August 27, 2008

For the Record, the Celebrities Really Do It to Help Others

By Chris Bond

Once these subside, they're usually replaced by an image of Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse's TV comedy characters, Smashie and Nicey, the naff DJs who never fail to mention their work for "chairidee, mate".This might sound a bit harsh and there have, of course, undoubtedly been some great charity records over the years, perhaps none more so than Band Aid's Do They Know It's Christmas? Not only did this sell more than 3.5mn copies in the UK alone, it transformed Bob Geldof from a little-known musician into an honorary knight of the realm who could rival the Princess of Wales for top spot in the Great British public's affections.When Band Aid 20 re- recorded the song with different artists 20 years later, it went straight to number one, although it's fair to say that it didn't receive the same kind of acclaim. But a lot of water and dodgy records have floated under the bridge since then.It was interesting that although last year's Spice Girls reunion proved a big hit, their charity single, Headlines (Friendship Never Ends), didn't, failing to make the top 10 and becoming the lowest selling Children in Need song in the process.Perhaps this was down to public fatigue, because as well as the likes of Comic Relief, Sport Relief and Children in Need, all manner of charities are now getting in on the act in a bid to raise much-needed money and awareness.This week, a group of actors and sports stars have recorded a charity song against knife crime, following a recent spate of fatal stabbings across the country. The collaboration, under the name UK Flow, has the backing of, among others MP Richard Caborn, Girls Aloud and players from the England football and rugby squads.The song was the idea of Stephen Nicholas, an actor who starred in the TV footballing drama, Dream Team, and proceeds will go to a number of knife-crime charities in the UK. "We just want to raise awareness. We haven't got any ulterior motive, our only motive is to stop kids dying," Nicholas says. "We all live in different parts of the country and kids are dying in all of those areas, not just in London. Every single community around the country is having the same problems with knife crime."The TV star was joined by boxers Johnny Nelson and Junior Witter, Casualty actors Luke Bailey and Elyes Gabel, former Hollyoaks star Lee Otway, DJ and presenter Marvyn Williams, to record the song at the Yellow Arch Studios, in Sheffield.Today's charity records and concerts have come a long way since the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh, organised by George Harrison and Ravi Shankar, to raise money for the relief of refugees, often cited as the first major benefit concert. But although they seem ten-a-penny these days, charity records like Everybody Wants to Run the World and Elton John's reworking of Candle in the Wind for The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, have raised vast sums of money.The problem, quite often, is the songs themselves. At best, they're usually saccharine and, at worst, they're tooth-grindingly irritating. Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie have written some stupendous songs during their careers, but We Are The World, billed as USA for Africa, wasn't one of them.And while the great and good like to be seen to be "doing their bit", cynics might say that events such as Live Earth, are as much about jumping on bandwagons as they are about anything else. This 24-hour music marathon spanned seven continents and featured rock and pop stars who travelled thousands of miles to, wait for it, fight climate change.However, psychotherapist Lucy Beresford believes that charity work can bring out the best in famous people. "What you usually find is that celebrities often become involved with charities for personal reasons. For instance, Camilla Parker Bowles became involved with the National Osteoporosis Society because her mother and grandmother suffered from the disease."I think there's something quite altruistic about this and it's the same with records for charity. I don't think celebrities sit around thinking 'what's in it for me?'" she says."For the charities, it's a great way of raising awareness, and for celebrities, I think something quite primitive kicks in; people like to feel that they can help others."

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