The best four words I’ve ever written?

I’ve written a few words in my time. Some have flowed from my pen like silk; ribbons of mellifluous prose. Some I’ve frogmarched into columns with military precision. Others I’ve frankly vomited onto the page and not had the wherewithal to wipe up properly. (For those I apologise.)

Recently I found myself wondering if the best of all these words, over all these years, might be the four that I strung together on behalf of Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland.

I’m not saying they’re the best four words ever written. I don’t think they’ll ever reside in the pantheon of 4 word greatness, alongside “those blue remembered hills”, “Wherefore art thou Romeo?” and “Talk to me, Goose”.

But they might just carry the power to do some real and lasting good. And for the lowly copywriter, that’s a thrilling prospect.

It all starts with the brief

It was just a regular Monday briefing. Creative team sauntered in clutching mugs of tea and coffee. Account managers dealt out wads of A4 paper and talked us through the task at hand.

Chest, Heart & Stroke Scotland had asked us to come up with a UEP. (UEP = Unifying Emotional Proposition – the set of words that sums up what an organisation stands for beyond its functional purpose.)

The account team had already had in-depth discussions with the client. Q&As, interviews and workshops – the usual process of fact-finding, exploration and interrogation that informs the creative brief. But there was something palpably different about this one.

It was the clarity of ambition. The client’s commitment to being brave and taking a bold stance. We were in no doubt about the direction that the new Chief Executive, Jane-Claire Judson, wanted to take this organisation. And excitingly for us, she understood the power of the brand to get her there.

Her passion overflowed to her own marketing team, spilled into our agency brief and permeated our creative thinking. We knew what they wanted, and were inspired to find it.

Thank you, Baz Luhrmann

I was on the bus home when I thought of it. Top deck, left hand side, staring out of the window. Not so much a lightbulb moment as a dimmer switch, undimming. The trouble with the old lightbulb analogy is that it suggests there is darkness and then, ping! there is light. That the answer comes out of nothing.

In my experience, the creative process isn’t actually like that very often. First there’s reading and learning. Then there’s sifting and sorting. Thinking and incubating. Floundering around in murky waters trying to catch a fish. But eventually, with a bit of luck and a lot of persistence, the fish does land in your hand.

So back to the bus (where there is no fish, bar the old trout driving it).

I was still musing and mulling over the brief.

Earlier that day I’d been reading stories of people living with chest, heart and stroke conditions in Scotland. About the man who had to learn to eat with a knife and fork again, aged 62. About the woman with COPD who didn’t go out for weeks at a time until she found a local singing group for people with breathing difficulties. About the young dad paralysed by a stroke whose dream was to read to his daughter at bedtime like he used to.

All these stories carried a common refrain: there was life before the diagnosis and life after it.

Life divided into two halves – before and after. ‘Before’ was remembered as happy, healthy, care-free. ‘After’ was characterised by isolation, struggle and depression.

The whole point of Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland is to be there for the ‘after’ bit. The condition might be life changing, but it shouldn’t be life ending. They are there to make each precious life the very best it can be.

We swung off Crewe Road roundabout onto Crewe Road North and under the cycle path bridge that feels too low for the double decker, so I always duck a little bit in my seat. Out the other side.

This UEP had to be about life, I thought – about making the most of life even when you’ve got a debilitating health condition – about not missing out on doing the things you always loved doing before – or giving up on dreams you had before this thing happened – about not just existing but really living – about living the fullest life you can – because the alternative is something partial, a life you’ve only half lived.

Suddenly Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom was in my head.

Vivir con miedo, es como vivir a medias!” explodes Fran when she can’t contain her frustration with Scott. Later, as he walks her home to the rundown outskirts of town, she translates it. “A life lived in fear is a life half lived.”

A life half lived. If Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland had their way, there’d be no life half lived.

No life half lived.

Fighting talk.

Four words.

But they seemed to say it all.

I’d only gone and landed an 80lb salmon.

Tears before teatime

A few months later, on 29th May 2018, a gaggle of folk from Story (the creative agency where I work) attended the launch of Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland’s new vision.

NLHL words

We walked into the Caledonian Hotel and saw the line everywhere. On lanyards, screens, presentations, leaflets, balloons, mugs, name badges.

It was obvious that these four words were going to be more than just a strapline. For Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland they were a platform. A promise. The foundation for the organisation’s entire strategy.

That was pleasing to see. But the thing that really made me well up was hearing the service users saying the words. A young woman who’d suffered a stroke spoke them with powerful conviction. When a man with heart failure uttered them, we saw hope in his eyes. As a lad with chronic asthma was saying them on the big screen, I turned and saw the same boy standing right beside me, a broad smile across his face.

Then Jane-Claire got the whole room to say the line in a rousing show of support – volunteers, fellow charities, donors, medical partners, survivors, staff.

That was a first for me. And a bit of tear-jerker.

I just stuck four words together, borrowed from a favourite film. The line is a good one, but it will be meaningless unless people get behind it, believe in it and commit to it.

But if they do… If Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland can use it to reach the quarter of a million people they want to… If they can make hearts work better, and lungs breathe better, and bodies recover better after stroke… If they can lift spirits that have been sunk, and persuade the rest of us that this work is worthy of our time, money and support…

Then yes, these will be the best four words I’ve ever written.


You can find out more and donate to Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland here >

Create a website or blog at

Up ↑