Comic Relief chief says the charity will move away from using celebrities to front films

In an interview with The Guardian, Liz Warner says it wants to focus on local people telling their own stories

Comic Relief's use of celebrities such as Ed Sheeran has been criticised
Comic Relief's use of celebrities such as Ed Sheeran has been criticised

Comic Relief is to move away from using films fronted by celebrities and use local people instead, its chief executive has revealed.

In an interview with The Guardian newspaper, published before this year’s Sport Relief culminates in a live television show broadcast on the BBC tonight, Liz Warner said the charity had replaced the use of celebrity storytellers with local people speaking for themselves.

The move comes after the Radi-Aid Awards, an annual contest run by a Norwegian students organisation that challenges aid groups to move away from stereotypes about people in developing countries, last year branded a Comic Relief film presented by the musician Ed Sheeran as "poverty tourism" that reinforced white-saviour stereotypes.

David Lammy, the Labour MP for Tottenham, criticised the charity last week in a film for the BBC’s Daily Politics show in which he said Comic Relief portrayed Africa as a continent of poverty-stricken victims who were unable to speak for themselves.

Warner said the charity had made its first steps towards change.

"You’ll see the films we put into Sports Relief are a step towards that, towards change," she said. "People talking in the first person in their own voices, with local heroes and local heroines talking to us about the work they’re doing.

"You won’t see a celebrity standing in front of people talking about them. You’ll see people talking for themselves."

One such film, due to be broadcast tonight, is about street children in Kampala, Uganda and will be introduced by the former footballer Rio Ferdinand – but Ferdinand will not appear in the film.

Instead, a Ugandan charity worker and the children themselves will tell viewers about the issues.

Warner told the newspaper the move was a risk and could result in the charity raising less money.

She said fresh appeals to be shown as part of Sport Relief tonight would also balance stories of poverty and need with more optimistic appeals.

Warner told Third Sector last year that the charity needed to become edgy again.

Nobody from Comic Relief responded to a request for comment from Third Sector before publication of this article on Friday morning.

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