The Josephson Fundraising Powerhouse
You may have read the lurid headlines: ‘Man jumps off bridge and survives’, and paused for a second to contemplate how lucky you are. But I’ve met the man behind those headlines, and Michael Josephson’s story is a powerful one.
It’s the true story of a small boy who overcame adverse circumstances to become a multi-millionaire, honoured by Her Majesty the Queen, in 2016, with an MBE.
“I remember thinking during the ceremony that my mother would have been proud,” Michael admits. “It all started with a long affiliation with Childline and the NSPCC. As Chairman of the North West Childline Ball committee in Manchester, along with my team I undertook extensive fundraising for those good causes.
“The 2017 annual Childline Ball – attended by Dame Esther Rantzen, a range of celebrities and many of Manchester’s leading companies – was held at the Hilton Hotel in Manchester, and raised £210,000 on that one night. I’d been awarded the title of Divisional Vice-President of NSPCC and been given the Childline Patron Award by HRH The Countess of Wessex. But when I was awarded the MBE, for raising over £3.4 million over the previous ten years, it was a huge honour to be given it in person by Her Majesty the Queen, for services to charity.”
Michael’s own childhood was an unhappy one, as he was constantly bullied at school. His memories are obviously painful and he took some time to open up. “I can’t remember anything before the age of five. Although my parents were married, my mother brought me up on her own, and loved and protected me. I was devastated when she died of a heart attack when I was only ten years old.
“I suffered a catalogue of abusive behaviour in and out of care until I decided to go back to school. When I was 16, I enrolled myself at college and, at 18, took a BTEC in Business Studies and Finance. I seemed to have a natural aptitude and went to work in imports and exports. I was earning a living – and had recognised my sexuality – but still suffered bouts of severe depression, which I covered with drink and drugs.”
In his early 20s, on 27th December 1998, Michael decided he’d had enough and didn’t want to be here. “It was the first year I hadn’t put flowers on my mother’s grave and I was consumed with grief and depression. In the early hours, I walked to the bridge on the A34 at Handforth and sat down with my legs between the railings. Within a short time the police arrived with an ambulance and, for three hours, tried to talk me down. By then I was very tired and didn’t really want to jump any more. But I felt I’d dug my own grave and had no other option. I thought that, if I changed my mind, I’d be arrested for wasting police time and that they may even put me in a psychiatric hospital. I remember no more, and pushed myself off the bridge.
“Unbelievably, I landed on my feet, shattering nearly every bone in my body. I broke both ankles, broke my back in four places, broke my legs in three places and shattered my wrist. Doctors told me I fell 60 feet and should have been dead. I’d fallen forward on my head last – so luckily I had no brain damage, as the rest of my body had taken the impact from the fall. But I was paralysed and they didn’t know whether I’d ever walk again. I had multiple operations and procedures, for many months in Macclesfield Hospital, with more to come. During that time, however, I sorted myself out, mentally. I put all the bad stuff to the back of my mind to focus on getting well, being a success and making my mum proud. I decided that the bullies were not going to win.“
Michael returned to work with renewed energy and the business flourished. “Eventually in 2015 I split from my business partner to be in charge of my own destiny, and formed Stocks 2015 Ltd. Its current £3 million annual turnover will soon be £5-8 million. I love the buzz of doing business deals, even when we are on holiday – much to the annoyance of my partner, Lindon, who has taught me to love and trust again. We’ve been together now for over ten years and were married five years ago at the Alderley Edge Hotel, with our honeymoon in the Maldives. We are in the process of building our own house in Alderley Park with PH Homes – but I don’t want to tell you too much about that as it will sound like bragging,” he modestly admits.
As Michael’s success continued, he decided to help others. “I became involved with Childline and the NSPCC at a charity ball. Although I’d been too frightened to take advantage of the help they offered when I was young, I wanted to help others to seek them out, to save them the pain and grief I had experienced. Previously I’d never spoken publicly about the hell I went through, but I now wanted to encourage others to ask for help.“
Michael became close friends with Childline’s founder, Dame Esther Rantzen, who told his story at the Childline Ball using the assumed name of Andrew. She then asked if he had the courage to stand up.
“There were people at my table already crying as she read out what had happened, not realising that it was me. I don’t know where the courage came from – but for the first time I stood up in public. I could not speak as I was shaking so much, but I was proud that I had the strength to acknowledge what I’d been through. The response was phenomenal that night, with a standing ovation. Afterwards, so many people contacted me: it was heart-warming.”
Since then, Michael has talked to a chosen few in the media about his life, but now feels he can well and truly put the past behind him. He has taken himself off the pain-killing medication he was given for his injuries and regularly goes to a good physio instead.
“As far as the business is concerned, we have been very busy working with the likes of B&M Bargains, Poundstretcher, TK Maxx, Poundland and Home Bargains. Recently I’ve changed the business to move into the higher niche end. We buy high-end brands: anything from L’Oreal to Revlon cosmetics, designer sunglasses and watches, Bulgari Chopard and Hermes, and we recently did a very big deal selling Porsche-branded footwear.”
Michael decided last year that, after 15 years of supporting Childline, he wanted to be able to help other charities and reach out to more children – so he started his own charity ball which, each year will support different charities. All 450 places at the Michael Josephson MBE Summer Ball on 30th June at the Hilton Hotel sold out, raising an amazing £256,900.
Michael has become Vice Chairman of ‘Patrons of Variety’, and launched ‘Patrons of the North’ (www.variety.org.uk), where businesses and business people can pledge contributions for three years, to support the charity and its ethos. He continues, ”I also became a Trustee of ‘The Silverline’ – a confidential helpline providing information, friendship and advice to older people (www.thesilverline.org.uk). I am an Ambassador of the ‘Seashell Trust’ in Handforth (www.seashelltrust.org.uk) and a supporter of the ‘Frost Foundation’ (www.frostfoundation.co.uk).”
Michael hopes to see the charities go from strength to strength through the dedication and hard work of volunteers all over the country. ”Next year our big charity ball will be on Saturday 29th June 2019, again at the Hilton Manchester. Last time we had Lulu perform a 40-minute concert with her five-piece band, but you’ll have to wait and see who it is next year. Our tickets are nearly sold out already, so don’t leave it too late to get one [contact firstname.lastname@example.org],” he smiles.
“I’m a survivor and, no matter how low you are, my advice is: don’t give up on your dreams. I now have everything to live for. I’ve got a partner, I’m happy and I’ve learnt to love and be loved. You can’t hide in the past and you shouldn’t look back – you need to look forward into the future, at how you can help yourself and other people.
“I’m a great believer in giving back. It doesn’t matter if it’s a pound or £100 – giving something means something. If you’ve been through trauma and heartache you know how much it means to help. It’s not just about money. I’ve tried to mentor other people, too. You don’t have to have money to dream. Nothing is impossible. If I can go to bed feeling I’ve helped just one person, I find I sleep much better and it puts a smile on my face. Hopefully, now, my mum would be proud of me.”