Monday, 16 March 2009

Red Nose Day 2009 - Review

It is the biggest night on British television. The BBC hosts a massive 7 hours long, 100% LIVE night of comedy. It makes us laugh, cringe, cry, think, love, giggle and give. Every RND is bigger and better than the last and this year was no exception. Beating the final RND count from 07 by over £17.5 million, this year’s total at the end of the evening stood at a whopping £57,809,938. And as of today (March 16th 09) it stands at £59,187, 065.

So what is it that makes RND so successful? It is time to find out. (I have titled the sections because I do realise how long this is!)

There is a good summary video with this BBC article.

Yeah... but what is Red Nose Day?

Red Nose Day is the most popular Comic Relief fundraising event in the UK (not the only – there is also year round projects and Sport Relief. Find out more here). It happens mid-March every 2 years and it gets its name from the fact that people celebrate the day by sporting a red nose. The event is supported by a huge range of celebrities and companies.

Comic Relief and Red Nose Day were started by writer/director Richard Curtis (4 Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, Blackadder etc) as a result of Michael Burke’s famous news report on the Ethiopian famine in 1985. 60% of the money raised by Comic Relief goes to projects in Africa while 40% is spent here at home in the UK. The charity has to date raised over £600million.

The two unique things about the charity are firstly; the pound for pound scheme whereby every single penny of what people donate is exactly what the charity receives, and secondly; the sustainable and long-lasting projects it funds. Comic Relief provides long term support to the places that need it most. It is not a ‘fad’ charity that supports one cause at a time and then moves on when another becomes the fashion.

There are two sides to every story and Red Nose Day is no exception. Comic Relief is a charity that is based on comedy and laughter. But yet the causes that it funds are truly harrowing. In a nutshell (Help, help - I’m in a nutshell) I personally believe the success of RND is down to the clever balance of humour with heart-wrenching truths.

The sad side of the story...

Interspersed throughout the night are appeal videos; tales of broken homes, people dying from AIDs, young carers, domestic abuse, poverty, survivors of genocide and more. I like these videos because they are not afraid to show the truth. The images are shocking and harrowing but then that is the life that some people live with.

Although celebrities do the appeal videos don’t be fooled - there is nothing glamorous about the job. A memorable appeal video by an actor (can’t remember his name) about 15 years ago was part of a documentary on Comic Relief recently. He visited Rwanda and saw some of the worst sites you can see as a result of the genocide such as the women dying from AIDs (having been raped by soldiers) and the rooms full of human skulls collected from destroyed villages and roadsides. On the documentary he said: Sometimes I wish I had never gone there. I had nightmares every night for many years after that visit. I still sometimes have them now.

On a personal note here I want to remind people of something. Something which is obvious and yet strangely easy to forget. This actor had nightmares from a three day visit. Imagine what the people who live there go through. These people (and this goes for everyone in need) know about their situation. They know that their children need education, or that they need to take tablets, or that they are starving. They know that if they drink dirty water they will get ill but they have no choice. And if they don’t know because they haven’ had access to an education that doesn’t mean they are stupid. Living in a slum and eating food from rubbish dumps is not what these people choose to do with their life. We do have a choice.

Anyway, the appeal videos get me every time. In fact I cried a total of 11 times this year. Not just a single tear or wet eyes, but really crying. I actually cried writing the above. And I know I am not the only one – hell, I am not ignorant to the fact that these things are MADE if not to make us cry but definitely to make us THINK. We are bombarded with facts and figures about the state of the world:

someone dies every three seconds just because they were born into poverty that is 480 people a day which is 161280 people a year about 5500 people die of AIDs every single day 95% of the world’s population who are infected with the AIDs virus live in Sub-Saharan Africa Malaria kills 3000 African children every day over 30% of the country’s income has to be spent on malaria in the UK 1 in 8200 mothers die during or as a result of childbirth in some parts of Africa such as Malawi 1 in 8 women die during childbirth imagine being pregnant and knowing those odds babies are then 10 times more likely to die if their mother has died in Sub-Saharan Africa 35 million primary-school age children are not in education there are 175,000 young carers in the UK 1 in 4 school-age young carers skip school to care for their loved ones 1 in 4 UK women will suffer domestic abuse An incident of domestic violence is reported in the UK every minute 1 in 4 people suffer from a mental illness in the UK one in 10 of us – 66,900 – have a mental illness right now, while half of us – 334,500 – will have a close family member who experiences mental ill health

