For Madonna Badger, Christmas Eve in 2011 felt like any other. She’d recently moved into a new house and was looking forward to spending Christmas with her then-boyfriend Michael Borcina, her parents, Lomer and Pauline, and her three beautiful daughters Grace, Sarah and Lily.
But tragedy struck in the early hours of Christmas morning, when a fire erupted inside the home, claiming the lives of Badger’s three young daughters and her parents.
This week, Badger gave an emotional talk at Cannes Lions advertising festival about how she found the will to live and new hope in the aftermath of such a tragedy.
Recalling the incident, Badger said, “It was Christmas Eve and I stayed up very late wrapping presents, my children were asleep on the third floor, my parents were asleep on the second floor … it was our first Christmas in my new house with my children and my mum and dad. Finally I got to sleep, but there was smoke in my room, and I woke up gasping for air, I went to the window and I opened it and I crawled out of the window onto the roof of a porch … and I ran to the far end of the house and I could see sparks flying out of where the electric metre was.”
“So I then made the impossible decision to run past my parents’ window, so that I could go up the scaffolding to get to the third floor, where Grace was asleep. I opened the window, but I could not get in, the smoke was as thick as gravy and the flames were as hot as the flames from hell, and I could not get in, my body would not allow me to get in.
“I was screaming, ‘Where are they?’ … All of this went by like it was in slow motion, it felt like an eternity, but in reality it was only minutes before the fireman came and dragged me off the scaffolding.
“My three children died that night, my parents also died, and I lived. I am still their mother, and I am still their daughter … I lost everything but I didn’t lose my mind, no matter how many times I wished I had.”
In the weeks and months following the house fire, Badger – understandably - was in a bad way. Her hair was falling out and her skin turned grey. She begged God to take her too.
“I felt like killing myself many times, everybody assumed I was going to kill myself, including me. But I was too afraid, that when I got to the other side, that somehow people that kill themselves go to a different place and I wouldn’t be able to find my three little girls. I was afraid that I’d have to do this life over again and I was not prepared to do that.”
A year later, things took a turn for the better when Badger returned to work at Badger & Winters, the advertising agency she co-founded. She came back with a new perspective and began studying the enormous harm done to women by the objectification of the advertising industry.
“This is where I found my purpose, after studying the enormous harm done to women, we decided never to objectify a women or a man in any advertising we do, we wanted to encourage the advertising industry not to objectify women.”
Badger and her colleagues started the campaign #womennotobjects, which included a video that went viral.
“There are millions of girls taking to heart what we put in our campaigns. We Googled objectification of women, and what came up, was advertising. This is how I found my purpose, because Jim [Winters] and I decided, after studying the enormous harm done to women by objectification … we decided that we wanted to encourage our industry to also stop objectifying women.
“Now I have found my reason to be here, and it gives me a great sense of hope … the legacy I want to give Lily, Sarah and Grace is to stop the objectification of women in advertising … This is the future I am fighting for.”