It’s cost me, but I’m still ahead by a (red) nose

SEEING RED: Ellen with her daughter

SEEING RED: Ellen with her daughter - Credit: Archant

Ellen Widdup’s escape to the country

YESTERDAY morning my five-year-old daughter presented me with a bill for £34.

“What’s this?” I asked suspiciously.

“It’s what you owe me,” she replied. “Daddy helped me do the adding up.”

I chuckled, waiting for the punchline to a joke I was clearly not in on. None came.

I looked at my husband for clarification.

“She’s right,” he said. “You sponsored her.”

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“Only 10p here and there,” I objected, trying to calculate how her week-long Red Nose Day fundraising scheme had resulted in such a sum.

“Show me those sponsor forms,” I said.

“Pay up,” replied my daughter as she handed me the paperwork.

I had sponsored her for eating her vegetables, for getting herself dressed, for tidying her room, for swimming a width of the pool underwater.

I had sponsored her for going to bed without a fuss, for setting and clearing the breakfast table, for sharing her toys with her brother.

I had offered her cash for learning her spellings, for doing extra maths homework and for a sponsored silence which I thought would last 10 minutes but actually went on for three hours.

I also gave her money to dress up as a superhero for a day at school.

Her sums were correct (thank goodness for the £4 I sponsored her for the extra maths work) and she was absolutely delighted to have helped with the Comic Relief charity drive.

I remember being as enthused on the first ever Red Nose Day in 1988, when I was nine and spent my pocket money on a plastic nose, feeling very grown up to be helping others.

That event followed in the wake of the 1985 Live Aid gig, prompted by the devastating famine in Ethiopia.

We had all seen the heartbreaking pictures of the children affected by the drought. Their big, brown eyes, their distended stomachs, arms and legs like twigs.

As I child myself, I could barely imagine such pain and fear.

The extent of the suffering prompted film director Richard Curtis and partner Emma Freud, who own a house in Walberswick, to suggest Comic Relief – a national drive to help people still in desperate need.

It was a brave venture because, on the face of it, the concept of using comedy to highlight tragedy should never have worked.

But Curtis, who came up with the idea after travelling to the Sudan on a fact-finding mission for Save the Children, said it was an encounter at a refugee camp that persuaded him that famine relief and a feast of mirth could go hand-in-hand.

In an interview last year he said: “I remember seeing a child being weighed in a pair of suspended plastic pants. She was so thin that she fell through the left-hand hole, landed on the floor in a heap and everyone watching fell about laughing.

“I thought it extraordinary that they still had the capacity and desire to find something funny in such tragic circumstances.”

The Red Nose Day telethon uses the juxtaposition of hilarity interspersed with desperate sadness incredibly effectively.

I am sure I am not alone in spluttering with laughter one minute and then sobbing in a messy and undignified way the next. Certainly the emotional rollercoaster always makes me part with my cash.

This week marked the 25th anniversary of Red Nose Day and it is estimated that, since its inception, at least 40 million people across Africa and the world’s poorest countries have been helped, and another 10 million in the UK.

In total, the charity has raised an incredible £660 million, and had a lot of fun along the way.

Some of the best skits from the past include Ali G’s 2001 interview with Posh and Becks, when Matt Lucas’ Vicky Pollard met Kate Moss and when James Corden (as Gavin and Stacey character Smithy) took over the management of the England football team.

Over the years there have also been flamboyant cameos from George Michael, Sir Elton John and Robbie Williams, Lenny Henry performing the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet with Frank Bruno, and the Young Ones singing Living Doll with Cliff Richard.

Yesterday we were treated to a return of David Brent, thanks to Ricky Gervais.

The success of Comic Relief surely lies in the fact that our country is bursting with talent and the British are famous for their sense of humour.

We also have an ability to dig deep for causes which matter.

I have now paid the bill for my daughter’s sponsorship efforts but I don’t think her plan to raise money has ended.

Last night, halfway through her supper, she put her knife and fork down and looked at me intently.

“I don’t want any more,” she said. “But I will eat the rest if you give me another £3.”

“No way,” I replied. “For a start, my purse is now empty but I also think you need to understand how lucky you are to have that food on your plate. There are starving children in Africa and other places with nothing to eat. That’s who will be helped by the money you have already raised.”

Later I found a brown envelope by the front door with the words “For Africa” on the front.

Inside was a congealed mess of sausage, peas and mash.

I couldn’t help but smile. After all, despite the fact that there is a gravy stain on my rug, I’m very proud to have a daughter who wants to help others less fortunate.

To steal a quote from Richard Curtis: “It is a responsibility of people who have had very lucky lives indeed to try to spread some of that around to those who haven’t.”

Please email me at or find me on Twitter @EllenWiddupw