I find it beyond impressive when families turn their tragic losses into good for many others in memory of the loved ones they lost. Ride4Hugo, a campaign Damian’s family run in memory of Hugo Yaxley, Damian and Helen’s nephew, who tragically died in a car accident in November 2020, and also in memory of Helen, who passed away only 5 months after Hugo’s accident, is an extraordinary effort aimed to do good for so many people.
Hugo, at his young age, was a fierce advocate of facing up to mental health issues and changing the stigma attached to it. And Ride4Hugo was set to raise funds and awareness for four great charities that were close to both his and Helen’s heart.
Uncle Damian, as he was to Hugo, is Ride4Hugo’s patron. And here is how he reflected on Hugo’s life:
“The recurring theme talking to people about Hugo, is that, for one so young, he leaves an incredible legacy. He truly inspired people of his generation, through his own bravery, to be more confident and open about their mental health. This is an extraordinary thing to have achieved by the age of 20. He’s touched more people in his short life than most do in their longer ones. One great memory is of our family holiday in Mallorca when Hugo perfected and demonstrated (endlessly) the art of “bombing” in the swimming pool. Face down mostly. For ages afterwards, we called him Bomber Yaxley. He became many other fabulous things as he got older but that fearlessness never left him. And he used it to help others. Love you Hugo.”
The family, led by Hugo’s older brother Tom Yaxley, a 32 year old army officer, organized several bike ride campaigns to raise funds for the following four charities that do not only do life changing work every single day but also have a special link to Hugo and Helen.
Hampshire & Isle of Wight Air Ambulance
It is thanks to the incredible work of Hampshire & Isle of Wight Air Ambulance that Minna, Hugo’s girl friend, not only survived the car accident but has no life changing injuries. The Air Ambulances do incredible work and are there when people need them the most. They receive no government funding. Find out more about this amazing organization here.
Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance
Just like HIOW AA they saves lives every single day. It is thanks to the amazing work of the crew of Dorset & Somerset Air Ambulance that Hugo’s parents got a chance to say goodbye to him. They rely solely on public contributions, at £3,000 a mission they need everything they can get to keep flying. Find out more about their incredible work here.
Mental health was something that was very close to Hugo, he battled through his own issues and not only came out stronger but set about raising awareness and money for this issue. He spoke out to 300 of school friends about this experiences, watch the video. Place2be is a charity that Hugo supported by doing a 150 mile ride in north Wales. Find out more here.
Sir HvH Arts Foundation
Finally, to honor Helen, Ride4Hugo chose to support the Sir Huber von Herkomer Arts Foundation. Helen was the patron of the Foundation that works very hard to give young people with limited means access to arts. And the Ride4Hugo fundraising aims to fund the recently introduced ‘The McCrory Award’ of the HvH Arts Foundation.
Here is Helen’s reflections of Hugo:
“Hugo was a very rare young man, an old soul, whose wisdom was far beyond his years. Hugo wasn’t an average young man. He had already been to hell and back as a teenager battling with depression, he had conquered it, not by ridding himself of it but by refusing to allow it to stop his stride. His smile was huge and broad and contagious. We will keep him alive in our hearts forever but I’m so so sad l’ll never see it again.”
In 2021, Ride4Hugo raised over £97,000 and came back for 2022 with three big challenges to continue raising money for the four charities that had a big role in Hugo and Helen’s lives.
On May 1, 2022, two of Hugo’s school friends, Harry Dayus and James Gilroy ran the Birmingham Half-Marathon.
Then on June 5, 2022, friends and family of Hugo and Helen did a bike ride (48 or 101km) through the Wiltshire countryside. Damian was part of the ride along with his sister Amanda, his brother Gareth and brother in law Charles.
Finally, in July 2022, Hugo’s older brother Tom, a 32 year old army officer, had an epic 2000+ km bike ride climbing over 22,000m during the crazy heat wave across Europe, from The National Theatre in London, a very special place for Helen…
“Helen used to love performing at the National Theatre. It meant a lot to her as a theatre and gave her some of her greatest performances.”
….to the Plaza Mayor in Madrid where Hugo was planning to go to school in Spain.
Tom on how similar Hugo and Helen were:
“They were very kindred souls in the way they looked at the world… They got on. They were very close on that side of life.”
Tom was joined by his amazing mother, Damian’s sister, Amanda, as well as by his close friend Xander Smail-Woodford on this amazing journey. Amanda and Xander typically drove behind him but Amanda also joined his son on two wheels almost daily for several parts of the +2000km epic ride.
Riding all the way to Madrid from the National TheaTre in London for Hugo and Helen. My sister and nephew. In this heat. Unbelievable. If you like the look of any of these charities and have a spare fiver please go to @Ride4Hugo pic.twitter.com/lXe40EuLT1
— Damian Lewis (@lewis_damian) July 18, 2022
As part of the ride, and in partnership with Sir HvH Arts Foundation, Ride4Hugo also produced a t-shirt to commemorate the event. It has been designed by the youth of HvH Arts which we can’t love more!!!
Family notes for Tom’s incredible bike ride…
And it is incredible and also refreshing to see the humility about Tom when it comes to his extraordinary achievement.
“I look at it as a very fitting tribute to Hugo’s legacy and what we’ve been able to achieve is massive.”
“I just feel really lucky that we’ve been able to do that for his legacy and (I’m) also just incredibly grateful to the huge amounts of support, because no-one does anything alone.
“Whether it be people sharing things on Facebook, Instagram, people donating – it’s not one person’s work to get to this point.”
He also talks about the extraordinary work the charities that touched the family’s life do:
DSAA kept Hugo alive until his parents were able to get to the scene and say goodbye.
“They gave him the best fighting chance as possible… And that meant a lot to them, it means a lot.”
“DSAA have had about £30,000 (from Ride4Hugo), and with the average cost of a mission being about £3,000, that’s 10 life-saving missions.
“From Hugo’s death, 10 lives have either been saved or have certainly had life-changing intervention, even if it’s just being able to have that feeling that mum and dad were able to get.”
Hugo’s girlfriend was also in the car and her life was saved by HIOWAA, enabling her to walk five miles just eight months after suffering “horrific injuries.”
“Charity makes a huge difference in lives… And I’ve always been a very strong believer that it’s very important for me to give back.”
Like uncle, like nephew. No wonder Damian is so proud of Tom and Amanda. They deserve all the accolades and more.
— Damian Lewis (@lewis_damian) July 28, 2022