How Stephen Sutton Became An Internet Hero

The 19-year-old, who died in the early hours of this morning, managed to inspire millions with his fundraising efforts and lust for life.

1. Stephen Sutton, who died today aged 19, set out to raise £10,000 for charity but ended up raising £3.5 million. His inspiring story touched people around the world. How did it happen?

The teenager from Burntwood, Staffordshire, won millions of fans for his relentessly positive outlook in the face of his terminal cancer diagnosis.

After first being treated for colorectal cancer in 2010, then aged 15, which involved six months of chemotherapy, Stephen said he became “determined not to let the treatment and diagnosis get on top of me”.

Doctors advised him to take a year out of school, but he stayed on and was awarded 9 GCSEs, including 5 A*s and 4 As. In between treatments, he’d later achieve 3 A*s at A-level, not to mention an A in “self-taught” psychology.

In summer 2011, he was told he was in remission – but in October got the news that there was a lump in his leg. Despite surgery to remove the tumour and 30 sessions of radiotherapy, it returned in 2012.

More surgery was considered but his condition was declared terminal.

In January 2013 he launched his Facebook page, Stephen’s Story, “to share my life and outlook with the whole world”. He couldn’t have predicted what would happen in the next 12 months.

2. All Stephen set out to do was raise £10,000 for the Teenage Cancer Trust last year.

His first donation, for £125 including Gift Aid, was from Anthony and Lauren Murphy on 31 January 2013. At that point, the £10,000 target seemed a long way off.

3. Stephen’s face was occasionally seen in local newspapers last year as he ticked off the 46 things to do on his “bucket list”.

As the word spread locally, his fundraising total swelled to £120,000 by November, with more than 20,000 people following his updates on Facebook and Twitter. This was still only the beginning.

4. This is around when #stephensstory started trending on Twitter.

5. People were inspired by his devotion to doing something meaningful with the time he had left – or just something he’d always wanted.

6. Like getting a tattoo.

Here's a picture of my other tattoo RT #stephensstory

— Stephen's Story (@_StephensStory)

7. And meeting an elephant.

8. He won acclaim for his inspirational talks – which at this stage were mainly in his native Midlands.

Met @_StephensStory last night. A truly inspirational young man...Please follow him and appreciate just how lucky we all are! #GlassHalfFull

— Dougie Brown (@dougie1brown)

9. In January he addressed 4,000 people at the O2 Arena and by February, the fundraising total had reached £560,000 – but still this only received coverage in his local paper.


10. However, in early April Stephen became a star on the national stage. The Birmingham Mail ran his story on April 5, and a little over a week later, it was on MailOnline.

This story didn’t get that many views. However, the MailOnline, Daily Mail and Daily Star continued to run it, and by the end of April Stephen’s story was being covered by most news outlets.

11. He met Jimmy Carr – which was one of his bucket list items.

I also once met Jimmy Carr! Genuinely the funniest bloke ever #stephensstory

— Stephen's Story (@_StephensStory)

