Eyewitness: Behind the scenes at BBC Children in Need

Reporter Kaye Wiggins discovered the Peter Andre effect when she helped out at Friday night's fundraising extravaganza

Kaye Wiggins, Peter Andre and Pudsey Bear
Kaye Wiggins, Peter Andre and Pudsey Bear

On the 34th floor of London's BT Tower, 120 volunteers were sitting in silence, waiting for the phones to ring. Pop star turned TV presenter Peter Andre was getting ready for his big moment in front of the cameras.

Then Terry Wogan, presenting Children in Need live from the BBC Television Centre, said "over to you". A few moments later, Andre had declared the lines open and the first phone began to ring.

The other volunteers started clapping and cheering – but not for long. As soon as Andre started talking to the camera, their phones started ringing incessantly.

He was nervous on the night and had put in a lot of preparation (as had his make-up artist, who kept dashing over to powder his nose). But he needn't have been, because when I went into the control room later on Friday evening, the Andre effect was clear. On BT's graph of the number of calls being received, there was a spike at 7.12pm – just after he had appeared on the screen.

But it wasn't only Andre who got the great British public picking up their phones to donate to Children in Need. The Hollyoaks cast's disastrous Queen medley was a surprising hit, causing the graph to spike again.

And when the calls began coming in, the banter got going among the volunteers. "I've just taken 100 quid," said one to another. "Yeah, but I took £500 a minute ago, so I'm winning," another replied.

When I first arrived at the BT Tower, I wondered why the volunteers were so keen to give up a Friday night to sit at a computer and answer the phone: apparently, the spaces for manning the Children in Need phone lines are like gold dust.

One volunteer told me: "There's so much bad news in the world, and I do this because it restores my faith in humanity." Hmmm, thought the cynic in me, should working on a BBC telethon really cheer someone up that much?

But then it was my turn to work the phones. I took £135 in a few minutes, and, I admit, it gave me a buzz. There's something very satisfying about speaking to lots of people who want to give their money to charity.

When I spoke later in the evening to Beth Courtier, who coordinates BT's work on the telethon, she said it could be difficult to drag the volunteers away from the phones. "They get so excited by the whole thing," she said. "The atmosphere, the celebs, Pudsey. We try to make them take a break every couple of hours, but it isn't always easy. They just want to take one more call before they go, and then another, and another..."

Perhaps telephone fundraising firms should recruit Andre and the Hollyoaks cast to motivate their staff...



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