Opinion: Don't found a charity - stay on holiday

So Jemima Khan is winding up the Afghan Refugee Appeal charity that bears her name (Third Sector, 9 February) after the Charity Commission 'named and shamed' it (along with the Tim Henman Charitable Foundation) for failing to file annual accounts.

I read this story at about the same time a new glossy weekly was running a spread on the half dozen expensive overseas holidays Jemima has been on in the past six months with her beau, Hugh Grant. I don't want to sound like too much of a killjoy - everyone needs a holiday or six - but these trips can cut down the time you have available to do boring things like account for how your foundation spends public money.

The juxtaposition of the two stories highlights the drawback of the current rush to set up charities in celebrities' names. Kind-but-cosseted Jemima's instincts were, I'm sure, pure and laudable in wanting to help the Afghan people. But they were not enough to sustain something useful.

If they care so much about the cause they choose to tackle by setting up a charity, you wonder why these celebrities don't throw their lot in with more established organisations. This would have two distinct advantages.

First, they probably have a more professional grasp of what needs to be done to tackle the problem in question. Second, they have tried and tested press offices that could make the most for the charity in question out of the association with a big name like Jemima's.

The drawback (and I am only surmising because my name has never been up in lights) is that the star's name will be, ultimately, less important than the charity's. If you set up your own foundation, there is no name but your own - you have absolute control.

Now, history has some notable examples of individuals who put their name to a foundation to the benefit of us all - Leonard Cheshire springs immediately to mind. But this highly decorated airman achieved what he did because (a) his celebrity was based on true heroism in battle, not attending premieres, and (b) no one else was offering the sort of ethic of care that he felt was needed for ex-comrades in the aftermath of the Second World War.

Our obsession with two-dimensional celebrities has many foolish manifestations, but the star vehicle-cum-charity is one of the silliest. Not only do such bodies distract their patrons from holidaying, but they also distract public attention from the charities that could really make a difference.

Peter Stanford is a writer and broadcaster and sits on various trustee boards

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