It is a lot to take in and I am pretty sure some people just switch off – decide they have done hearing about horrible stuff and just wait to get back to the comedy. Comic Relief however is as successful as it is because they show the good as well. These appeal videos do not just show things to make you feel awful. They also show hope. They show families reunited after years of separation, they show schools being built and wells being dug. And that is what it is all about. Comic Relief says: don’t feel bad about feeling good. It says: here is what we did with your money. Now feel good about the lives you helped to change. All they ask is for us to be generous once every two years. It doesn’t seem like that much to me.

I can’t afford it though!

My number one pet peeve is people not giving to charity claiming they can’t afford it because “I am a student” or “I don’t get paid enough” because even the smallest amount can make a difference. You can really change someone’s life with any amount of money:

• £35 will buy a person living in a slum a brand new house... not that much really considering it costs £125,000 just for a parking space in London.
• £14 will pay for an entire year of school including fees and uniform for a girl in Zambia... not that much considering we’ll pay £14 just for a text book.
• £3 will pay for a life-saving supply of food... not that much considering we will pay £25 to eat out a fancy restaurant
• 40p will pay for an HIV test... not that much considering you can’t even buy a Cadbury’s Dairy Milk bar for less than 50p.

So all of you students and low income earners, can’t afford to donate? Rubbish. You can change someone’s life with just 40p. Give what you can. Every penny really does count. Comic Relief and RND are not about how much each individual gives. It is just that you do. For example, in the documentary I mentioned earlier they had a woman talking about a support group set up by Rwandan female genocide survivors. The founder of the group said: If you can’t recognise the humanity in us then the money doesn’t mean much to us. So basically, if you don’t want to donate then don’t – just don’t pretend it is because you can’t afford it.

One reason why RND09 was so successful was the new donate-by-text service. To donate £5 all people had to do was text YES to 66609. That is it. Done. £5 donated via your phone bill or from your pre-paid credit. This idea is quite genius. People are quite happy to spend hundreds of pounds on mobile phones and it is time for charities to cash in. It is quicker than donating via phone call or online and with a set minimum it is telling people that £5 is an ok amount to donate (you can donate more by texting twice, or thrice!). In fact £5 is the exact cost of a mosquito net. And this new way of donating raised enough to buy 1 million mosquito nets!

There was a similar service run by BBC Radio 1 in the run up to RND and their minimum was just £1. This was in support of the Mount Kilimanjaro climb. See below.

Conquering Kilimanjaro

Forgive me for getting sidetracked for a moment because this part really does require some special attention. In recent years Comic Relief has begun the ‘expedition tradition’ (my title). For Sport Relief 06 David Walliams (comedian) swam the English Channel. For Sport Relief 08 James Cracknell rowed the Channel, cycled through France and Spain, and then swam from Gibraltar to Africa (the last part along with David Walliams) in just 10 days!

This year the expedition was for Red Nose Day and the colossal task was for nine celebrities to climb Mt Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak. All of the group - Alesha Dixon (singer), Ben Shephard (presenter), Cheryl Cole (singer), Chris Moyles (radio DJ), Denise Van Outen (presenter), Fearne Cotton (presenter), Gary Barlow (singer), Kimberley Walsh (singer) and Ronan Keating (singer) – did, amazingly, make it to the top. Pretty good going considering only a third of the people that attempt it actually make the peak.

They suffered altitude sickness which includes dizziness, nausea, vomiting, severe headaches, insomnia and other not-so-pleasant symptoms. But they fought through it all to reach the top which – can I just add – is so exposed to the sun that you have to start the ascent at night when the temperature is -20 Celsius.

The thing that amazes me though is the group of over 100 medics and porters who carried the tents and equipment on their heads as if it were nothing! Crazy.

