Richard Curtis: Comic Relief makes me unbelievably proud of our country

Red Nose Day's co-founder on Dermot's dodgy dancing and other crazy acts of generosity which have helped raise almost a billion pounds since 1988...

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About three months ago, I received a text from Dermot O’Leary. It said, “I had an idea for Red Nose Day last night when I was a bit drunk – how about I get sponsored to dance non-stop for 24 hours for Comic Relief? This morning I’m sober but still think it’s a good idea. What about you?”

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My first thought was it’s a terrible idea, because it’s a pretty well-established fact that Dermot O’Leary can’t really dance. He has one signature move, which he has performed at the start of The X Factor every week for the past eight years.

However, undeterred by his own limitations, at 7.20pm on Thursday 12th March, live on The One Show, Dermot started dancing at BBC Broadcasting House. And 23-and-a-half hours later, on the evening of 13 March (Red Nose Day), he will start dancing down Regent Street into the London Palladium to finish his marathon on live TV. If he’s still alive.

It’s an astonishing act of kindness/stupidity by Dermot, and only one of many Red Nose feats being undertaken that stun me with their brilliance/foolishness… Comedian Mark Watson doing a stand-up show for 27 hours without stopping. Last Sunday, over 2,000 people were sponsored to take part in a six-hour Danceathon at Wembley Stadium – the ability to dance again being optional.

And then on Friday, hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren will be Red-Nose-eventing and offices all over Britain will have swear boxes, hold quizzes, sponsored silences or bake offs to raise funds.

When we did the first Red Nose Day in 1988, we had no idea that 27 years later the generosity of the remarkable British public would mean that almost a billion pounds has now been given to projects we support in the UK and Africa – that Comic and Sport Relief grants have supported more than 51 million people who really needed help.

Thanks to you, a quarter of a million children across Africa have gone to school. Since 2009, we’ve distributed over two million malaria nets that helped halve the number of cases of malaria in some places. And since the last Red Nose Day in 2013, 600,000 people in the UK have been helped through amazing projects aiding those who lead incredibly tough lives. 

It makes me unbelievably proud of our country – through years of plenty and plenty of recessions, the British public have given and given and given. The show we’re putting together on the night of Red Nose Day is our six-hour thank you to everyone who has been part of this story since we started.

It’s our first broadcast live from the London Palladium. Dawn French is hoping for promotion in The Bishop of Dibley, Mr Bean will attend a funeral, David Walliams and Stephen Hawking appear together for the first time, and we have live music from the incredible Sam Smith, reports from Malawi from Peter Capaldi, as well as the final of The People’s Strictly for Comic Relief and The Great Comic Relief Bake Off.

If you can’t join us then, and you’d like to do something right now, you’ll find this year’s Little Red Envelope on page 27 of the Radio Times magazine (the one with this week’s listings), or visit rednoseday.com/radiotimes. On the last Red Nose Day these Little Red Miracles brought in a life-changing £160,000 from Radio Times readers. Everything you give will be added to the total for Dermot’s Day of Dodgy Dance, and we’ll try to spend every penny well. On behalf of our team and our projects, thank you nearly a billion times for 27 years of astonishing generosity.

And sorry for the shapes Dermot’s been throwing. He means well.

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Comic Relief begins at Friday 13th March at 7 pm on BBC1