Comic Relief drums up record £75m on 25th anniversary

 

Singer Jessie J shaved off her long locks, comedian Peter Kay travelled the length of the country and the great British public took part in outrageous fund-raising stunts to help raise a record £75m for Comic Relief.

Some of the UK's biggest celebrities and presenters took part in a mammoth fund-raising extravaganza for Red Nose Day yesterday, which is now in its 25th year.

A host of stars featured in sketches on the BBC show to make the public laugh and persuade them to donate to good causes that help thousands of people in the UK and Africa.

Music mogul Simon Cowell walked down the aisle and rejected advances from David Walliams, Louis Walsh, Dermot O'Leary and Olly Murs, only to marry himself, while Ricky Gervais resurrected the character of David Brent from The Office.

Pop stars One Direction performed the official Comic Relief single, a cover version of Blondie's One Way or Another, band member Louis Tomlinson having dyed his hair red for the occasion.

There were also reinterpretations of TV shows the Vicar Of Dibley and Call The Midwife, while comedy stars Jack Whitehall and Micky Flanagan attempted their best dishes for Comic Relief does MasterChef, in a head-to-head cook-off for Dame Edna Everage.

But there were also harrowing reminders of what Red Nose Day and Comic Relief are about, with moving films on the effects of malaria, pneumonia and starvation in Africa and domestic abuse in the UK.

The night of entertainment was hosted by a string of celebrities, including Davina McCall, John Bishop, Jonathan Ross and Comic Relief co-founder Lenny Henry.

Singer Jessie J raised more than £500,000 when she had her thick black hair shaved.

Speaking to host Dermot O'Leary, who seemed to be enjoying stroking her newly-bald head, Jessie J said: "It's the weirdest feeling."

She had admitted being nervous beforehand, but told viewers: "It feels so liberating. But this isn't about this (gesturing to her head), it's about donating."

The singer said it was "amazing" to have raised so much money, and added: "Everyone's crying. My mum's back there, crying with happiness."

Jessie, who has visited Comic Relief-funded project Body & Soul which helps young people living with HIV, said: "I feel exhilarated to be able to have the opportunity to raise money for people that aren't fortunate enough to say something and be heard."

The BT Red Nose challenge - a five-day trip down the Zambezi River in Africa by celebrities Dara O'Briain, Melanie C, Jack Dee, Chelsee Healey, Phillips Idowu and Greg James - also raised almost £1.2m, while a week of madcap challenges by comedian Miranda Hart raised £1.1m.

Pop stars One Direction performed the official Comic Relief single, a cover version of Blondie's One Way or Another, band member Louis Tomlinson having dyed his hair red for the occasion.

David Walliams shared an intimate secret with celebrities he had become close to over the year, including Kate Moss, Alan Carr and Hugh Grant, while Rowan Atkinson addressed the nation on the importance of fundraising - in the guise of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The last Red Nose Day, which took place two years ago, raised £74.3m, a figure which was pipped by this year's total so far of £75,107,851.

Thousands of people across the UK did their bit for the cause, dressing up for work yesterday, taking cakes into work and holding wacky fundraising events.

Slough MP Fiona Mactaggart pledged £14,268 to Comic Relief after writing on Twitter: "I will give £1.00 to Comic relief for every retweet of this message before 9pm."

She admitted being "Twitter naive" before sending the message but told followers she could afford it.

Sainsbury's also donated more than £10m through sales of Red Nose Day merchandise, TK Maxx raised £3.7m through sales of the Red Nose Day T-shirts and homeware, and British Airways donated more than £2m.

The government also promised to back the public's support with a donation of £16m to the overall total, specifically for Comic Relief's work to improve the lives of women and girls in Africa.

BT's 10,000 volunteers handled 458,000 calls to the donation line during the live TV show, peaking at 200 calls per second.

Comic Relief co-founder Richard Curtis said: "Once again the extraordinary generosity of the British public has put Comic Relief in a position to be able to serve thousands upon thousands of people with very hard lives in Africa and the UK.

"It's almost impossible to thank enough all those who took part in the event, all the members of the public who fund-raised and all those who gave so generously on the night."

PA

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