Leading event professionals, suppliers and artists took time out from busy schedules to create the Concert For Ukraine at remarkably short notice. The two-hour televised show raised £13.4m in a single day. Its initiator, Guy Freeman, discusses the remarkable collective effort involved

Watching the horror unfold in Ukraine, Guy Freeman, MD of the production company Livewire Pictures, felt compelled to try to do something to alleviate the suffering. On 3 March he began making phone calls, by midnight on 29 March £13.4m had been raised.

Broadcast on ITV and STV, the Concert For Ukraine featured performances from artists including Ed Sheeran, Camila Cabello, Paloma Faith, Snow Patrol, Emeli Sandé, Manic Street Preachers and Nile Rodgers & Chic. The generosity of the show’s 3.6 million viewers resulted in a huge contribution toward the Disasters Emergency Committee’s (DEC) Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal.

“People felt proud of the fact that we are an industry that can unite to achieve something remarkable like that.”

Freeman may have got the ball rolling but he says it was very much a collaborative effort, with 87 event specialists and supply companies (see pages 16,17) contributing their time and resources for free.

Among the first people who helped get the show up and running were production director Chris Vaughan, NEC Group venue sales manager Ben Sharman and Live Nation Executive president of international touring Phil Bowdery.

Says Freeman (pictured), “Having done benefit concerts for television, such as the One Love Manchester event, I knew there was that power to reach an audience on TV through music. I raised the idea with Phil Bowdery and asked if he was aware of any Ukraine fundraising concerts. He said, ‘There’s a few little things but nothing that is going to be broadcast level’.

“I then spoke to Chris Vaughan, who is an amazing tour production director for artists including Take That and Adele. He offered to help even though he’s incredibly busy. The next thing was to find a venue. I contacted a couple and the first to reply was the NEC Group. I described what we were looking to do and that we wanted somewhere at minimal or zero cost, which I was aware was a big ask, but Ben Sharman came back the next day with an available date.”

Talent show

With ITV also on board, Freeman approached the DEC, which proved understandably enthusiastic. Everything was coming together at a breakneck pace aside from one major ingredient: artists.

“All those things turned positive very quickly but we hadn’t approached any artists – which was slightly terrifying,” says Freeman. “My view was that you can’t go to an artist and say, ‘maybe and if’ you have to say, ‘on this date, at this place, on this TV network, will you come and do this?’.”

Aside from getting the green light from the highest earning touring artist in the world, Ed Sheeran, Freeman was delighted to book in such a strong group of top talent for the event, not least Manic Streat Preachers whose Spanish Civil War-inspired anthem, If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next, he knew would be an extremely powerful element of the show.

Arranger and composer Steve Sidwell also played an important role: “He’s someone I have worked with a lot over the years; he is just brilliant. Steve and his team put together an incredible group of musicians, all volunteers, meaning we were able to offer a backing band to any artists that needed one.”

Among the many other individuals and companies to volunteer their services were lighting director Tim Routledge, Chris Saunders’s event video specialist Ogle Hog, lighting specialist NEG Earth, Spiritland for TV audio mixing, John Henry’s provided backline and Dawbell handled PR.

Says Freeman, “They came on board early as key suppliers and were all integral to the event being able to go ahead. We then had to look at other costs. British Airways donated flights that enabled us to bring Nile Rodgers and his band over. We needed hundreds of hotel rooms on site and Hilton Metropole provided them, and Addison Lee gave us a chunk of cars to get people around.

“At every level people were doing whatever they could to keep costs low, which of course was a huge ask given that this is an industry that’s been through the toughest time of its life over the last two years and the sector is really gearing up with a huge amount of activity planned.”

Photo by Joe Maher/Disasters Emergency Committee/Getty Images for Livewire Pictures Ltd

Making an impact

Freeman says that the atmosphere at the venue during the build and show itself was remarkable: “Everyone had chosen to volunteer their services, so everybody was there in the right frame of mind and that contributed to a kind of incredible feeling of teamwork and focus. The artists all commented on it, a kind of calmness.“When there is no money or commerciality involved it changes the whole dynamic – nobody is walking in saying they are more important than the event. That was very much the case, everybody was just mucking in, and we saw some incredible performances from the artists. I think people felt proud of the fact that we are an industry that can unite to achieve something remarkable like that.”

The show peaked at 3.6 million viewers to become the most watched programme on air during the timeslot. Of the £13.4m raised on the day, around £3m came from commercial channels, including ticket sales, with the remainder being viewer donations.

“That is pretty unprecedented, a phenomenal conversion rate,” says Freeman. “That works out at an average of around £3 per viewer, and clearly not everyone was able to contribute, so that was very generous. It demonstrates that when you’ve got such a clear-cut issue and there is such urgency around it, you can use music to reinforce a message to make a very powerful proposition.

“Clearly we can’t all afford to do things for no money in this industry, particularly at times like these when we are recovering from the pandemic shutdown, but we all felt it was the right thing to do, and £13.4m was beyond our wildest hopes.”

This article was published in the latest edition of Access All Areas magazine  – subscribe for free here