Roger Daltrey on how Royal Albert Hall Teenage Cancer Trust concerts broke fundraising records

Roger Daltrey on how Royal Albert Hall Teenage Cancer Trust concerts broke fundraising records

The Who legend Roger Daltrey has spoken to Music Week to reflect on his 24-year stint organising fundraising concerts for Teenage Cancer Trust at London’s iconic Royal Albert Hall

This year’s series, held between March 18-24, not only attracted the likes of Noel Gallagher, Chemical Brothers, Young Fathers, Eddie Vedder, Paul Weller, Robert Plant, Kelly Jones to join The Who in performing, but was also significant for two other important reasons. First, it is the final run of shows to be curated by Daltrey, with new musicians set to be taking the reins in the future. Secondly, and crucially, for the first time in its history, the charity raised over £2 million – its highest ever amount. 

Since 2000, audiences at Teenage Cancer Trust’s annual gigs have witnessed a host of once-in-a-lifetime shows, from Noel Gallagher and Damon Albarn performing together for the first time ever in 2013, to Sir Paul McCartney, Oasis, Muse, Nile Rodgers & Chic, Ed Sheeran, Florence + The Machine, Rudimental and many more.

Here, the singer reflects on his journey with the concert series, teases who might be taking over from him, and tells the industry why it needs to get involved…

How do you reflect upon the journey you’ve been on with the Teenage Cancer Trust?

“From the moment my GP – who started the whole thing – Adrian Whiteson [OBE, founding member and chairman of TCT until 2010], mentioned what they were trying to achieve, it had an impact on me. From that day on, I was trying to work out how to help them, and myself, Pete Townshend and The Who did fundraisers for them for the first 10 years before the Royal Albert Hall shows. When I went to visit the first [TCT] unit, that only cemented the idea of what needed to be done, and what’s happened in the years since has been remarkable. There was the first year, in 2000, with The Who doing two nights at the Royal Albert Hall, recorded as a live album and DVD, which enabled us to replace two hospital wards. And that opened it up to the media and the public. To be honest, no one does anything alone, so to have the media on our side, recognising the issue, has been great. I love working for the charity – I’m not going away from it. In the space of 12 years, we’re in 65 hospitals and hoping to be at 100 hospitals by the end of next year, which is astonishing.

And it’s exposed you to a great deal of new music, too. Who have you been wowed by?

“We had to branch out to music that I wasn’t familiar with because it’s not my age group. I’d soon got through all the old farts I knew I could call up personally. Every year I’m exposed to something and I’m like, ‘Wow’. This year, we had Young Fathers, and they were astonishing! I’m constantly amazed at the talent that is out there, if it can just get seen and heard. The trouble is with the world now that there’s a lot of media, but it’s thinly spread – it’s hard to get noticed.”

Are there some acts that have proved elusive over the years, even for such a powerful cause?

“There are a few that have always proved very, very difficult. But in the end, more people have said yes than have said no. The worst ones are the ones that never get back to you!”

You’ve played the shows several times over the years, with The Who and solo – what’s the performance that sticks out for you?

“In 2011, we were short of a big act to do the shows and I jokingly said, ‘Well, I’ll get my band over from America and we’ll do Tommy, the whole of it.’ That’s something The Who never did, there were always a couple of songs that we left out. My bloody big mouth! It sold out very quickly, and it led to me doing many more solo shows than I ever would have done. It also gave me a confidence in my solo career that I never had before. I’ve since gone on to do Tommy with full-blown orchestras in the US, which was fantastic.”

I love working for the charity – I'm not going away from it

Roger Daltrey

You have a close fraternity of artists who’ve supported the shows from the start, with Paul Weller, Eddie Vedder and Kelly Jones among them. Do you already know the people who will curate in the future, and will any of those names be among them in the future?

“I know who will be there for me in 2026, but I haven’t got a clue for next year. The Royal Albert Hall is run as a charity, and to guarantee the week when we have our shows -– which are positioned at the time of the year when most bands are getting ready to go out touring in the summer – then the new contracts with the Albert Hall are going to be a five-year period. So we’ve got to make sure we’ve got someone to sign up for the next five years.”

What are your reflections on this year’s line up, featuring the likes of Noel Gallagher and Robert Plant, which was the first time TCT raised £2m from the shows?

