HE’S made hit records, he’s toured the world, and he’s shared the stage with some of the biggest names in the music industry.

But for Francis Dunnery – the Egremont-born musician and frontman of Eighties rockers It Bites – the success of the charity he set up in memory of his parents ranks among his greatest achievements.

The Charlie and Kathleen Dunnery Children’s Fund (CKDCF) is known the world over and, in this its 10th anniversary year, has raised over £80,000 for the benefit of youngsters in the West Cumbrian community.

“I had the best parents in the world,” says Francis, speaking to The Whitehaven News during last weekend’s annual fundraising gathering in West Cumbria. “They were such giving people – so selfless – and our house was always the hub where everyone gathered; me, my brother, my sister and all our friends. So after Mam died, I wanted to put something back into the community.”

CKDCF was born in 2002, and has grown in scale every year since. For the main fundraiser, Francis returns ‘home’ from the United States for a weekend every October to meet fans, play a gig and take part in a sponsored walk and table-tennis competition.

And it’s always phenomenally successful – with people from all over the world descending on West Cumbria to spend time with their hero.

“It’s unbelievable how big the weekend has got, to the point where it can’t really get any bigger due to the organisation it requires. We all run the charity in our spare time, so it can be quite demanding, and I’m indebted to Mark Andrews [a childhood friend] to all his hard work and for being the local face of the charity.

“The support we get is amazing; around 300 people come from Japan, Australia, Holland, Denmark, Canada and all over the United States. It’s a fantastic event. And add to that the celebrities and musicians who offer their support throughout the year, whether it be wearing our T-shirt to raise awareness or sending autographed items and memorabilia that we auction off.”

His concert, which took place at Rosehill on Saturday night, was an instant sell-out and left hundreds of ticketless fans disappointed. He was joined on stage by Steve Hackett, of Genesis fame, and played a string of his greatest hits.

Each weekend raises around £10,000 for CKDCF, and the charity donates money at regular intervals to local causes that benefit children. Recent beneficiaries have included Rosehill Youth Theatre, Greenbank Community Centre and Cumbria Cerebral Palsy, and the charity is inviting applications for future donations.

“Apart from coming home to see family and friends, I enjoy bringing people here to show off our beautiful part of the world. It’s so unspoiled and has not changed too much in the time I’ve been away.”

Francis has lived in the States for the last 20 years, but his success is rooted in Egremont and West Cumbria. Educated at Wyndham School, he shot to fame with It Bites, the band he formed with childhood friends Bob Dalton, Dick Nolan and John Beck, and they enjoyed success throughout the Eighties.

After relocating to London, they produced three studio albums and a string of hit singles, most famously Calling All The Heroes which reached number six in the charts in 1986.

When the band split in 1990, Francis settled in Los Angeles and carved out a successful solo career for himself. He had a number of singles that were well received in a number of countries, including Japan and Australia where he had the most promotion and airplay, and it’s support he still enjoys from these countries today.

“I was hardly Sting, but I did have two or three hit records [American Life in the Summertime, Homegrown] that people from different parts of the world remember fondly.”

He enjoyed his success while at the same time, by his own admission, living the stereotypical rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. “I was a classic ‘guy’ and did go a bit nuts; drinking, smoking, drugs, getting into trouble. You name it…

“But I woke up one day in LA with the biggest hangover you can imagine, and decided that enough was enough and I haven’t gone back to it since. And I don’t miss it – after all, I’m a big enough **** without alcohol!”

Francis, who turns 50 this year, is much more settled these days. After growing tired of the Los Angeles scene, he moved to New York in the mid-nineties – “I much preferred the New York lifestyle to that in LA; the people there are more real.”

But in a quest for more space, he has recently relocated his family – partner Erica and youngest daughters Ava (12) and Elsie (two) – an hour away from New York City to the mountains of Pennsylvania.

“We live on a golf course; it’s absolutely stunning. A quieter way of life than New York, but that’s what suits us down to the ground.”

Work-wise, Francis’ long-time fascination with psychology and astronomy has led him into the medical world. He has achieved a degree and is currently studying for his doctorate and spends one day a week working with cancer patients in a New York City hospital.

“It’s stressful, rewarding and challenging all at the same time. And thankfully, I have a better reputation as a psychologist and astrologer than I do as a musician!”

Published in Whitehaven News

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