Published: Friday, March 29, 2013

Straight Talk

Just a bit of ‘Comic Relief’

British super model Kate Moss sports a Red Nose Day T shirt. Photo: AFP

British super model Kate Moss sports a Red Nose Day T shirt. Photo: AFP

One thing I have learned over the years about the British public is that you just have to give them a worthwhile cause and almost without fail will they dig deep into their pockets to help out. Whether they are in the middle of an economic recession or not, whether it is pounds or pennies, they give what they can. During the course of the year, apart from the regular donations to different charities, there are numerous fundraising events taking place across the country trying to raise money for various causes but the most well known one has to be Red Nose Day.

When I say Red Nose Day, I am not referring to a blisteringly cold winter’s day where people in the UK go about their business with the after effects of excessive nose blowing due to a bout of the sniffles! On the contrary it is actually a biennial telethon which is held in March and televised live on BBC1 to raise money for charity. The charity in question is Comic Relief.

It all began in 1985 when comedy scriptwriter Richard Curtis and much loved British comedian Lenny Henry founded Comic Relief, an operating British charity, in response to the ongoing famine in Ethiopia. The aim of the organisation is to “bring about positive and lasting change in the lives of poor and disadvantaged people” and it also believes that this “requires investing in work that addresses people’s immediate needs as well as tackling the root causes of poverty and injustice” The first Red Nose day was held in 1988 and since then has become the highlight of Comic Relief’s appeal.

I still remember being in university when Red Nose Day was broadcast for the first time. It had a number of live performances, challenges and skits, and almost 150 celebrities and comedians took part in the event. Somehow it managed to bring the plight of millions in need in Africa and disadvantaged groups in the UK (i.e. young people with mental health issues or alcohol problems, victims of domestic and sexual abuse, the elderly, women seeking asylum in the UK etc) to the forefront with the help of entertainment and comedy, not a combination that you would think would work but it did. In fact the appeal was so popular; it managed to garner a staggering 30 million viewers and raised an even more amazing £15 million. Since then, the initiative has snowballed into a massive charity fund raising event and has raised approximately £800 million and Comic Relief has been aiding over 70 countries around the world!

One of the ways Red Nose Day has managed to raise money is by sales of plastic (or at times foam) red noses! In the last twenty five years these plastic noses have evolved from being a plain red nose to being made in the shape of a tomato, a monster, a red triceratops, one with spectacles and even one with fuzzy hair. Who would have thought that a red nose could earn the charity millions of pounds to help people in need.

Over the years, celebrities, comedians, singers, politicians and people from all walks of life have done some extraordinary things to help raise money for Red Nose Day. We have had sketches with the likes of Sir Elton John, George Michael and Robbie Williams, We have seen comedian Catherine Tate in her belligerent school girl avatar, visit former Prime Minister Tony Blair at Number 10 and give him a hard time (all in good humour of course). Not to be outdone by his predecessor, current Prime Minister David Cameron also made an appearance in A Red Nose Day skit of Master Chef where he was made to taste the culinary skills of three celebrity comedians and presenters.

Robbie Williams taking part in Comic Relief like other celebrities. Photo: AFP

Robbie Williams taking part in Comic Relief like other celebrities. Photo: AFP

The famous actor comedian Rowan Atkinson is a regular on Red Nose Day and has played his most loved and well known character Mr Bean, done a take of the age–old show Dr. Who, a parody of Spider Man called Spider Plant Man and has been in numerous spoofs and kept us laughing over the years. Singer and songwriter Gary Barlow from Take That lead a group of celebrities up Mount Kilimanjaro and raised £3.5 million!

I could go on and on about the number of celebrities that have played a part in Red Nose Day but I would run out of space. But it is not just about the people in the public arena but the millions of people from all walks of life and all ages that have been the backbone of this initiative. Every year they come up with the ideas to raise money. Some people bake to raise money, others have pie thrown in their face to do it. Many people get sponsored to dress up in the most bizarre of costumes and be seen in public, others have a theme and show up to work in fancy dress and pay money to do so. Schools have children come in wearing only red or wear their pyjamas to school to raise money. Some adults/children raise money by dying their hair a bizarre colour or have it entirely shaved off. It’s all done in the name of fun but all for a great cause and it is humbling to see what lengths people will go to in the name of charity.

To try and involve even more people to help with their appeal to raise money, Comic Relief, in association with BBC Sport, created another biennial charity event called Sport Relief in 2002. This is yet another huge fundraising campaign that brings together people from the sporting community and entertainment world to incentivise the public to be active while they raise cash which in turn helps to change the lives of people in the UK and across the world’s poorest countries.

In fact Sport Relief has even found its way to Bangladesh. According to ICDDR,B drowning causes more deaths in children aged between 1 -4 than any disease. In 2007 it was estimated that approximately 17,000 child deaths every year in Bangladesh are caused by drowning.  The Monorhardi Swim Safe project is supported by money raised through Sport Relief which teaches children to swim and provides them with the skills to help save others in trouble.

Red Nose Day may get people to laugh at themselves but sport relief makes people push themselves to the extreme to raise money. For example, TV personality David Walliams swam the Channel from England to France in just 10 ½ hours which is one of the 50 fastest times ever and raised  the sum of £1 million in the process and then a few years later swam 140 miles along the River Thames for Sport Relief. Comedian Eddie Izzard took on the challenge to run around the UK, completing a mind blowing 43 marathons in 51 days and helped raise £1.8 million!

We have seen sporting heroes such as David Beckham, Gary Lineker, Sir Stephen Redgrave, Dame Kelly Holmes, Pat Cash, Nick Faldo and countless others do their bit for Sport Relief during the year and on the night of the telethon have had a whole host of other celebrities joining in and appealing to the general public to keep the money coming in.

This year Comic Relief and Red Nose day has raised more than £75 million and the figure is still rising. So far I may have been taking the easy option and donating from the comfort of my chair but maybe its time I did my bit as well. I could shave my hair off (maybe not), or sit in a bathtub full of baked beans (definitely not) or dress up as an eighties pop star (that might work)…any suggestions?