“Yes, just £2m net in a week, which is remarkable. It’s only when you go out there and rattle a box that you find out how hard it is to raise money for a charity! This year’s lineup was brilliant, because it’s great to be around my old mates. Noel has been there from day one. When I had to have a year off because [The Who] were on tour, Noel did a year for me. And I’ve been friends with Robert [Plant] for 50 years and to have him on stage with me – two old farts having a good time – it was heaven!”

The shows are at a very specific time of year, but the charity’s work is year-round. What message would you send to the music industry about the need for year-round support…

“It always seemed to me that the music industry was the perfect fit for Teenage Cancer Trust because the whole progress of music is driven by adolescents and young adults. They discover [music] with their friends and they push things forward, which drives the whole industry. To be fair to the music business, they’re there for us all the time. The managers, the agents, the record companies, they all get it.”

What impact has seeing first-hand the difference TCT’s work makes had on you?

“The young people never cease to amaze me. I’ve never met any one of them that are down, even when some of them I’ve met have been in the last months of their lives. I’ll always remember there was a young woman called Amy Howarth, who had a brain tumour they couldn’t cure, and she was astonishing. She was in a wheelchair, and when the crowd put their phones on and applauded her when she made a speech, she actually stood up. She was only 20 and she was determined to see her 21st birthday, which she did, but she died two days later. That is such resilience.”

What will your involvement with the charity be moving forward?

“We get no government money whatsoever, which I don’t quite understand as we are in the NHS. But what worries me is, we’ve got these places running for this age group in our NHS, but where do we sit if [the NHS] crumbles? What are we going to be left with? My job now is to ensure that position is protected, and I might need to start getting involved with politics, and we might need some government help, to make it much more cemented in medical practice that this age group is recognised.”

What’s next, then, in terms of your work around TCT, in the immediate months? 

“I do stuff every day – emailing people, thinking about other approaches to raising money and awareness, which takes up an awful lot of brain power. If they can’t find anyone for next year, I’ll do it, because I know I’ve got someone ready for 2026. I just don’t want the responsibility of a five-year contract because I am aware I’m 80 years old, and [that’s around] the average lifespan. If it was 85, maybe I’d think I could accept it! I don’t want to be responsible for not delivering for the charity.” 


In light of the event’s record breaking fundraising success, those behind the scenes have rushed to praise The Who for their devotion to the cause over the years. 

Rob Ballantine director at SJM Concerts, said: “Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend have tirelessly built up these concerts annually for twenty four years and when they started by telling me they wanted to bring their orchestrated Who show to the Royal Albert Hall we knew we were off to a strong start.”

“To break all records and raise over £2 million for the charity is phenomenal and makes all the hard work worthwhile,” he continued. “We know since Covid the charity have been hit financially and these funds will be much needed.”

Kate Collins, chief executive of Teenage Cancer Trust, said: “What an incredible way to mark Roger’s final year curating these flagship fundraising gigs. The terrific total raised has never been more needed. We rely on donations to make sure young people don't face cancer alone and these funds will make a difference to teenagers and young people with cancer when they need it most. The phrase legend is over-used but totally applies to Roger and what he has achieved. We can't thank him enough for all he has done over the last 24 years to make these gigs such a spectacular success. When he pulled together his friends for that first one-off gig in 2000, I don’t think anyone could have imagined what it would have grown into. There have been so many memorable moments and he’s inspired the music industry and music fans to change the lives of young people with cancer… Roger's achievement is about more than the money raised – it's about the spotlight he has shone on the needs of young people with cancer and the difference this has made to thousands of young people’s lives over the years.” 

James Ainscough OBE, chief executive of the Royal Albert Hall, added: “It’s a huge honour to have hosted this incredible concert series for more than twenty years – one of the jewels in the crown of our programme, and such a privilege to support the mission of Teenage Cancer Trust. This year’s concerts felt particularly poignant with Roger stepping down after 24 glorious years, but we’re very excited to see how the series develops over the coming years.”

Looking to the future, SJM’s Ballantine said: “With Roger standing down we face a new and exciting challenge. We wanted to give the amazing opportunity to other artists to curate a week of shows at the best venue in the UK!”

Ballantine confirmed that they have already secured “three amazing global superstars to individually curate the next three years”.

“If there are any agents, managers, artists who would like to schedule a show for Teenage Cancer Trust at the Royal Albert Hall into their live calendar they are very welcome to contact us at SJM Concerts,” he said. “Next year’s shows run from 24 to 30 March 2025.”

Roger Daltrey interview by James Hickie
Photo: John Stead


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