Preaching the message of God’s love

A Chat With

Jayne Ozanne

The Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, the Very Rev Prof Martyn Percy with Jayne Ozanne

It was one of her first professional challenges. Working for Proctor & Gamble, the marketing expert was assigned to the launch of Lenor Ultra, a revamped version of Lenor Concentrate. However, it was to prove a failure.

“One of the secrets of fabric softener is that evidently homemakers love pouring large quantities into their washing machines. We weren’t to understand this emotional side of the product for some time,” she said.

Even working for that company had been a spiritual challenge. It had been the focus of criticism over its Moon and Stars logo, which offended some Christians. However, despite trying to turn the job down several times, at each turn she felt God speaking to her.

“I even went on a Christian camp where I was a leader and the lady I was sharing a dorm with was working at P&G on Fairy Liquid, the very brand that I had been tentatively assigned to. So I really felt I was meant to be there.”

And it was that work on the washing-up liquid that was to establish her reputation.

At the time the rival company Unilever decided to use its Persil brand to challenge Fairy Liquid. They set aside $50 million to protect their washing-up liquid. And Jayne Ozanne was at the sharp end of the battle.

“We had Nanette Newman saying this bottle washes this many … and all we ever had to do was advertise Nannette Newman and ‘mummy, why are your hands so soft’.

“But Unilever tried to break in with Persil and they launched a trendy new bottle with Robbie Coltrane and they were really all-out.”

“We found out that they were going to launch a try-me-free launch offer, which in those days was unheard-of. So we came up with the idea of Buy One Get One Free (BOGOF), which meant that if people bought it they wouldn’t have to buy another one for six months. It was the first BOGOF promotion. I thought it would take the consumers out of the market.

“It worked. I also did a coupon –‘8 days, 8 ways better’. It was a big claim and it may sound silly to make it against a single brand and we were taken to court. We were able to defend every single claim and that is how I got quite a major name in P&G and in the marketing world and I was promoted quite quickly after that. I learned so much through that,” she recalls.

And her growing reputation led to a call from John Birt to join him in reforming the BBC.

“It was a completely different world. John Birt was Director-General and he was desperate to change the culture to make it more business-like and consumer-focused, viewer-focused.

“His ideas were not popular [with staff there] because he was trying to change the culture and probably trying to push the change too quickly. And I was one of those appointments to make that change.”

It was a big challenge for her because she had been living in Paris for the past four years and knew nothing about the BBC, its output or its corporate structure.

“But I knew about marketing, I knew about brands and I really had to earn my keep and respect with the channel controllers and heads of departments. I managed all the airtime between the programmes and the strategy over what we would promote as well as the branding of the channels.”

And she believes it was a sort of preparation. “It was very much like the world I was about to move into, the Church of England, where many were not used to such an approach and some felt threatened by a businesswoman, wondering what does she know about our world?”

She was one of the first appointments to the newly created Archbishops’ Council, but she was cautious.

“It was the last place in the world I wanted to be, but I knew I felt called to it. It was an extraordinary development that led me to being appointed out of the blue. I saw an advert in the Sunday Times,” she remembers, but she dismissed it and tossed the newspaper in the bin and headed off on holiday.

Again, God seemed to intervene and it became clear to her that she should apply. In the end she believes ‘that God had prepared the way’.

And her time on the Archbishops’ Council was eventful right from the start.

The new body had been created by Archbishop George Carey but its role and its place on the Church had to be decided quickly.

After some initial discussions around a paper prepared by the House of Bishops, she was praying about it and confessed to God that she didn’t understand it.

“And I felt that God was laughing back and saying ‘Neither do I, Jayne’.

“So I sat down to write the sort of document that I was expecting to see: a vision, mission objectives, a set of core values, how we would work and what we were there to do. I based it on Archbishop George’s presidential addresses over the previous couple of years. I wanted it to be a document that the common man in the street would understand.”

And it was welcomed not just by the ‘man in the street’but by the House of Bishops and her colleagues on the new Council.

