Maurice Saatchi, a preeminent figure in the worlds of advertising and politics, is no stranger to challenging the status quo. Known for co-founding the globally influential advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi, and serving as a political advisor to the UK Conservative Party, his career has been defined by innovation and ambition. His profound impact, however, extends beyond these well-known stories of his successes in advertising and politics. Following personal tragedy, Saatchi channelled his energy towards healthcare reform, ushering in the Access to Medical Treatments (Innovation) Act in the UK and leaving an indelible mark on the world of medicine.
In this interview, I speak to Baron Maurice Saatchi on his unique memoirs -“Do Not Resuscitate,” in which he challenges readers with provocative philosophical and spiritual reflections. The book, which Saatchi characterizes as a transcript of his trial in heaven, explores concepts of life, death, legacy, and the criteria one must meet to enter the heavenly realm. With its blend of imaginative narrative, personal reflection, and thought-provoking discourse, “Do Not Resuscitate” is a testament to Saatchi’s continued drive to stimulate conversation and incite change.
Q: Is there a defining ideal that has connected or driven your life?
[Maurice Saatchi]: I can respond with a clear and unequivocal “yes.” There undoubtedly exists a connection, one that resonates with every action I’ve taken, be it for better or for worse. This connection also significantly links to the book, “Do Not Resuscitate.“
The essence of this connection lies in an enduring quest to effect positive change in the world, a theme vividly illustrated in this book. Upon my demise, I find myself amidst the congestion and queues at heaven’s gates, subjected to a trial that seeks to determine my suitability for entry. The judgement criteria revolve around whether the individual in question, the applicant or even an asylum seeker, endeavored to make the world a better place.
Hence, these elements are profoundly interconnected. It’s no coincidence that this book culminates in the position it does, offering insight into who gains admission to heaven and who does not, along with the reasons behind such verdicts. This book holds the key to one of the universe’s greatest mysteries: the deciding factors for entry into heaven.
Q: What do you think people feel about the notion of heaven and hell?
[Maurice Saatchi]: Certainly, I wouldn’t anchor myself to that perspective. I surmise that many of your readers might dismiss these notions of heaven and hell as utter balderdash. They’d likely regard the claim that this book was written posthumously as similarly ludicrous, arguing that it’s impossible given that I’m here conversing with you. So, I can imagine them dismissing this conversation as a load of hogwash, asserting that places such as heaven and hell simply do not exist.
From my circle, most of my friends would align with this skepticism, considering these ideas as nothing short of nonsense. But, interestingly, not all share this view. Some of the most influential individuals in my life, like the Dean of Westminster, hold different beliefs. He has been a major figure in my life, particularly after the passing of Josephine Hart.
I recall posing to him what might be considered naive, schoolboy questions. Not that your question is such, but one of the inquiries I made, stripped of all his eloquent lectures, sermons in Westminster Abbey, writings, books, and work was: “Are you genuinely asserting that these deceased individuals are present in some form?” His response was both profound and unshakeable: “I’m certain of it.”
His conviction significantly influenced my life by suggesting, or rather confirming, that these individuals persist in some form. Yet, I understand that this won’t prevent your readers from deeming these ideas as utterly fanciful.
Q: What aspects of your life have enabled you to make the biggest impact?
[Maurice Saatchi]: It’s easy to focus on the well-documented aspects of my life, like the business and advertising stories or the political narratives, all of which have been detailed in five biographies. Yet, in the book, during a particularly rigorous cross-examination by the prosecutor, these very aspects are scrutinized to my detriment.
However, if we were to shift our focus away from these two widely known and controversial facets, you might ask, “What beneficial impact have you genuinely made on the world?” I do have a response to this.
Following the heartrending demise of Josephine Hart due to cancer, a disease many of your listeners are familiar with, I felt compelled to take action. The public’s understanding of cancer often extends only to its most visible symptoms, like hair loss. Yet, the disease is a grotesque, destructive force on the body, a fact I became painfully aware of during Josephine Hart’s rapid decline.
While I don’t claim to have found a cure for cancer, a feat no one expects to be achievable for generations, I was determined to explore possibilities beyond the standard procedures. Could there be room for innovative methods that could potentially benefit those in the same position as Josephine Hart and countless others?
Motivated by this, I introduced a bill in the House of Lords, which, after three rigorous years, evolved into the Access to Medical Treatments (Innovation) Act. This act, which received royal assent and is now law, exemplifies the serious work involved in steering a Lords Starter Bill through both Houses of Parliament—an undertaking that is rare, yet was achieved with the support of remarkable individuals from the medical, judicial, and political realms.
This accomplishment ties back to your initial question regarding the connection between our actions and our entry into heaven. If one aspires to make a positive impact on the world, shouldn’t we strive for innovative solutions, perhaps even for a disease as formidable as cancer?
Of course, this perspective sparked controversy. Critics argued against treating patients as experimental subjects, expressing fears of promoting quackery if unproven methods were encouraged. Their viewpoint has long dominated the medical innovation landscape.
Despite these challenges, we persevered and, with the assistance of many dedicated individuals, managed to pave a legal and safe path toward innovation. This achievement aligns with the vision of Professor John Ballard of Oxford, who also seeks to push the boundaries of our understanding and treatment of this dreadful disease.
Professor Ballard encapsulates the idea magnificently in a single sentence. He states, and I aim to quote him accurately: “There will be no cure for cancer until real doctors with real patients in real hospitals can attempt an innovation.” This assertion became the cornerstone of our endeavor during the passage of the Act, embodying what we were striving for.
