In Memory of John Simpson

As anyone who had the good fortune to know Backup Chair, John Simpson, will tell you, he was one of the kindest, most caring, compassionate people in our industry, and it is with much sadness that we share the news of his passing on Saturday 11th June.

John’s charity work began in the early 2000s, when Backup trustee Rick Fisher and the late Tony Gottelier put forward the idea of a charity to help lighting colleagues. “John was immediately onboard,” says Rick. “We formed Light Relief, of which John was always the enthusiastic champion, and later Chair of the charity. He was also central to the creation of Behind the Scenes in 2014, which helped more people involved in all areas working backstage.”

John served as Chair of Behind the Scenes until sharing the name with the U.S. charity was no longer possible, and created Backup in 2016, making what could have been a challenge into an opportunity to reinvigorate the purpose of supporting people in our industry.

His role was so much more than being a Chair. “He was usually the contact person for anyone needing assistance and worked with the individual to craft a plan for Backup to help, then followed up with them, always making sure Backup was there for those who needed it,” Rick recalls.

During the pandemic, John was instrumental in setting up Backup’s Hardship Fund which distributed over £300,000 to our colleagues, many of whom had little government or employer help due to our freelance heavy industry. He also recognised the mental health challenges in our industry that have been aggravated by the pandemic but were endemic long before. He helped to create the counselling resources provided by Backup and the free Mental Health First Aider courses that have, and will, help countless people.

“How things would be perceived and attention to detail was important to John,” says Backup’s Vice Chair, Piers Shepperd. “He was a strong administrator with a very good sense of the legal, the financial and the running of a charity. Attention to detail was of the utmost importance to him. Equal to his care for the charity was his care for people, and that was always present.

“He didn’t wait for people to ask for help, he sought them out. People who need help aren’t necessarily easy to deal with; if you’re in a bad situation, everything is falling apart and that can make it hard to open up. John’s innate empathy enabled him to find out what was needed and then tailor what we, as Backup, could do to help. He spoke to every applicant personally, guiding them through the process of applying for help, then checking in with them afterwards to make sure they were OK. His ability to humanise a difficult situation, and his skill and sensitivity in dealing with it was a great help to those in need, and a lesson to me. He also had a great sense of humour. John was the machine behind the charity. I had slowly tried to help lessen his workload, but his dedication never wavered, even in his last weeks.”

John believed in treating people well, and in fairness. This shone through in his work with Backup as it did throughout all aspects of his life. In a world where so much is only said and polished, John delivered on the real stuff, the stuff that mattered. The morals and the ethics of how one should conduct oneself were lived by John. As Rick so fittingly says, we will miss his wise counsel and clear vision.

John is survived by his partner Sue, his three daughters Victoria, Laura and Emily, his brother Peter and sister Wendy.

To read more about John’s background and his entrance into our industry including the founding of White Light, visit

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