helpline 01494 601 400

Jennie's story

Watch actress Jennie Jacques discussing the impact of her sister's epilepsy and what inspired her to fundraise and raise awareness of epilepsy. 

Actress Jennie Jacques is made of tough stuff. On screen, she plays strong -willed, Northumbrian Princess, Judith in Amazon Prime series Vikings.

Off screen, when Jennie's younger sister was diagnosed with epilepsy in 2010, she felt powerless to help her.  Never afraid of a challenge, Jennie decided to take action and tackled Swim Serpentine, Tough Guy and Spartan Challenge in support of Epilepsy Society. Jennie spoke to us about what inspired her to fundraise.

"I have seen how epilepsy affects another person's life and someone I love"

Taking action

"I was taking a break from learning my lines for Vikings in a cafe in London and as I scrolled through Instagram I noticed a post from Epilepsy Society saying last chance to enter the one mile open-water swim. I entered on impulse because I felt helpless. My sister had recently been in hospital for her epilepsy. As always in life, until something is experienced directly, it's hard to fully empathise. When you nearly lose someone you really do learn a lot.

"I have seen how epilepsy affects another person's life and someone I love. I often find myself researching information and reading other people's stories and experiences which further educates me and motivates me to raise awareness for epilepsy. There are different types of seizures and people don't realise how serious they can be. We certainly don't know enough about epilepsy so the more money and awareness we can raise the better chance we have to learn and to make significant changes as to how we treat people medically and emotionally.

"I can't wave a magic wand but I do strongly believe with an increased awareness and education around any topic we can all improve our ability to understand and encourage compassion"

More to learn

"Even I don't know enough about the condition and I care very much to learn more. I'd love to be able tell my sister and anyone else coping with epilepsy that they don't need to set alarms to take medication every day, but the reality is that medication is often the only thing that will stop the seizures. Obviously I can't wave a magic wand but I do strongly believe with an increased awareness and education around any topic we can all improve our ability to understand and encourage compassion which will inevitably contribute to making a difference to the lives of people with epilepsy.

Epilepsy on screen

Jennie has been able to use her personal experience of what it means to live with epilepsy, to help develop the plot of Vikings. Her on-screen character, Judith, has a son, Alfred the Great, who battled an undiagnosed illness. Jennie was able to discuss what the cause of his illness might have been with the writer and creator of Vikings, Michael Hirst.

Jennie explains: "During one of our big scenes, it hit me - Judith's son could have epilepsy. Michael wrote 'he hovers between life and death and then for no reason he returns.' These words really touched me and in doing so opened up a whole new chapter in regards to my connection with the script and my son and furthermore fuelled my intention to raise awareness about a cause so close to my heart. 

Tough guy and Spartan challenge

"When my muscles felt like they were giving in and I was stuck in a tyre tunnel feeling claustrophobic, caught under a heavy net or in the freezing cold water in another muddy trench, I just thought of the strength of a person who has epilepsy and how brave they are every day and I was totally inspired and motivated to keep going with the biggest smile. Some of the people around me were shocked as to how I was on such a high, during some of the most challenging parts, but I knew why I was doing it and I just felt so strong and happy to be healthy and able to take on the challenge to raise awareness on behalf of my sister and for epilepsy."

Jennie Jacques, 2017

Watch Jennie in action