Lenny Henry sporting the new paper nose. Image: Comic Relief/YouTube
Red Nose Day is one of the biggest charity events of the year in the UK, and it’s back this month for the 2023 edition.
The telethon, a fundraising extravaganza, has been part of British life for over 30 years. It’s prompted people to get involved, but also sparked debate and controversy as it adapts to the modern world.
Here are all your questions about Red Nose Day answered.
What exactly is Red Nose Day?
Anybody with experience of the British education system will be all-too-familiar with Red Nose Day. Sitting alongside Genes for Jeans day in the great pantheon of uniform-deviating fundraising days, it was an excuse to stick on a red nose and go home to an evening of comedians doing silly things.
It’s the fundraising day for Comic Relief, a charity formed in 1985 by Lenny Henry and Richard Curtis.
The main TV event usually features a series of sketches and crossovers. In 2021, Daniel Craig’s James Bond crossed paths with Catherine Tate’s Nan, and the 2022 edition saw French and Saunders and Judi Dench parody The Repair Shop.
It’s accompanied by celebrity fundraising efforts. This year, Emma Willis, Rylan, and Oti Mabuse are trekking across the Cairngorm mountains in Scotland.
We also have Comic Relief to thank for some of our country’s most joyful cultural output: both Tony Christie and Peter Kay’s Is This The Way To Amarillo and Westlife’s cover of Uptown Girl were Comic Relief singles.
Historically made from plastic, then foam, the iconic red nose has been given a redesign by Jony Ive – the brain behind the look of many of Apple’s most recognisable products.
What issues have people raised, and how has Red Nose Day changed?
Recent years have seen attention wane from Red Nose Day.
From a peak of 11 million people tuning into BBC One in 2003, and a strong record in the 2010s of being the top-rated weekly show on the channel, audiences have faded. Just three million people watched the BBC One extravaganza in 2022. Donations, too, have fallen off. Red Nose Day broke the £100 million mark in 2011, but has seen a steady decline, with £42 million raised in 2022.
Part of this can be traced to a controversy over the event’s use of tropes and stereotypes about Africa. After singer Ed Sheeran filmed a video in Liberia in 2017, Labour MP David Lammy wrote that “the fundraising is worthwhile, but the Red Nose Day formula is tired and patronising to Africans”.
Lammy spoke afterwards about hoping Comic Relief could “refresh its image and think harder about the effects its output has on our perceptions of Africa”.
In response, things have changed. Comic Relief has said it will not send celebrities to Africa, and would use local filmmakers to produce its videos on-location.
The Great British telethon needs to adapt to a new age of giving, says Crowdfunder CEO
Rob Love, the CEO of Crowdfunder, said events like Comic Relief faced a challenge to adapt.
“They’re great brands aren’t they? They’ve got to evolve – and I think they are – with what’s happening elsewhere,” he said.
“The old-fashioned telethons, it’s harder to try and get everyone’s attention at the same time because there’s so many different ways to do it.”
In September, Love spent a few days in New York with Comic Relief founder Richard Curtis as part of the Gates Foundation. Now, Crowdfunder and Comic Relief were working together. Some of the solution will come from big corporations promising to match funding, he said.
“Corporates have still got money. There might be a cost of living crisis, but there’s still a lot of cash around in society, it’s just sort of in the wrong places I’d say,” he added.
One such partner this year is British Airways.
“The great strength of the Comic Relief or Red Nose brand is to bring corporates, government people together to a central point. But underneath that the mechanisms need to change about how they’re doing it.”
Are you fundraising for Red Nose Day, or do you have thoughts about the charity telethon? We want to hear from you. And we want to share your views with more people. Get in touch and tell us more.
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