So, in direct response to your question, yes, I take immense pride in this achievement above all else. It represents an attempt to meet what I believe to be the criteria set at heaven’s gates: did the individual at least strive to innovate?
The presiding judge in my case underscored to the jury that it isn’t necessary for an applicant to have accomplished Herculean tasks like scaling Mount Everest, curing cancer, or eradicating poverty. The court is primarily interested in the effort made, in the attempt. That is what truly counts.
[Vikas: The reality of the human toll of cancer is just brutal…]
[Maurice Saatchi]: Indeed, you’ve grasped the essence of my sentiments perfectly. A mutual friend of Josephine’s and mine voiced concerns about the stark details I included in the book, particularly about how Josephine’s body changed during her battle with cancer. Despite these reservations, I felt compelled to present the harsh realities of her ordeal, not only in the book but also in the Lords Chamber and numerous seminars and meetings I attended.
I didn’t shy away from mentioning that her bosom transformed into something resembling dried raisins, or that her once flawless legs took on the appearance of elephant trunks. Her arms, subjected to countless needles and tubes, began to resemble those of a long-term drug user. This brutal metamorphosis is precisely what you’ve alluded to.
The sheer brutality of it all is almost unfathomable. I have yet to fully come to terms with it, and I doubt I ever will. Witnessing such a transformation in a body you cherish is an experience too harrowing to articulate. I may not break into tears right this moment, but I assure you, the pain remains relentless and unbearable.
Q: What does success mean to you?
[Maurice Saatchi]: …the challenge lies in addressing this matter without appearing pretentious. And I believe the essence of this book, and indeed our conversation thus far, zeroes in on exactly this point. The feeling of success, it’s crucial to clarify, has little to do with financial gain or even fame. These are two entirely distinct concepts.
The true measure of success, as I see it, lies in the effort to effect positive change in the world. However, this perspective isn’t universally embraced. For instance, the term frequently associated with the Conservative Party is ‘pragmatism’. It’s often asserted that the party’s adaptability, rather than ideological rigidity, has been key to its status as a dominant political force in Britain for perhaps 200 years. The party’s ability to change when necessary, as opposed to unwaveringly pursuing ideological dreams, is seen as its strength.
While this perspective, which I would characterize as a quintessentially Tory view, isn’t one I personally subscribe to, I do recognize its validity and the importance of respecting diverse viewpoints.
Q: Do you think today’s world is more accepting of change? And diverse viewpoints?
[Maurice Saatchi]: Contrary to the notion that it’s become more challenging, I’d argue it’s easier now than ever, given the world’s increasing openness to varied perspectives. This acceptance is particularly evident in domains like technology, where developments like AI have been astonishing, albeit anxiety-inducing for some.
Take the matter of gender identity as another example. Society’s acceptance of homosexuality was a significant milestone, and now we’re witnessing similar progress concerning gender issues. I perceive these shifts as testament to the world’s growing receptivity to new ideas, which I find immensely positive.
However, I’m conscious that not all your listeners may concur. Some might contend that this openness breeds confusion, stirs division, and incites disagreements. It’s a viewpoint that certainly has its place in the discourse.
In fact, I’d argue that the beauty of our democratic process lies precisely in the allowance for such debates. The two-house system, for instance, facilitates open discussions on contentious issues in the upper house. Even when there’s no consensus, these debates ensure that various viewpoints are aired. In my opinion, this kind of transparent exchange of ideas is absolutely critical.
Q: What did you want to achieve with this book?
[Maurice Saatchi]: I wanted to impart this fundamental philosophy that a person should endeavour to better the world, an aspiration divorced from monetary considerations. While some of your listeners might contend that financial power is a prerequisite for effecting change, I don’t subscribe to this belief.
So, yes, the aim is to convince readers that it’s in their best interest, particularly concerning their eventual arrival at heaven’s gates, to adopt this perspective. Intriguingly, the celestial court grapples with an immigration problem, fielding over a million asylum seekers weekly. This vastly outstrips the scale of issues we see with Dover and Calais, rendering the small boats there somewhat inconsequential.
The court has tried myriad methods to discriminate between who should and shouldn’t gain access to heaven. After all, heaven loses its allure if every Tom, Dick, and Harry, or any riff-raff, can just waltz in. This situation led them to instigate a show trial, where I found myself as the defendant. It’s a format they’re familiar with—Jesus Christ, after all, left the most profound legacy in human history following a show trial presided over by Pontius Pilate.
The court hoped this trial would shed light on the criteria for admission to heaven, which remain unclear in the gospels. The scriptures touch on sins, but without specifying which ones. They mention remorse but provide no guide on how to demonstrate it. They discuss faith but fail to clarify in what or whom one should believe.
Desiring full disclosure and transparency, they thought that providing more information about the admissions process at heaven’s gates might help reduce the influx of doomed applicants. I was enlisted, not as a messiah but as a sort of evangelist, a missionary tasked with spreading the word.
All they asked of me was to keep a transcript of my trial, and that’s precisely what I did. I assert that I didn’t write this book—it’s merely the transcript of my trial, rendering me more of a court reporter or journalist than an author. I’ve embraced this role, and it’s through this book, and our current discussion, that I continue to fulfil it.
Q: What lessons can we take from your life, and apply to our own?
[Maurice Saatchi]: In response to your question, I’d say your efforts are commendable. You provide a platform for engaging, thoughtful conversations, like the one we’re having. Despite critics who may dismiss these discussions as too serious or niche, you persevere, and I admire that.
Contrary to these naysayers, I firmly believe there is an audience for such content. Your dedication to presenting various perspectives on significant life issues is laudable and essential. So, to answer your question, my advice would be: persist. Continue your valuable work.