Emma Freud: 'I’ve never felt more in touch with Suffolk than throughout lockdown'
- Credit: Dan Hallman/BBC Good Food
While the last 12 months have been incredibly unpredictable to say the least, there’s one thing we can certainly rely on time and time again – and that’s the generosity of the British public.
We’ve seen communities come together as the country, along with the rest of the world, continues to deal with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
With this year’s edition of Red Nose Day just one week away, honorary trustee Emma Freud reminisces over events from years gone by, what we can expect from this year’s star-studded telethon and how the generosity of her neighbours in Suffolk has blown her away.
“Lockdown has been devastating for so many people, and I’ve seen that here in Suffolk, I really have,” she says.
“I’ve got friends who are having such tough times - but having said that, after spending all three lockdowns in Suffolk, what a beautiful place it is to be. It’s stunning, and I’ve never felt more in touch with the county than throughout lockdown.”
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Emma, along with her partner Richard Curtis and their children, have been nestled away on the Suffolk coast for the duration of the pandemic. It's been during that time that Emma has really gotten closer to the county, discovering the unwavering altruism of its residents along the way.
“I’ve never appreciated the full extent of the kindness and gentleness of the communities until now,” she explains.
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“In the first lockdown, we found a group of amazing farmers and wholesalers who delivered their vegetables, and incredible butchers with organic produce who would bring them to doorsteps all over the village. It’s been an education being here for lockdown.”
It was during the first lockdown back in spring that Emma and Richard arranged their first charity telethon from their Suffolk home, as they successfully pulled together last year’s The Big Night In – a remote television event that was broadcast on April 23 to support those affected by the pandemic.
“We actually weren’t expecting to do it, but the BBC really needed to address the crisis and the people who were struggling because of the virus,” she explains.
Put together in just three weeks and partially produced from the family’s living room, the collaborative event between Comic Relief and Children in Need ultimately ended up raising over a whopping £74 million.
But Emma is no stranger to big numbers.
Having worked for Comic Relief for three decades now, she has seen first-hand how quickly the British public are to pull together when the chips are down, and how deep people are willing to dig in their pockets all in the name of charity.
Just six years ago, Comic Relief managed to hit the £1 billion mark while live on air with Red Nose Day back in 2015.
“That was an amazing moment,” says Emma.
“I remember when we passed £1 billion in donations - I had thought about it before it happened and always imagined it would be a moment where I felt incredibly proud of Richard. But when it happened, the overwhelming feeling was gratitude towards the British public. Seeing all of those noughts, it was money that had been given by the UK, and it felt like it wasn’t much to do with us at the moment - but it was everything to do with this incredible country.”
But as we draw closer to the 2021 edition of Red Nose Day, is Emma worried that the impact of the pandemic will hamper people’s charitable efforts this time around?
Most certainly not.
“In the 30 years I’ve been doing this, whenever the country has been doing less than well, or we’ve had a recession, the money from Red Nose Day has actually gone up. When people in the UK are really strapped, they seem to be at their most generous. If they’re feeling it that badly, they know other people must be feeling it 10 times worse. Those are the moments the British public give the most – and that in itself is so encouraging.”
Up and down the country, the spirit of Comic Relief can be felt far and wide, even during lockdown.
While this year’s restrictions have meant people have unfortunately been unable to gather and host events, communities have had to get creative in how they show their support – and Emma’s village has certainly gone the extra mile.
The residents have banded together – in a metaphorically sense, socially-distanced of course – to adorn their homes ahead of the big day.
“In our village, we now have a WhatsApp group for the first time ever, and it’s been incredible. People who didn’t know each other’s names now do, and we have lockdown to thank for that. Through that, the village has gotten completely behind Red Nose Day.”
Throughout Emma’s village, residents have decorated their front doors, gates and the local crabbing bridge with handmade red noses in the shape of crabs – reflecting both the spirit of the big day and the village’s coastal heritage.
“I’ve always been in London during Red Nose Day, but having spent the last year based here in Suffolk, seeing that community involvement has been incredible. If you wander through the village, almost every house has a red nose crab on it – some even have 20. And none of them are made from plastic, as for the first time ever this year’s red nose is non-plastic. Walking around the village and seeing the noses up on the pubs, the shops, the houses, the vicarage, it makes me well up every time.
“Our village is the epitome of everything we dreamed that people might do for Comic Relief, and that for me has been a huge highlight.”
In addition, Emma’s local pubs and deli have joined forces to create a special meal delivery – aptly titled ‘Don’t Come Dine With Me’ - for Red Nose Day, allowing everyone in the village to virtually come together on the evening and share a toast.
“The meal includes a £10 donation per head going towards Red Nose Day, and there’s going to be an after dinner Zoom call for everyone who’s ordered the meal, to raise a glass to the evening. It will be the first time the village has gathered together on Zoom.”
Emma thinks that her village – which has already raised £2,000 – might hit £4,000 in donations by next week.
Money such as this which has been raised by the people of Suffolk will then go towards a number of local initiatives and projects across the region. Some of these include FareShare – a charity network that sources and redistributes food to local community groups across East Anglia.
It is charities and foundations such as these who have stepped up to the plate and have kept communities together during such an unprecedented time of need.
As this year’s Red Nose Day comes at a time when we need it now more than ever, what can audiences expect from this year’s charity spectacular?
“It’ll be a very exciting – but very different – show this year,” explains Emma.
“We’ve only got the presenters – David Tennant, Davina McCall, Alesha Dixon, Paddy McGuinness and Lenny Henry – in the studio. Other than that, everything else will be via Zoom, or pre-recorded. The sketch I’m most looking forward to is a mash-up, featuring the cast of Normal People and the hot priest from Fleabag – it's a brilliant seven minutes.”
With the various teams behind Red Nose Day having to work remotely for the first time ever, lockdown has however brought one advantage – and given Emma and Richard a much larger pool of talent to call upon.
“Because of lockdown, when we’ve asked celebrities to do something for us, we’ve been able to get a lot more people we wouldn’t normally have access to because we mostly can’t use film crews or have rehearsals.
“We’ve got lots of people from America doing sketches for us on the night, and our launch film was presented by Dame Judi Dench and Benedict Cumberbatch, who are the dream cast. So in that sense, doing this remotely has been somewhat of a blessing.”
But the work doesn’t stop there.
Before 2021’s edition of Red Nose Day even airs, Emma and Richard have been meticulously planning future Comic Relief fundraisers – with their sights set firmly on the ever-changing digital landscape that has been exacerbated by lockdown.
“When I think about the long future of Comic Relief, I think the future is digital,” adds Richard Curtis.
“I think the future is going to include gaming, podcasts and TikTok. The great thing about Comic Relief is that it has always gone with the times, and we’ve evolved. Alas, the need has been very intense this year but there always will be amazing projects we can do.”
This year’s Red Nose Day airs on Friday March 19 at 7pm on BBC1. To find out more about Red Nose Day and the work Comic Relief does, visit www.comicrelief.com