I recently had the pleasure of meeting the CEO of the Bobby Goldsmith Foundation David Riddell who has steered this great ship since 2011. This Sydney based charity provides vital care on many levels to people and their families living with HIV and Aids in the form of counselling, workshops, financial assistance, accommodation services and a hell of a lot more.
All images by Chris Gleisner for Iconic and Vintage 2014.
David Riddell CEO Bobby Goldsmith Foundation
Paint a picture of your heritage and background.
I was born in Glasgow, second of three sons to an Irish protestant father and Scottish catholic mother. Educated in state schools and amongst my mother’s enormous family.
She is the oldest of 8 sisters and they will tell you stories of me miming to Shirley Bassey at the age of 8 with both legs down 1 pyjama leg. No wonder no one fainted when I came out!
School bored me and I couldn’t wait to escape to London and did so when I was 19. It was my idea of ‘Freedom’!
Who were your inspirations growing up that helped form who you are today?
Mel Brooks for humour and not taking yourself too seriously, Groucho Marx, ditto and Lucille Ball. Oh, there’s a theme developing…
The Rolling Stones for the danger they brought and the sexuality they showed white boys they could have.
The Beatles, no need to explain that one.
My maternal grandmother who always said to my parents during my over-long rebellious phase “leave him alone, he’ll be fine”.
Anyone who had the courage to ask ‘Why?’ and roll with the answer. Anyone, anywhere at any age who had the courage to say this to me, take it or leave it.
Watching people die too young and their robust good humour and generosity in the face of it.
What is your professional history?
Diverse, started in retail working for HMV in London and also organised promo events for them. All the biggies, Kate Bush, The Commodores, Spandau Ballet, Shakin Stevens (less said about him the kinder)
I did my degree in psychology as a mature student, worked as a business analyst and journalist, edited 2 books and was a programme tutor in the probation service and change manager in the UK health service.
I sat on 2 charity boards, here and in the UK.
My interest in charity came through volunteering at London Lighthouse in the early 90’s. It was Europe’s first HIV hospice, drop-in and outreach centre. It was opened by Elizabeth Taylor who silenced a lot of fearful bigots with her sheer presence.
What are the main aims of the BG Foundation?
To empower people living with HIV to live well. We are a bridge for many people living with this condition, to services and to health.
For many people living with HIV, we are the only contact they have outside of their medical care.
How many people does BG Foundation assist and support each year?
Over 1200 men, women and children, all year, every year. We intake almost 200 people each year and graduate a similar amount.
In the past 8 years, we have worked with over 3000 different people. This figure still amazes me.
What are the biggest challenges facing the BG Foundation and their clients?
Staying relevant to the changes and expectations brought by access to effective anti retro viral medication. Ageing and the issues that come with it are often experienced earlier for our clients.
Younger people seeming not to heed or not to get safer sex messaging and becoming positive as a consequence.
Ensuring women, people from migrant, refugee and aboriginal communities experience BGF as inclusive.
Stigma is still a huge issue for people living with HIV, as is poverty and isolation. Both are barriers to being well so we will continue to help people fight these.
Who was Bobby Goldsmith and what was his story?
Bobby was an athlete and fundraiser amongst many other talents. He won 17 of Australia’s 25 medals at the first gay Games in San Francisco in 1982.
He organised fundraising events to help get the teams there. Nobody knew in 1982 that San Fran was one of the epicentres of the coming HIV epidemic.
There are many strands to him. Partner, brother, uncle, son, friend, co-worker, athlete.
He has become best known as one of the first Australians to die of AIDS, on June 18th, 1984 at the age of 38.
His friends and family created the organisation that would become BGF after his death, after much of their focus was for Bobby to die at home with dignity.
They continued that work with many other people, and those people – clients, founders and Bobby inspire us still.
We are standing on the shoulders of giants.
What’s on your wishlist for BGF in 2015?
As above but BGF like all health funded NGO’s in NSW is entering into a new world of funding which will be completely tendered and with tighter contracts.
So we need to be on top of our game to win in this new horizon. We are for the challenge and have been preparing our business and staff for this.
BGF have long been at the front of evolutionary service delivery and, every day our staff help clients manage change. It’s more change, but that is the nature of life. Adapt or die and dying is not an option.
Ensuring that BGF honour our past and face our future with equal respect.
We want to roll out our Stanford University Positive Self-Management programme to more clients. It works all over the world and BGF is the first organisation in Australia to offer this.
What would you like to say to the world?
It doesn’t matter what or where you came from…it’s the direction you choose and the people you meet that really count. Choose wisely but most importantly choose with kindness.
Many thanks to photographer Chris Gleisner and Bobby Goldsmith CEO David Riddell.