The British nurse and Ebola survivor William Pooley will deliver The Alternative Christmas Message on Channel 4, calling for a global solution to the epidemic, which is estimated to have cost more than 7,000 lives.
The nurse from Suffolk became Britain’s first confirmed Ebola sufferer after contracting the deadly virus in August, six weeks after arriving in west Africa, before being flown back to the UK to receive treatment. He has since returned to Sierra Leone after making a full recovery and will deliver the broadcaster’s annual Christmas Day message from Connaught Hospital in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown.
“Ebola is unlike any disease I’ve ever witnessed. Nothing can prepare you for the effect it has on the infected, on their families and on their communities,” he says in the message, which has been pre-recorded.
“In the end I was extremely fortunate. My colleagues worked night and day to get me flown back to Britain for the best available treatment at the Royal Free in London. And thanks to this treatment I recovered within days. My exposure to this disease reinforced the belief that when people need help it’s important that it’s given.
“I realise I was incredibly lucky, lucky to be born in a wealthy country, lucky to be well educated, lucky to have access to the best possible treatment for this awful disease.
“Thousands of people here in west Africa have not had that luck. They have died often lonely, miserable deaths without access to proper medical attention.”
In an interview for the Radio Times Christmas issue, Pooley said he didn’t see himself as a hero. “I’m working with masses of local staff who are risking death. The big problem at the moment is that they haven’t been paid for months- which sounds bad enough to English ears, but in Sierra Leone if you’re not getting paid, then you’re facing starvation.”
He added that Bob Geldof’s Band Aid 30 single was unhelpful to the cause. “That sort of cultural ignorance is a bit cringeworthy…actually people live normal lives here and do normal things. It’s Africa, not another planet.”
Last year the Alternative Christmas Message, which has been broadcast annually since 1933, was delivered by the whistleblower Edward Snowden, who called for an end to mass surveillance. A variety of humorous figures such as Sharon Osbourne, Marge Simpson and Ali G have previously given the speech as have more serious ones like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, former President of Iran.
Earlier this month, former The Smiths frontman Morrissey said that he had turned down an offer from Channel 4 to deliver their Alternative Christmas Message, adding that Christmas Day is not the time to be “trading slaps” with the Queen.
This year’s broadcast will be at 1.50pm on Christmas Day, before the Queen’s speech is shown at 3pm on BBC1 and ITV.