Comic Relief to have fewer celebrity appeals in future

Stacey Dooley is among the stars who have been criticised for going to Africa as “white saviours”

Stacey Dooley - Strictly Come Dancing

Comic Relief plans to cut back on sending celebrities to Africa for TV appeals, and will instead “be very careful to give voices to people abroad”.

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The charity has been criticised over the past several years for sending famous people to Africa as “white saviours”.

Comic Relief co-founder Richard Curtis told MPs that TV appeals “will be heading in the direction of not using” celebrities abroad.

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In February 2019, Strictly winner and documentary-maker Stacey Dooley was criticised for travelling to Uganda to make an appeal film for Comic Relief. And in 2017, Ed Sheeran’s Liberia film for Comic Relief was handed a “Rusty Radiator” award as the “most offensive and stereotypical fundraising video of the year”.

“We are trying to do everything we can to raise the maximum amount of money for our projects internationally,” Curtis told the House of Commons International Development Committee.

“But if it is felt that Comic Relief is so influential in terms of image that you start to send out the wrong image, and that people who live in this country with African backgrounds feel as though they’re in some way demeaned or negatively affected by Comic Relief, then we really have to listen to that.

“What I’m searching for year by year is new ways of telling the stories. Traditionally, the sadder the film, the more money it makes, but I’m sure there must be a solution where you show such radiant joy and success that that would encourage you to give more money.”

On how Comic Relief would operate in the future, Curtis said: “We’re not strong on that yet. I imagine as we go into this new future, that will not be based on celebrities going abroad. I suspect we will start that new initiative not going that way.

“And then on the TV, I think we have to do what we think is best, and I think it will be heading in the direction of not using [celebrities abroad], and particularly being very careful to give voices to people abroad.”

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MP David Lammy, who had criticised Dooley’s appeal, praised Curtis’s plan to move away from what he called “tired, harmful stereotypes”.