REAL LIFE: ‘Oprah Winfrey inspired my own fundraising’

Jess Ridge, 17, with mum Lara at their home in Hambledon Picture by: Malcolm Wells (180307-9612)
Jess Ridge, 17, with mum Lara at their home in Hambledon Picture by: Malcolm Wells (180307-9612)
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Nine years ago, the then-eight-year-old Jess Ridge and her mum Lara were watching the Oprah Winfrey Show.

It was an episode in which the chatshow queen invited people she had helped through her charitable foundation onto the show to tell the public about how her support had changed their lives.

When Jess gets an idea in her head it’s all systems go until it becomes a reality

Lara Ridge, Jessica’s mum

Both Jess and her mum, from Hambledon, were moved to tears.

It had such an impact on Jess that at that tender age she decided to set up her own charity, A Touch of Magic!, which has helped countless people in the years since.

Through scores of fundraising events she has raised more than £80,000 for nine charities since 2009.

Jess, who is now 17 and at college studying A-levels, says: ‘The way people reacted really moved me. They were over the moon. I knew then that the way Oprah made those people feel was the way I wanted to make people feel.

‘We decided to hold a family barbecue to raise a bit of money and called it Jess’ Jamboree.

‘It was a traditional fair with face-painting, games, stalls.

‘At that first event we raised £2,500 for Cancer Research.’

With the help of her parents, Lara and Russell, and older brother Marley, Jess embarked upon a year of fundraising for the charity.

The events got bigger and bigger and A Touch of Magic! was born – an umbrella charity set up to donate funds to other good causes.

Although her parents helped her with administration, Jess, who was still in primary school, began dealing with big charities, including Parkinsons UK. She was asked to give talks to roomfuls of adults about A Touch of Magic! and gave presentations as she donated cheques.

Jess chooses a different charity each year and has upped the target for each from £5,000 to £10,000.

And she managed to do all this between school and dance classes.

She says: ‘My schoolfriends thought it was a bit odd at first that I did fundraising for a hobby, but soon a lot of my friends at Purbrook Park came on board and helped me.

‘I think a lot of the charities were surprised to be dealing with me, as a child. They said it’s not something that happens every day but actually I think it’s worked to my advantage.

‘(My age) breaks down barriers between people.’

Jess has made lots of friends over the years. Many of them are young people who have directly benefited from her fundraising.

And she believes it helped her deal with the heartbreak of her mum being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016.

‘It was very traumatic’, says Jess, ‘but I was able to look at the positive side of things because of all the good things that have come from A Touch of Magic!

‘It is heartbreaking to watch someone go through cancer but in order to feel heartbreak you have to have felt loved in the first place.

‘What happened to mum made me want to help more people.’

Lara is now through treatment and couldn’t be prouder of her daughter. She says: ‘Her dedication to her chosen cause each year is admirable, she particularly wants to help local children’s charities.

‘She is full of ideas on how to raise the money, and is extremely lucky to have a very supportive circle of family and friends that are crazy enough to help her do it.

‘In particular she has the complete support of her dance school, Showstoppers Stage School, where she is head girl. Russell and I, and all of Team Magic, are very proud of Jessica and unconditionally support her in her mission to help others.

‘When Jess gets an idea in her head, it’s all systems go until it becomes a reality, whether it’s abseiling or walking across hot coals, fancy dress or setting up a fashion show or a festival, it’s all hands to the pump.

‘As Jess gets older her plans and aspirations for A Touch of Magic! grow, and she is investing more and more time in her charity work.’

Jess is currently working on A Touch of Magic! merchandise, including mugs and keyrings to help raise awareness and money for the charity.

Lara adds: ‘Her drive and focus seem unstoppable, and the happiness she creates within and around her is just magical.’

She has won several awards, including The News’ own We Can do It prize.

What does the future hold for Jess?

‘I hope to have an international charity when I’m older.

‘I’ve learned a lot of public speaking skills over the years and now I would like my own TV show.

‘I’m applying for an apprenticeship with ITV when I leave South Downs College. It teaches you all aspects of television. So it could come full circle and I could end up have my own television and become the next Oprah.’