How I learned to embrace the media: Suzy Evans on life in the public eye after Tunisia tragedy
A mother who lost her son, brother and father in a terrorist attack has shared her experiences of dealing with worldwide media attention in the aftermath.
Suzy Evans said the immediate flood of interest felt like an ‘ambush’. But she said in the years since she had come to embrace the media and, looking back, would have handled things very differently.
Suzy first heard about the events in Tunisia from son Owen, then 16, who was on holiday with his brother Joel, uncle Adrian and grandad Patrick. He survived the attack on June 26, 2015, in which they were killed.
Suzy, of Wednesbury in the West Midlands, managed to get out to Tunisia that same evening. In the confusion and trauma that followed she arrived back to find reporters and photographers waiting to get pictures and knocking on her door.
“I never expected the ambush that we got when we got back from Tunisia,” she said.
“We had reporters parked in the street, they were knocking on all my neighbours’ doors trying to get a story; they were knocking at my mom’s house . . . It was that that shocked us.”
Suzy, aged 50, said she realised that the media needed to report on what had happened, but she and Owen were not ready to speak to reporters, and as a result some of the reports at the beginning were inaccurate.
When it came to the funeral, she said well-meaning acquaintances spoke to the media and said lovely things about her family, but the facts were not still necessarily correct.
“Looking back, I would have done things so differently,” she said. “You have to embrace the press and actually get someone to speak to them.”
As time went on, publicity surrounding the family turned to awards and events that were being held in honour of the victims. Suzy said that positive publicity helped her and Owen during those first few months, but they still didn’t feel ready to talk to the media.
Then the Birmingham Mail got in touch wanting to give Owen an award to recognise his bravery. That was the first interview they gave.
Suzy said: “Owen did not want a reward really, he just wanted his family back, but it was a lovely opportunity for Owen to be praised because what he did was remarkable and how he has coped, and is still coping, is fantastic.”
In 2017, Suzy and Owen set up the Smile For Joel charity, to help other families who had been affected by murder, and turned to the media for support.
“We can’t thank the press enough for the support they have given us and they are still giving us today,” added Suzy.
“Obviously they still want to talk about the story, and what happened and how Owen is and how I am, but they still want to talk about the events we are doing and supporting the events and we are so grateful for that.
“We have got a good relationship with the press. If it wasn’t for the press people wouldn’t know what the events were and if the events didn’t happen then people would forget what happened on that day. The events are about remembering what happened and raising money so the two come together now.
“We realise that we have a story – and it’s a horrific story – but we’re turning it round and making it a positive outcome by what we are doing with the fundraising.”
Suzy said she was looking forward to media coverage of the events planned for this year, starting with the Jump For Joel on July 3. The fundraising skydive will see 38 people jump out of a plane in memory of the 38 people who died in Tunisia.
Later, on September 5, there is the Run For Joel, taking place at Sandwell Valley. On October 7 they have a Dining with Legends evening planned and on November 13 a black tie ball.
Suzy was speaking about her experiences in a podcast for PR and features agency Nurture Media called The Media & Me. To listen to the full interview, visit https://www.nurturemedia.co.uk/podcasts/suzy-evans-how-i-learned-to-embrace-the-media/
To donate to Smile For Joel and to find out about the fundraising events taking place this year, visit smileforjoel.com