It had to be something quite powerful to lure Ryan Heal away from running a radio station. It turned out to be his son falling ill. Frank le Duc reports
Ryan Heal’s life has come full circle. He was born in the Royal Sussex County Hospital 36 years ago. And next week he starts a job with close ties to one of the hospital’s best-loved departments – the Trevor Mann Baby Unit. As the new chief executive of Rockinghorse, the Brighton children’s charity, he will also have close ties with the Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital. The Royal Alex is now on the same Kemp Town site as the Royal Sussex.
He joins Rockinghorse from the radio station Juice 107.2, where he is managing director. He said: “Because I bleed Juice, I’m remaining on the board as a non-executive director.” His love of radio and his love of Brighton and Hove and the surrounding area earned him the title of Outstanding Brightonian at the last Brighton and Hove Business Awards. And it was his charity fundraising that won the judges’ attention.
Mr Heal grew up locally, attending Brighton College, before heading off to study history at Kingston University in south west London. After graduating he faced a battle between his head and his heart. He said: “I always wanted to be a teacher but it wasn’t really paying the rent at that stage and I fell into a sales job.”
He worked on business and professional magazines such as Computer Weekly and Personnel Today, selling advertising for about 18 months. He said: “Then the calling began… to work my way back towards Sussex.” His next job brought him to Burgess Hill where he worked for a recruitment consultancy. He said: “That’s where the link to radio first came about because they used to advertise on Southern FM. I got a job working for Southern FM back in 1999.”
Six years ago Mr Heal joined Juice and became managing director in 2007. Last December he went along to the Brighton and Hove Business Awards and was called to the stage to receive the award for Outstanding Brightonian. The citation said: “Under his stewardship, Juice 107.2 has increased its listenership by over 50 per cent and is now widely recognised as the local commercial radio station that reflects the city, its people, its culture and its business community.
“However, it is behind the scenes, and without fanfare, that much of the work we honour Ryan for has been done. His core skill is perhaps in winning the respect and trust of influential people throughout the city and being able to recruit them to the causes he supports, safe in the knowledge that he has no hidden agenda. His priority is always the charity.”
He held a sporting lunch that raised a record-breaking £177,415 for Chestnut Tree House, the only children’s hospice in Sussex. He also raised funds for the Martlets Hospice, Macmillan, Albion In The Community and Rockinghorse. The citation concluded: “We have no doubt that this is a man that the city is going be hearing a lot more from.”
The award came during a tough time for Mr Heal. His young son John, now five, had just had a blood condition diagnosed. Mr Heal said: “He has a season ticket to the Royal Alex. He’s been admitted ten times over the past few months. I saw the impact of what Rockinghorse were doing there. I made an inquiry about whether I could do something to help them. Unbeknown to me they’d just started looking for a new chief executive.
“It had to be something quite powerful to drag me away from radio. And it was. It was my son that was the catalyst. Everybody has a story related to their experience of the Royal Alex.” Some are from childhood. Others are as parents. Mr Heal said: “Tony Bloom ran the Brighton Marathon for Rockinghorse because he was in the Royal Alex as a child.”
If Mr Heal has a mission in his new job, it is to remind people what the Royal Alex means to them. And to encourage them to support the children’s hospital through Rockinghorse. He said: “With 45,000 children a year going through there (not all from Brighton and Hove), I’ll be asking: ‘What’s your story?’ I want to have more events where parents and families can support Rockinghorse.” He talks about re-engaging and reconnecting the charity with the people who love the Alex. As the citation said, this is a man we will hear a lot more from.