A little after I had begun to appear on television, I started to receive requests for charity appearances. At the start I said yes to everything. My job before that point had frequently involved dragging myself out of bed at all hours in order to journey to represent some minor thug in one of the less charming parts of our city.
Back in those pre-gentrification/iPhone days you could always tell what an area was really like by rifling through the barristers’ mini court guide and checking for the “suggested local restaurant”. You knew you were in one of the less salubrious parts of town when the suggested “safe place to eat” was McDonald’s. I am not referring to anywhere specific, of course (although Croydon was very different then).
As soon as I had jazz-handed my way into the TV limelight, the new incarnation of me was prevailed upon to undertake more uplifting tasks. To dance all night, for example, with a delectable peroxide blonde, in the name of mastering the cha-cha-cha.
But inevitably, the fact I was doing a job that in no way resembled work meant that karma was about to come for me in a major way. Saying “yes” to every charity seemed to me a small way of appeasing these karmic demons.
At the end of my fourth or fifth charitable excursion, a kind soul offered to call me a taxi. I declined. Charity is charity, surely. I am capable of providing for my own journey home.
As the years have gone by, I have realised that many well-known figures are actually accepting more than a simple cab ride for their charity work; they are, I believe, taking full-blown fees. By no means do I make a claim to be a “good person” but one of the real benefits of having any kind of social notoriety is that you have a capacity to bring attention to issues.
But you have to be careful. Last year I put my name down for a “canoe-a-thon”, and was a little nervous about the trip to the countryside. Still, it would only be a photo or two, I told myself. To my astonishment I was handed some waterproofs, introduced to Anthea Turner and placed immediately in a canoe, in which I was left for the remainder of the daylight hours. It was — honestly — marvellous in the end, and I am convinced it must have redressed a substantial reserve of karmic imbalance.
It is clear to me there is a moral imperative not to accept payments for this kind of work. A token bottle of wine or a bunch of flowers, fine. Fees — categorically no. I can understand the odd expense if you are being asked to fly around the world or even journey across the country for a huge charity, but emails that representatives of mine have received asking how much it would cost for a straightforward appearance reveal a different world out there.
It is absolutely astonishing that I can get up in the morning and love what I do. If I’m hosting Sunday lunch for a local care home and then running off in the evening to sup with a local pony club — this is in the genuine hope of drawing some attention to a cause that matters, and using the platform I now have in the hope that I am, in some way, giving back.
The truth is, I don’t give a fig about what so-called celebrities do, but if you take money from a charity (especially one struggling to get public attention), then you deserve to be called out. This should be obvious, and it has come as an immense surprise that this you-scratch-my-back relationship between the glitterati and the charities exists at all.
You do good works because you can be of help, and because these wonderful organisations often struggle to keep afloat. Having ditched Croydon Crown Court for the cha-cha-cha, the pleasure really is all mine.
“I’m proud of Hancock’s finest hour”
It’s thrilling and mildly weird when someone who is a friend becomes really important. I’m not just talking “telly important” but Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport important.
It is wonderful, too, when the people who manage to become “significant”’ are the really good, decent people. Matthew Hancock, pictured, went into Parliament and within two days of his appointment took a genuine risk in challenging some of the un-elected snaggle-tooth Wykehamists of The Lords in their attempts to restrict press freedom. It was a potentially unpopular move — but it was brilliant to see him stand up for the future of free journalism.
As the grandson of a Holocaust survivor who knew what it meant to live under tyranny, I care deeply about freedom of speech (whether I like the speech or not) so I am especially proud to see Matt bravely stand up to defend it.