Are you having a laugh?

Comic Relief does exactly what it says on the tin; relief through comedy. As I have already mentioned, this year’s RND was the most successful ever. Not by one or two million but by a staggering 17.5 million pounds. Considering that we are told about the credit crunch every time we turn on the news I personally think that it is pretty good going!

Red Nose Day is the night when the country’s stars come together to be funny for money. You can see highlights from RND 09, and other videos, at their Youtube channel. As always the success of RND is really twofold: the live show and presenters, and the sketches and specials.

The live show and presenters

This year’s RND ran a live show from 7pm to 2:15am on BBC 1 (BBC2 between 10-11pm). This is followed by a pre-recorded clip show until 3am. This year’s presenters were David Tennant (actor) and Davina McCall, Jonathon Ross and Claudia Winkleman, Fearne Cotton, Reggie Yates and Noel Fielding (comedian), Fearn Britton and Alan Carr, Graham Norton and then lastly Matt Horne (comedian) and James Corden (comedian).

The live show makes the charity seem all the more real. More than once did the presenters get choked up, or start crying when they did the appeals. They get excited and elates at the totals as they come in. They are passionate and dedicated to the charity and, of course (!), do the whole thing for free.

To go through all 7 hours would be, let’s face it, a tad tedious. So here are some of the highlights from the live show. The first highlight was David Tennant. Yes, the Doctor himself opened the show with Davina McCall and I have no doubt he is one of the reasons that the show got off to such a good start. His presence would have pulled in the younger family viewers at the beginning of the show as well as the swooning female crowds.

His section included a Mastermind battle between himself and Davina. His specialist subject was Doctor Who and Davina’s was Big Brother. They also did a round of general knowledge. David won... and Davina’s general knowledge is appalling! They didn’t let her defeat get in the way of their parting on-the-floor snog. You will have seen this if you watched the summary video link I put at the beginning. Oh yes. It was hot.

I also enjoyed Graham Norton’s section. He always does the final push of the live show and I can’t help it... I just love the guy. He came out (pun intended) to a drag number with dancers, glitter, glamour and wigs galore. Fantastic! Actually, having done a bit of research I just found out he was dressed as Zaza from La Cage aux Folles who he will be playing when it opens on the West End! I wouldn’t know that from the show because naturally there is no direct plugging on RND unless the product is related to Comic Relief!

From 10-11pm RND switches to BBC2 as BBC1 hosts the 10 o’clock news. This year it had Top of the Pops live during this time. This was always going to be a popular feature with scores of people, me included, still wanting to see the return of the programme for good since they cancelled it in 2006 after a 42 year run. But alas because of music channels we will just have to make do with charity occasions.

Now although I am not a fan of club music per se, I have to admit that having Flo Rida sing Right Round live was pretty awesome. Even more awesome was Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Davina McCall and Fearne Cotton joining the hip-hop girl dancers (you know the ones – hotpants and gyrating hips) on stage.

Lastly the main highlight was the totals. Each section builds up to a check on the total money raised. Along with the money donated by viewers as they watch Comic Relief adds in money from other sources (see below) at specific points during the night. This year the totals went:

  • 7:50pm - £3,017,772
  • 8:29pm - £13,667,550
  • 9:34pm - £29,748,187
  • 9:57pm - £32,802,411
  • 11:25pm - £41,799,343
  • 12:52am - £54,690,437
  • 2:08am - £57,809,938
Sketches and specials

The live show is home to various pre-recorded comedy sketches and specials played throughout the night. These include Little Britain, Catherine Tate, Dragon’s Den, The Royle Family, Outnumbered, The Apprentice and The Sarah Jane Adventures to name but a few. RND 07 even had a comedy sketch from Tony Blair! Although Gordon Brown didn’t follow in his footsteps this year I’m afraid (or am I relieved).

The best sketch of the night was, without a doubt, Smithy and the England team. Smithy is a character played by James Corden (<3) href="">You can watch it here.

