For around 175 years, the fate of the famous ‘Fourth Plinth’ in London’s Trafalgar Square has been hotly debated with a wide range of innovative installations and contemporary creations taking their place on the vacant podium.
Many will remember (although many of CRY’s current supporters and stakeholders may be unaware) that just over a decade ago, CRY became a part of this fascinating story of cultural clashes and artistic argument when the acclaimed British sculptor, Sir Anthony Gormley, invited members of the public to apply to spend one hour standing on the Plinth and using it as a platform for a powerful message.
Over the course of 100 consecutive days, running from July 6 to October 14, 2009, a total of 2,400 members of the public were selected to take part in the “One and Other” project. They were allowed to do anything they wished to and could take anything with them, so long as they could carry it, unaided.
So, every hour, 24 hours a day, for those 100 special days, a different person had the opportunity to make the Plinth their own. And one of those asked to take to the so-called “living monument” was Sian Thomas (now Regan) from South Wales, in memory of her younger brother, Gareth.
Sian (who was 26 at the time and originally from the Welsh town of Llantrisant) had become involved with CRY following the sudden and tragic death of Gareth, aged just 21, in February 2007.
Gareth (who studied law and international politics) died in his sleep from a previously undiagnosed heart condition (long QT Syndrome) and, at the time, was sharing a house in Cardiff with two former school friends, having graduated from Aberystwyth University. A fit, active and apparently healthy young man, Gareth’s sudden death devastated his family and local community.
Following his death, Sian was screened and identified as suffering from the same condition. But, undeterred, she pledged to devote her spare time to raising funds for CRY as well as highlighting awareness of young sudden cardiac death, often through her media interviews on behalf of the charity (in both Welsh and English). Sian has since attended many events, both within her local community and, notably, at a high-profile meeting held at the National Assembly for Wales alongside her parents, Anne and Trefor, in May 2012. She also trained as one of CRY’s bereavement supporters and contributed to CRY’s grief booklet for bereaved siblings.
As part of Sian’s awareness activity for CRY, it was therefore an incredible honour when she was invited to use her ‘hour’ on the Plinth to reinforce the sobering statistics about the numbers of young people who were needlessly dying from previously undiagnosed heart conditions.
Following the project guidelines, on 28 September at 11am, Sian ascended to the Plinth carrying a large placard, simply stating “12 fit and healthy young people die every week from an undiagnosed heart condition. My brother was one of them. Think about it. www.testmyheart.org.uk“.
The #12aweek message – which CRY supporters know so well today – had only been unveiled at an event in Westminster 11 months beforehand in October 2008. Prior to the release of the new statistics, it had been widely believed that the stat stood at 8, tragic deaths a week.
Speaking at the time, Sian said; “The concept of the Fourth Plinth has become truly iconic and I feel privileged to have been offered a place and to have been given an opportunity to pay tribute to my brother in such a public way.
“There was really no doubt in my mind as to what I would ‘do’ during my hour and I hope passers-by will take the time to stop and think about my message. Screening is available through CRY and many of these tragic deaths could be prevented if young people or their parents were aware that a simple test could identify ‘a ticking timebomb’ before it is too late.”
For safety reasons, the Plinth was surrounded by a net, and a team of six stewards were present 24 hours a day to make sure that, for instance, participants were not harmed by hecklers. There was a live feed of the Plinth on the Internet sponsored by TV channel Sky Arts. And, during CRY’s ‘60 minutes of fame’, CRY Founder and then Chief Executive Alison Cox MBE was joined by a number of supporters, VIPs and MPs who wished to watch the unique experience and encourage Sian’s efforts.
Many of those who awarded one of the limited and prestigious places chose to raise awareness of a special cause or charity and to use the Plinth as an exclusive ‘soap box’. Whilst some participants opted to do something loud or outrageous, ‘weird and wonderful’, others, like Sian, simply stood quietly and let their important message do the talking for them.
Alison Cox said; “We were very proud when Sian told us of her plans to stand on the Fourth Plinth as part of her ongoing awareness activity for CRY. Sian took part in a truly historic and memorable event, helping reinforce our important message to a worldwide audience, via the internet and the many thousands of people and tourists who stopped and looked.
“Whilst Sian bravely held a banner, displaying the fact that 12 young people die every week of sudden cardiac death in the UK, it was sobering for all to remember that experts believed the figure could be just the tip of the iceberg. Back then, as we do now, we wanted to do everything we could to raise awareness of the importance of cardiac testing in young people. 80% of the apparently fit and healthy young people, like Gareth, who die from young sudden cardiac death will have had no previous symptoms. 11 years on, promoting our screening programme continues to save lives.”
Alison adds; “On a personal level, a memory that really added to the majesty of the occasion was the way Sian, a tiny little figure compared with her overawing surroundings, was slowly and majestically raised up onto the towering plinth by the automatic lift. I remember having to hold my breath in anxiety as she looked so very small, as she was slowly lifted up, and I was so fearful that somehow she would be lost or dropped – or even suddenly panic. But, of course, she didn’t. She was calm and composed and totally committed to the cause.”
The story of the Fourth Plinth continues to this day, with the 13th incredible installation project due to have been unveiled to the world’s media earlier this year… just days after lockdown was announced. For the time being, it remains under wraps, waiting to be revealed, but, thanks to Sian, CRY will always be a part of the intriguing and colourful history of London’s “Fourth Plinth”!