Beyond her appointment there she worked for major Christian organisations, including Baroness Cox and Canon Andrew White, setting up charities for both of them.

Later she was to work with Tony Blair’s Faith Foundation. A surprising move, perhaps, because she had been a forceful critic of the then Prime Minister while she was on the Council. What happened?

“I had been aware of correspondence between him and Archbishops during the run-up to the Iraq war and the more I studied how deep his faith was and how morally focused he was, it made me stop and think.

“And as I got to know the man I really had to repent of my own attitude and see this man as a man who has a strong moral core who has felt called to politics and to look at the values that pin the international community together.

“So I suppose it was doing my homework and not believing what was put in the media.”

Later illness was to intervene. She was rushed into hospital twice, but although the illnesses were physical doctors were stumped as to the cause.

Jayne herself had a sneaking suspicion.

“I became physically quite ill with the stress of it all, twice in hospital with severe pain, thinking it was organ failure but it was put down to stress and my body was not coping with it.

“I knew what it was but I didn’t want to admit it to myself, never mind the doctors. Others have had similar symptoms. This was deep trauma.”

What she didn’t want to admit to herself was that she was struggling with her sexuality. She did bring the subject up with a therapist who advised her to change her religion.

Jayne, a devout Christian since her childhood, was outraged.

“Change my religion! My goodness! It is like changing the colour of my eyes. I could no more change my religion than change my sexuality.

“But she saw my religion as a crutch and did not understand the depth of the trauma and the place I was in.

“This was why I spoke to the Royal College of Psychiatrists last year because I wanted them to understand if someone was presenting to them with a deep faith, this was very real to them and they couldn’t change that.”

Having finally accepted her sexual orientation she resumed her work and ministry, and was re-elected onto General Synod. This time she had a new objective.

“I need to be clear that I campaign for full LGBTI inclusion because it is a godly thing to do. Our attempts at doing mission are severely hampered because the rest of the country think we are deeply hypocritical.”

Although she has been at the centre of the evangelical world all her life, when she came out she found herself without her old friends. Her sexuality was a bridge too far for many. Although she is clearly hurt by this, she is determined to carry on. But she is critical of conservative attitudes.

“That has cost lives and done tremendous harm. It has put burdens on people that they cannot bear. More important, it has destroyed lives.

“The wider church has to really open its eyes and see the lives it has ruined and is continuing to ruin. Even among my friends who have struggled for years with this burden, but have come to a point of acceptance, they still struggle with the trauma they have been put though.

“I still get contacted by evangelical gay Christians who are at the point of suicide who cannot cope, who are self-harming every day. The scars and trauma are huge and the church has to understand that its teaching is literally killing people.”

Of course, traditional Christians believe that it is Jayne who is undermining the Gospel.

“One thing Christ does is to surprise us, love us and change us. Jesus said ‘there is so much more I have to share with you but you are not ready for it’. About slaves, about women, environment and money. But the disciples weren’t ready for it. Martin Luther said the whole arc of history was pointing to justice.

“The important thing is to be true to what God is calling us to. I am ready to meet my maker tomorrow.” Her ultimate hope is simple: “I hope what people hear from me and see in me is the love of God.”

But she believes that conservative Christians have to look at the Bible through different eyes.

“People read scripture with their heads not their hearts. This Sunday’s readings were about Jesus being criticised by the Pharisees for him healing a man with a crippled hand. Is it better to give life or to kill, to do good or to do evil?

“He was challenging the Pharisees to see the purpose of the law was to free people and to bring life. Is our theology bringing life or it is killing people? If our theology is creating harm we have to look again at the bigger narrative. Christ came to love us, so much that he wants us to be free.”

And perhaps that message of reading the Bible with the head and the heart reflects her understanding of the launch of Lenor Ultra. The head reads the logic, while the heart understands the ‘emotional’ side of the issue.

Colin Blakely

JUST LOVE by Jayne Ozanne is published by Darton, Longman and Todd