Eddie Mair: I’m too selfish and lazy to do charity work – except maybe this once

"My predecessor was Sandi Toksvig, who asked me nicely one day if I’d take over from her... I don’t think I’ve ever been more frightened in my life"


Is there anything worse than preening micro-celebrities gushing about their favourite charities in a desperate effort to persuade you to like them a little more?


I’d like to talk to you about a pet charity of mine. It’s not a charity for pets, although they do fine work. You might be a little confused at this stage because you’ll be well aware that I never talk about my tireless work for charity.

Never. Don’t even ask me. This is because I don’t really do any work for charity.

Sure, I’ll happily slip 2p into a rattling collection can while asking for a printed receipt, and I once bought a suspect cookie from Radio 4’s Susan Rae in some kind of bake-off. But the kind of Herculean charity work some famous people do is alien to me for two simple reasons: I am too selfish and lazy.

Almost by accident I’ve found myself patron of a charity called Adfam. My predecessor in the role was Sandi Toksvig, who asked me nicely one day if I’d take over from her. When I did my little speech about being selfish and lazy, she became quite menacing. I don’t think I’ve ever been more frightened in my life. And so I am now patron.

Adfam was founded nearly 30 years ago by the mother of a heroin addict who couldn’t find the support she needed. It’s now an umbrella organisation (though they’ve yet to supply me with the promised free umbrella) that helps families affected by drugs and alcohol.

So much of the public discourse about drugs and alcohol is about the user: whether they should be helped or punished. You’ll have your own view, I’m sure. Adfam is about the partners, children and siblings of those users. You can imagine, no doubt, some of the direct effects of a family member being off their face. But the more insidious, hidden effects on thousands of families can be lifelong.

For example, it’s common for the children of a parent with alcohol problems to grow up struggling to form relationships. They can’t trust or love anyone. What sort of a life is that? This is happening now, not in filthy drugs dens, but in nice middle-class homes where people take Radio Times.

This week, Adfam is launching its annual Family Voices competition that encourages the families I’m talking about to put their experiences on paper. Winners get some money and are whisked to London in December where their entries form part of Adfam’s annual Candlelit Carol Service at the “spiritual home of the media”, St Bride’s Church in Fleet Street, London. Charlotte Green will be there this year!

If the drinking or drug use of someone in your family makes you feel bad, please visit www.adfam.org.uk, where there’s lots of good advice. Click on Families, then Share Your Story to read what people are going through. To enter the competition, email up to 500 words to familyvoices@adfam.org.uk. Or pop it in the post to the address on the website.

Eddie Mair hosts PM Monday–Friday 5.00pm and iPM Saturday 5.45am, 5.30pm Radio 4