Jim is an esteemed actor with an eclectic portfolio of roles across the globe. He’s best known for his portrayal of Stephen Hart in the BAFTA-nominated series Primeval.
Alongside his wife, Sarah Parish, Jim also runs the Murray Parish Trust, a charity dedicated to advancing paediatric emergency medicine.
Jim shared with us the heart-wrenching reason why they launched the charity and how it continues to save thousands of young lives every day.
We reveal his harrowing story in this blog - prepare to be rocked and inspired.
Breaking into acting
When Jim first started acting, he was told to take every opportunity he could to pad out his CV. But this isn’t his advice today for budding actors.
“Only 2% of actors are ever working at one time. Nowadays, it’s a horrendously overcrowded industry and a very tough business to crack as a young person,” explains Jim. “To keep motivated and strong, you have to love acting like it’s the only thing that gets you up in the morning. I’d also recommend having a fallback profession for extra security.
Through Jim’s tenacity and talent, he has thrived for 20 years as an actor. It’s also thanks to his work that he met his wonderful wife, Sarah, his Cutting It co-star.
How Jim and Sarah’s life changed forever
Soon after they were married, Jim and Sarah decided to start a family. Sarah gave birth to Ella-Jayne in May 2008.
Jim remembers that day vividly: “As soon as Ella-Jayne was born, I noticed the doctors’ expressions of concern. They rushed her off to an incubator for resuscitation and then took her away for further tests. 24 hours later, they brought our baby back and we were told she had several congenital heart defects.
“Within a few days, Ella-Jayne was taken to University Hospital Southampton (UHS) for open-heart surgery. She stayed in pediatric intensive care for the next four months. Then we were able to bring her home.”
Both Jim and Sarah dedicated themselves to caring for Ella-Jayne. They had a chance to get to know her as a person and, as you can imagine, fell deeply in love with their daughter. Heartbreakingly, Ella-Jayne passed away unexpectedly eight months later. “It’s impossible to find the words to explain how difficult that was,” says Jim.
Overcoming immeasurable trauma
How do you deal with the trauma of losing a child? This was the living nightmare Jim and Sarah faced after Ella-Jayne’s death. To help them grieve, the couple decided to travel to South East Asia. They believed working in orphanages would help put things into perspective.
“It was a really positive experience,” says Jim. “Seeing how people less fortunate than us coped in spite of such challenges was truly inspiring. It helped us make sense of what we’d been through.”
A dramatic shift in perspective
Did losing Ella-Jayne impact Jim’s perspective? “Absolutely,” he says. “My whole paradigm changed, and I learnt how to not take things for granted. When you suffer on such an enormous scale, it transforms the way you deal with issues in the future. I’ve become much more accepting, forgiving, tolerant and grateful."
This devastating experience also impacted Jim and Sarah’s relationship. As Jim explained to us, 75% of parents who lose children split up in the end because we all grieve in different ways. This makes it difficult for couples to connect, producing resentment and conflict.
“This happened to us,” explains Jim. “But our charity work helped us transgress this gulf.”
Jim and Sarah came home a year later and decided they wanted to thank the NHS for the precious time it gave them with Ella-Jayne. So they went back to UHS and asked, What can we do for you? Soon after, they became patrons of the hospital's charity.
Initially, they raised small amounts of money for the pediatric intensive care unit. But, as more and more people learnt about their story, the support they received skyrocketed.
Jim and Sarah soon craved greater autonomy over their charitable work. So they set up the Murray Parish Trust in 2013.
“Did you say four million?!”
When the Murray Parish Trust was founded, Jim and Sarah went back to UHS to ask what else they could do for the hospital. They assumed it would probably be extra beds or something else that was in the six-figure range.
The reality was that UHS wanted them to raise £4 million for a new Emergency and Trauma Department. Naturally, Jim and Sarah said yes.
To complete this seemingly impossible task, the couple decided to ask the government for help. Not in their wildest dreams did they imagine they’d successfully get a 50/50 match fund - but they did.
With the government's backing, people from all walks of life soon decided to raise money for the campaign. Individuals pushed themselves to make Jim and Sarah’s goal possible, from climbing the Matterhorn to doing three marathons in two days.
Even our Founder and Director, Leon Milns, got involved. For his 40th Birthday, Leon and his partner, Lottie, did a marathon in Uganda to raise money for the trust.
The unit has now been erected and is functioning at 75%. By Spring 2020, it will be complete, saving thousands of lives every day across the South of England and the Channel Islands.
What did Jim and Sarah do after successfully raising £4 million for USH? They went back to the hospital (of course), and asked: “What else do you need?"
The Murray Parish Trust is now working on raising £5.5 million for an IMRA scanner and operating theatre to help diagnose children’s neurological issues. Jim and Sarah are going to use the same strategy as before: ask the government and business leaders for help.
What can you do to support the campaign? There are buckets of fundraising ideas on the Murray Parish Trust’s website. Check it out for inspiration.
2020 is also set to be an exciting year thanks to Jim’s new venture into transformational coaching. After previously receiving life coaching, Jim has been blown away by the positive impact it has had:
“My coach helped me self-actualise, reframe my problems and start on a new path. It’s ignited me to want to help others through similar non-advisory methods. Working with other coaches, our aim is to enable companies to shift their culture and make them more progressive, productive and profitable.”
Jim’s advice for grieving parents
“Don’t be afraid to talk to somebody, whether that’s a professional or friend. But at the same time, don’t feel obliged to talk to everybody. Some people will try and give you unsolicited advice … it’s your right to ignore it.”