Eyewitness: the Vinspired awards

What makes celebrities give away their time to charities? Kaye Wiggins caught up with Dragons' Den star James Caan and rap artist Tinchy Stryder to ask them

James Caan and Tinchy Stryder
James Caan and Tinchy Stryder

Youth volunteering charity v, set up by the Government in 2006, always wanted to make volunteering cool. Orchestrating large-scale back massages at last summer's music festivals and placing a robot in the House of Commons have been among its more recent attempts to prove that volunteering is not just for the twinset-and-pearls types in the local charity shop.

Last week's Vinspired awards ceremony, designed to recognise the achievements of a select band of 16 to 25 year-old volunteers at Indigo2, the club and after-party venue in London's O2 arena, was its latest event.

The charity convinced rappers Tinchy Stryder and Lady Sovereign, and pop singer Gabriella Cilmi, to perform at a gig that would "celebrate and recognise" the work of its volunteers.

Terry Ryall, chief executive of the charity, started the evening by telling the 100 volunteers that they were "the reason I go to work with a smile on my face every day."

She told the finalists they would be given a share of a new pot of money worth £10,000 to support their own personal development.

The charity's work, she said, had support in high places. She played a video of Prime Minister Gordon Brown congratulating the young volunteers for their hard work. "If everyone volunteered," he said, "we really could change the world."

The awards were handed out, then Third Sector was ushered backstage to meet the celebs.

What did they have to say about v, and about charities more generally?

First up was Australian singer Cilmi. "I do get approached by a lot of charities, but I think it's important to get involved with ones that help people my own age," she said. "The other charity I help out with is Born Free, because I'm really into wildlife."

Stryder was next. "I don't get paid for doing this," he said. "But when I was younger there just wasn't stuff like this for young people, so I think it's really good.

"I went and played football with some of v's volunteers a while ago, just to show my support, and I thought they were really cool."

Entrepreneur and philanthropist James Caan from the TV series Dragons' Den, who was there to tell the volunteers they were doing great things for their CVs, had some more detailed thoughts on how charities should approach the rich and famous.

"It's the same as in the den," he said. "You have to do your research first. You have to think about what you want from me and why, and then make a business case to me about why I should support you.

"I get a lot of requests from charities, but I can't give to them all - I'd be doing them a disservice by not giving them enough time and attention each. My personal passion is education projects, so if a charity knows that and shows me a way to improve education, I'm likely to listen."

All in all, the celebs did well. They stuck to the message, talking about negative public perceptions of young people and how v's volunteers were proving them wrong. All, that is, except rapper Lady Sovereign. She burst onto the stage for her performance and shouted to the crowd (which included a lot of 16-year-olds): "I hope you're having a good night. I hope you're all drunk!"



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