Another sketch I enjoyed was Armstrong and Miller meets Mitchell and Webb (usually two separate sketch shows). This sketch makes me laugh. It takes the idea that, what if well-spoken WW2 soldiers were as childish and inarticulate as we seem to be today. If you, like me, don’t really understand the use of the word ‘innit’, derived from ‘isn’t it’, then this sketch is for you:

French and Saunders provide a sketch every year. The most unforgettable being their spoof ‘Harry Potter and the Chamberpot of Azerbaijan’. It IS as funny as it sounds. And has a brilliant impression of Jo Rowling which the real JK finds very funny. This year however there was only going to be one spoof - Mamma Mia!, now the highest grossing film of all-time in the UK, a title which it took from Titanic. Jennifer Saunders as Meryl Streep was actually quite fantastic! You can see a tiny clip here, although this clip doesn’t include the fathers who are played by Colin Firth (actor), Alan Carr (comedian) and A Swede (vegetable).

I have to admit though that one of the sketches disappointed. Ricky Gervais’ sketch about The Office: The Opera was a little tired. He took his self-absorbed alter-ego too far to the point where it just wasn’t funny anymore (however I would pay money to see an opera version of The Office, if only it were real). But then nothing could beat his piece from last year. I will never tire of watching this sketch. PLEASE watch it here.

Where does the money come from?

Now in addition to just ringing up on the night, or fundraising at home, there are other ways RND09 raised money. The tremendous support from other companies on and around RND really is fantastic especially in a time of such financial instability in the business world. This is what I love about British culture. When it comes down to it we band together, rich business people included, to do what we can.

Below are the totals from some of the supporting products/companies. These figures show how deeply Comic Relief is embedded into the marketplace on Red Nose Day and therefore why it is such a successful and fantastic charity:

• Red Noses – this is the obvious money-raising product. The last RND (07) saw nearly 6 million noses be sold. This year saw a rise of over 20% with over 100,000 noses being sold every day!

• The singles. There were two charity records released for RND. One was the comedy track “Island’s in the Stream” by Nessa and Bryn (characters played by Ruth Jones and Rob Brydon from the comedy Gavin and Stacey) with Tom Jones. And the other one was the official pop track “I Just Can’t Get Enough” by the Saturdays. RND09 was the first time that the official track did not reach number 1 though breaking a run of 11 singles. I don’t have a total at the moment.

• T-shirts at TK Maxx– along with the noses a new Red Nose t-shirt design is made each year. This year’s designs were no doubt the best ever having been designed by Stella McCartney and featuring the Beatles, Madonna and Morecambe and Wise. They raised a whopping £3,200,389

• Sainsbury’s is probably the biggest partner of Comic Relief when it comes to Red Nose Day. It labels many of its products with Noses so that buyers know which ones contribute to the charity. This year they raised £9 million. This is the biggest donation ever presented to Comic Relief.

• Kilimanjaro climbers. During their 7 day ascent Radio 1 encouraged listeners to text ‘climb’ to 88808 and thus donates a £1. They raised over £3.3 million.

• Jammie Dodgers raised £160,000

• British Telecom raised £313,000

• Jamie Oliver recipe books raised over £1 million

• iTunes and record companies – 20p from every top 40 single bought in the UK on the 13th, 14th and 15th went towards Comic Relief. This is quite a massive contribution – a quarter of each sale basically.

• Wine Relief (limited edition white and red wine) was a new scheme this year that raised £750,000.

• Babybel cheese raised £303,796

• Subway takeaway raised £407,743

• There was even a £6 million donation from a completely anonymous donor. Some rich business type out there deserves a good pat on the back!

The end is in sight

So that is my review of RND09. I hope you have enjoyed reading about just some of the things that have made this the most successful RND ever. In the next few months the total usually goes up by another £20million as fundraising donations come in.

Y’know I am not often actively patriotic - I don’t really have an opinion of the royal family for example – but there are some things where I am very proud to be from the UK. This is one of those times. For the UK, which is, after all, a weenie island between the North Sea and the Atlantic, to raise that much money for just one event is mind blowing.

Comic Relief is my favourite charity. And if you have read the above then you will know why.

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