Analysis: Bullying debacle illustrates the risks of using celebrities

London rappers N-Dubz were dropped as ambassadors by Beatbullying this month. But the fallout continues

When a diverting showbiz yarn about London rap act N-Dubz first appeared in The Sun this month, there was little indication that it would spark criticism of one charity by another.

The story described how N-Dubz member Dappy, sent a death threat to a young mother after she texted the Chris Moyles show on Radio 1 to complain that he was "vile", and "a little boy in a silly hat".

Dappy later apologised for his "Your (sic) gonna die ..." text message, but it was too late to salvage his role as an ambassador for Beatbullying's anti-cyberbullying campaign. The charity promptly dropped N-Dubz.

But that wasn't the end of it. Bullying UK, a charity with similar aims to Beatbullying, put a statement on its website calling on schools secretary Ed Balls, who met N-Dubz in anti-bullying week last November, to end the Government's "obsession with celebrities".

Liz Carnell, the charity's director, also told Third Sector that charities relied too much on famous people.

"It's often a case of short-term headlines and long-term disadvantage," she said. "You don't know what they've done in the past or what they're going to do in the future, and for charities it's an enormous risk."

Carnell said the Dappy episode had eclipsed much of the progress made since November. "When people think about it now, they think of N-Dubz. It's been a joint campaign by Beatbullying and the Government, who have been keen to engage with young people and be all hip and right-on. It's time to rethink this."

But Beatbullying, which has recruited more than 20 celebrity ambassadors, is adamant that celebrities bring benefits that outweigh the occasional slip-up.

Its chief executive, Emma-Jane Cross, said: "Celebrities can be challenging and, as with all of us, they make mistakes by saying and doing things that they later regret and are even ashamed of. But as a children's charity we believe we have a duty to listen and respond to the young people we work with, who tell us which celebrities they admire, respect and listen to. The positive and long-term effects celebrities can achieve are undeniable."

It seems the unfortunate episode will have a happy ending. According to one report, Dappy, by way of apology to the victim of his death threat, has offered to make a donation to the charity of her choice.

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