Profile: Power to the Poppy - Russell Thompson, Director of Fundraising and Marketing, the Royal British Legion

Marketing, November 8, 2006 | Go to article overview

Profile: Power to the Poppy - Russell Thompson, Director of Fundraising and Marketing, the Royal British Legion


With no military background nor knowledge of the armed forces, Russell Thompson was a surprising choice as director of fundraising and marketing at The Royal British Legion when he took the reins in 1997.

'It has been a steep learning curve,' he admits. 'At times I didn't understand the different military titles. One of my colleagues even bought me one of those Ladybird books that explains the different ranks.'

Nine years on, Thompson will join thousands in Trafalgar Square on Saturday for The Royal British Legion's first mass-participation remembrance service. The event is being promoted this week with a national print campaign.

Brought up in a small village in Northern Ireland, religion played an important role in Thompson's childhood. He still describes himself as a Christian, and on Sundays, plays the organ - badly, by his own admission - at a local church, but concedes his faith is not as strong as it was in his youth.

The 59-year-old started his working life at the family clothes shop on the outskirts of Belfast. However, with business drying up, Thompson was forced to carve out a new career. Today, traces of his Irish accent remain, although it has clearly softened in the 16 years since he moved to Oxford for a dream job at Oxfam, where he oversaw the charity's 50th anniversary programme.

The three-and-a-half-hour round trip between his Oxford home and the Legion's Pall Mall office has become a daily grind that he has learned to tolerate while he hunts for a more convenient second home. Thompson clearly enjoys his work, but regrets that it has often kept him from his family. 'When my first son was born in 1979, there was an international crisis in Cambodia, so I was very busy (with Oxfam) during that period. When my second son was born, there was the Ethiopian famine crisis. I don't think my wife was best pleased.'

Nevertheless, Thompson's passion for the third sector, which is rooted in his school days when he founded his own Young Oxfam Group, is apparent, and he harbours no desire to return to the commercial arena. In fact, his fondness for Oxfam is such that he plans to volunteer for the charity in his retirement.

His work with the charity allowed him to visit its projects around the world, including the Caribbean, South America and his favourite, India. …

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