12. Then, the Prime Minister too.

13. In total, he managed to tick off 33 out of 46 items on his list.

1) Raise £10,000 for teenage cancer trust- NEW TARGET.. £1,000,000 - DONE!
2) Skydive for charity- DONE
3) Bungee jump for charity (at some place like the Macua tower, Verzasca dam, Victoria falls, etc)
4) Organize a charity party- DONE
5) Charity waxing and head shave
6) Write a book - DONE
7) Release a “tumour humour” joke book containing jokes, funny stories and anecdotes from cancer, that can help people to look at the brighter side of life
8) Organize a charity football match- DONE
9) Do a charity hitchhike visiting every Teenage Cancer Trust unit across the country
10) Write, record and release a charity single with my old band
11) Organize a charity gig - DONE
12) Go busking!- DONE
13) Persuade local schools to have a ‘get wiggy with it’ non uniform day- DONE
14) Charity quizzes at local pubs- DONE
15) Organize a charity ball- DONE
16) Host a charity ‘Come Dine With STE’ dinner party for friends- DONE
17) Organize and be part of a flash mob- DONE
18) Organize a gigantic game of musical chairs/pass the parcel/etc- DONE
19) Go to a carnival in Brazil.
20) Go to Wembley to see a football match- DONE
21) Go to Twickenham to see a rugby match- DONE
22) Fly somewhere first class- DONE
23) Get a tattoo- DONE
24) Drum in front of a huge crowd- DONE
25) Do some public speaking in front of a huge crowd of people- DONE
26) Go visit a famous waterfall
27) Throw a massive party for all my friends- DONE
28) Go on a ‘lads holiday’- DONE
29) Go to Australia
30) Hug an animal that is bigger than me- DONE
31) Ride a Segway- DONE
32) Go to a Skrillex concert
33) Go see a darts competition- DONE
34) Get my name into the Guinness World Book of Records somehow
35) Go to CERN in Switzerland- DONE
36) Meet Jimmy Carr- DONE
37) Go to another music festival- DONE
38) Find someone with more surgical scars than me (>47cm worth)- DONE
39) Star as an extra in a film or music video- DONE
40) Get Tim Minchin to write a song for me - DONE
41) Learn to juggle
42) Inspire someone else to become a doctor or fundraiser- DONE
43) Have my portrait drawn- DONE
44) Crowd surf in a rubber dingy at a gig- DONE
45) Try breathing in xenon or sulphur dioxid eand talking (has the opposite effect of helium)
46) Visit Machu Picchu in Peru

14. Stephen posted what he called his “farewell thumbs up” picture to Facebook on 22 April, in which he thanked his friends, family and supporters.

15. Then £500,000 was raised in less than 24 hours.

Britain and beyond raised 500k since 4pm yesterday! Hahaha, YOU beauties! @_StephensStory

— Stan Collymore (@StanCollymore)

He posted on 28 April, “I thought I was a goner, but one week on I’m still here!” On 2 May was even discharged from hospital, before going back in on 11 May, as he wrote in his final Facebook post.

17. But this morning his mum wrote on his Facebook page that he died peacefully in his sleep in the early hours of Wednesday. She wrote:

My heart is bursting with pride but breaking with pain for my courageous, selfless, inspirational son who passed away peacefully in his sleep in the early hours of this morning, Wednesday 14th May. The ongoing support and outpouring of love for Stephen will help greatly at this difficult time, in the same way as it helped Stephen throughout his journey. We all know he will never be forgotten, his spirit will live on, in all that he achieved and shared with so many.

18. Tributes have poured in from across the world. Comedian Jason Manford – who called Stephen during a gig – said he was the most inspiring person he’d met.

He said: “Stephen Sutton was the most inspiring person I’ve ever met and touched more lives than he will ever know.

“He was an incredibly positive young man and a credit to his family, to Burntwood and to humanity itself. The reason we took to him so passionately was because he was better than us, he did something that none of us could even imagine doing.

“In his darkest hour he selflessly dedicated his final moments to raising millions of pounds for teenagers with cancer.

“Some of Stephen’s words will stay with me and others forever and they are words to live by - ‘life isn’t measured in time, it’s measured in achievements’.

“If that’s true, Stephen, then you had a fulfilling life full of special moments and you will live long in the memory of thousands, if not millions, of people.”

19. Stuart Jones, the head teacher at Chase Terrace Technology College, Stephen’s school, said:

Stephen developed a deep understanding of what’s important in life. We will miss him enormously but he leaves an amazing legacy and we believe that it is fitting for us to focus our attention on celebrating his life. Stephen is the most exceptional person I have ever known.v

20. England captain Steven Gerrard said Stephen was an “inspiration”.

“I was fortunate enough to meet Stephen at Wembley when he came to an England game last year, he’s a huge fan and his enthusiasm was amazing.

“What he has done has been incredible, raising funds that will make an enormous difference to so many people.

“A young lad with such bravery, facing up to adversity by showing complete selflessness. He’s an inspiration, and my thoughts are with his family at this sad time.”

21. In an interview in March, Stephen spoke about what he wanted his lasting legacy to be.


Wall of remembrance at Stephen Sutton's former school

— Tim Gatt (@TimGattITV)

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Patrick Smith is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Alan White is a news editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.