a really focused, disciplined human being, and if Jack was going to do something, he did it, and nothing would stop him. He didn't like to use the word ‘brave’. He didn't like to use the word ‘fight’, but it was a fight.
After that, he went on a bit of a voyage of discovery; he went to Hong Kong, Australia, and even jumped out of planes. He lived his best life. He went back to university in September, studying Engineering Mathematics at Bristol because he was considering a career in AI. At Christmas, he came home and, after a session in the gym, complained that he had a pain in his right shoulder, upper back. I was convinced it was just from weights, but it wasn't. It had come back with real vengeance in both lungs. I was not in denial, but I was thinking ‘you've beaten it once, you're going to beat it again’. But it came back with much bigger boxing gloves this time. And so the chemo started. I try not to go there, but every so often, I take myself to a place where I relive every single hospital visit Emma and I did with Jack. I think Emma and I sort of blocked that out, because unless you've walked in those shoes, you have no capacity to understand what that was like for us, and neither would I want anyone to understand it or wish it on them. It was beyond intense. I was running a business, I wanted to be a father to my kids – the best father, I could still be – and I wanted to be the best husband I could be to Emma. We both had clear and defined roles in how we were going to manage Jack and our lives, but in our heart of hearts we knew where this was ending. Jack never once wanted the conversation, so I only ever spoke about next week, next month, next year, where he was going to live when he moved out of home, what he was going to do and how many women he was going to sleep with, because that was very high on his agenda. We always talked positively about the future, never about what he and we were all going through. And whatever we were going through was a microcosm of what he was going through because it wasn't happening to us.
For two years I was pretty much out of my business, and my team did a brilliant job of keeping it alive, but then I started writing a sitcom with my dear friend Ricky. We started it before Jack was diagnosed. Once he was diagnosed, we really got stuck into it, and it was really cathartic. Ricky and I have always had the ability to make each other laugh because we share a sense of humour. It helped me get through some very dark moments, because I could fixate on something that took me outside of my lived life. It's really silly, and it's really funny. I think of Jack, whenever I'm talking about it or making a few tweaks or amends to it because it reminds me of a time that was obviously very special for the wrong reasons.
Jack passed away in August 2019 at home with all of us around him. The last week was very difficult. If we rewind to June that year, I remember sitting with his consultant and clinical nurse. I remember the consultant looking at Jack and telling him that there was no more they could do for him. I'd already started talking to clinicians around the country to try and find a clinical trial, but what Jack had affected less than 100 humans on the planet. It's very difficult for the drug companies to put money into a clinical trial, which is in the hundreds of millions, if not billions, for a drug that not many people need. So I'd hit a bit of a brick wall. I must have made about 500 phone calls and emails, and eventually I found a clinical trial in Belgium for his diagnosis. Now, if truth be known, Jack was probably too ill to even go on it, but the clinicians want patients for their trial, so we spent a good six weeks going to and from Belgium. They were six of the best weeks I could spend with him, albeit he was in a lot of pain. He was terminally ill and he looked like he had come out of a concentration camp, he was that thin and that weak, but there were moments. Everything has a crack in it, that's how the light gets in – and the light got in during those six weeks. We'd get on the Eurostar and book into the same hotel each time. It was arduous and painful for him and people would look at him like they knew, which went through me. But we'd arrive at the hotel, get into this big double bed together, and watch World’s Strongest Man on Belgian TV, and we loved it. Men who could pull buses and juggle concrete balls who had no necks – it just gave us so much pleasure during what was a really tough time.
In the Jewish religion, even though I'm not an observant Jew, when someone you love passes, we bury within 24 hours, which is probably not a bad thing because your head isn't there and it's all a bit of a blur. I know that in other faiths there's a period of mourning, and there's time to wait, and perhaps that can cause maybe anxiety, but we didn't have the pain of waiting for that service. Then we have seven days of mourning where people come and pay their respects, called shiva. It was slightly unorthodox for a shiva house, because normally it's quite dark and depressing, but this was summertime and the weather was beautiful. We've got a garden and it was a bit like a party because Jack, Josh, Sammy and Charlotte's friends were all there. The windows were open, the light was in the house, and although it was something I was dreading, it turned out to be something I loved. Our house was filled with a lot of love, a lot of youth, a lot of sunshine, and people staying at our house late into the evening talking about Jack. It was a celebration of Jack's life, and I will never stop celebrating Jack's life.
When Jack was at university, the cancer returned; he wasn't able to sit his degree in three years, so he did it in two. He actually completed his degree while he was undergoing more chemo, which is a testament to his strength and resilience. The university gave him an award for ardour, and they've subsequently renamed it the Jack Morgan Award for Ardour, which is given every year to an exceptional student at Bristol University. In years to come when we've all left, somebody may want to look up who Jack Morgan was and why this award was named after him.
Jack started a blog on Instagram, when he was first diagnosed, which evolved into the most phenomenal tool, and at its peak he had 30,000 people around the world following his journey. He started to use the internet as a force for good because it was never about Jack; he wanted to inspire and educate people. He wanted to communicate with others in his place. People who had never met Jack got in touch to say how his journey had changed their lives for the better; whether they were ill, whether they had life challenges, whether they were single parents, whatever it was. It was quite phenomenal that he left such an indelible mark on people around the world from all different backgrounds, races, religions, ages; a real legacy.
It'll be three years in August since Jack passed. There's been a lot podcasting in his name because I feel that I need to carry on his message now he's not here to deliver it. Lauren Mahon, who's part of the GIRLvsCANCER troupe, became very friendly with Jack, and she's become a very dear friend of mine. She created a day called Be More Jack, and we went on BBC Breakfast to talk about what you can do to make a difference to your life or other people's lives. It could be as simple as checking up on a neighbour that you've never seen, or going to do something you've always wanted to do. We can all be a little more Jack, but don't get me wrong, he wasn't a saint. There were times when he was very ill, and there were times when he was very difficult.
Last night I was having dinner with Sam and Charlotte and they said that growing up they had a very happy childhood and they couldn't have wished for better parents. You can give your kids the tools to become the people that you would like them to be, but there's no saying that they will. We got on to talking about Jack, and we talk about Jack a lot. He's not the elephant in the room. There are photos of him everywhere, and talking about him is when I'm at my happiest. As a parent, your greatest achievement may not be what you do, but who you raise. And I feel that our greatest achievement was rais-ing Jack and our other three children.
When Jack passed and the days that followed, what did you do to get through it?
Although I am not at all religious and I don't believe in God, I have become spiritual. I do believe in energy, and I believe we can plug in and out of that energy. The moment he passed, I believed, and I will always believe, that Jack went to another place. There was comfort in me believing and there was comfort in knowing that Jack was now not in pain. He was in a place where I couldn't talk to him, and I couldn't see him or touch him, but knowing that when I leave this place, I will be reunited with him gives me comfort. And I've got nothing to support that belief, but that’s the essence of faith.
What would you say to a father whose child’s just been diagnosed?
I talk about kicking the can down the road; and you’re hoping that while that can’s being kicked there’ll be a development in science for the condition your child has. So, while there’s a nano-percent of hope, keep believing. Keep the faith. I’m not saying the faith is going to keep the inevitable from happening, but life is a strange old thing and you never know.
How do we find Jack’s Instagram?
You can visit Jack’s account @itsme_jmo and, if you wish, go back to the very start, from day one up to present day. I wouldn’t say it’s a fun account, but there are some fun moments in it. From an education perspective there’s a lot to learn, and you’ll get a real feel for who Jack is.