Red Nose Day: Richard Curtis and Emma Freud answer our questions

It’s Red Nose Day tomorrow – the time when schoolchildren, office workers, celebrities, the BBC and quite a lot of other folk let their hair down to help good causes. Comic Relief co-founder Richard Curtis and partner Emma Freud (a Comic Relief trustee) have a home on the Suffolk coast. They take a collaborative bat to questions bowled by Steven Russell

Do you fear today’s climate of austerity will badly hit the amounts raised by Comic Relief?

“Six months before the last Red Nose Day campaign, the credit crunch hit. We expected our totals to go down, because the entire country was reeling from the change in the economy. But we had the biggest increase in our money that we’ve known since we started in 1986. We raised �82.1m – �16m UP on the previous Red Nose Day.

“I think there is something about the British public that really responds to serious need, especially when they are having problems themselves. I also think having nine of our celebrities climbing Kilimanjaro in 2009 was key . . . not just because it raised �3m in itself, but there was a sea-change that happened when people saw celebrities really putting themselves up against it in order to raise cash. I think they thought ‘Well, if Cheryl Cole can be that miserable for Comic Relief, then I can certainly do the sponsored washing-up.”

Do you get annoyed when some people talk about charity beginning at home . . . and question the amount of money going abroad? What would you say to change their perception and hostility?

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“Ever since we started, 40% of our money has stayed in the UK . . . 1,500 projects here in the last 25 years. It’s crucial for us that we’re addressing key problems here at home – and although we raise the money in a very popular way, a lot of the grants we support in the UK are causes that are considered ‘unpopular’ – and that’s why we’re there.

“This year we’re spending a lot of money on women who have suffered domestic abuse, teenagers who are being groomed into prostitution (many, many more than you would imagine), young people caring for their parents, elderly people with Alzheimer’s, children who have been lost to the education system – there’s nowhere in Suffolk that you’re more than 30 miles away from a project we’re supporting.”

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Do you ever feel you want to greatly change the Red Nose Day formula, or is it a case of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”?

“We try to improve what we’re doing every single campaign. It’s taxing to work like that – but if you don’t come up with new ways of encouraging people to fundraise, or new comedy to attract viewers to our big BBC1 night, then you risk letting down the projects.

“This year we’ve got a huge campaign on Twitter, we’ve bullied Radio Suffolk into teaching their travel presenter to be a stand-up comedian, we’ve got Vivienne Westwood designing our T-shirts for the first time, and I think our TV show will be the best we’ve ever done.

“Take That just recorded a parody video for us, with five of our comedians dressing up as them; Andy Murray has done a guest appearance on Outnumbered for us; we’re filming a 24-hour panel show involving 100 comedians; Jennifer Saunders, Joanna Lumley and Victoria Wood are doing a parody of Downton Abbey, and Chris Moyles is going to broadcast for 37 hours without stopping. I don’t know we’ll ever top this campaign.”

What would the UK and the wider world be like if Comic Relief hadn’t been invented?

“Much more relaxing for me.”

Is there a risk that governments take their feet off the accelerator of change, knowing that charities such as Comic Relief will pick up the slack?

“We have a remarkable grants team at Comic Relief who work year-round to spend the money in the most creative, proactive, intelligent ways – always mindful that we shouldn’t be taking responsibilities away from governments, that we must empower the people we are trying to assist, that you can’t just give a grant and walk away, it’s a commitment and a partnership trying to create a situation where people can help themselves. “It’s the most important part of what we do – and it makes me seriously proud to see what we’ve achieved. That’s a lot of people whose lives have been turned around by the sales of that little red nose.”

And finally: a local question. What do you love about Suffolk?

“Southwold High Street, Emma’s face when she enters Collen and Clare clothes shop (in Southwold), The Black Olive Delicatessen, (local caf�) Munchies’ toasted cheese and ham sandwiches, The Under the Pier Show, Suzie’s Kiosk (Suzie’s Beach Caf�) with its fishfinger rolls, The Electric Picture Palace, the horserace game at the arcade on the pier, the Lighthouse Restaurant in Aldeburgh, The Anchor pub in Walberswick, the crabbing competition where we always end up buying another child’s spare crab and pretending we caught it ourselves, my mother in law’s (Jill Freud) summer theatres in Southwold and Aldeburgh, the Crown and Castle in Orford, Butley’s smokehouse, Blythburgh’s church service to bless the animals which I borrowed for an episode of The Vicar of Dibley, the hot dogs at Gig in the Park in Halesworth, the risotto stall at Latitude, St Peter’s Brewery on the way to Bungay, the factory outlet shop near Wangford – and, my favourite of all, the pick and mix at the Leiston cinema.

“I could go on . . .”

Red letter days

• Comic Relief was launched from a refugee camp in Sudan on Christmas Day in 1985, on BBC One. A famine was crippling Ethiopia. The Comic Relief idea was to get comedians to make the public laugh while they raised money to help people in need, some live events were held

• Then, in 1988, Red Nose Day was born. It brought together comedy and charity on live national TV and it raised �15m.

• Red Nose Days have raised more than �459m

• The money supports people in dire need in the UK and Africa

• Witham singer Olly Murs (pictured on the cover) was last month one of nine celebrities who completed The BT Red Nose Desert Trek: 100 kilometres across the Kaisut Desert in northern Kenya

Olly, X Factor runner-up in 2009, finished despite suffering from a debilitating stomach bug

He said: ‘It’s unbelievable for me to be part of Comic Relief and be a member of this fantastic team. I’ve seen for myself how that money will make a real difference’

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