But when he speaks of success, he always puts inverted commas around the word, because when the DEC is in action it means there is misery somewhere in the world. Its three appeals – the tsunami, Niger and the Asian quake – have involved catastrophes that have caused the deaths of at least 300,000 people.
Gormley confesses that his status as a messenger of doom sometimes gets him down. “On a bad day, the thing that gets to you is the remorselessness of the awfulness we are called to alleviate,” he says. “If my face pops up, I’m the ambulance-chaser with the begging bowl.”
This year more than any other, the bowl has been overflowing. The tsunami appeal was the most successful in British charity history, raising £420m – ten times the previous DEC record. These days, when Gormley isn’t raising the cash, he is spreading the word about how he did it. The DEC has come to the notice of virtually the entire English-speaking world over the past 12 months. Copycat versions, imitating the model of collaborative fundraising, are planned for a dozen countries, including the US, Canada and Germany. If the DEC could be patented, he would be sitting on a fortune.
A fuller version of this interview will appear in the 11 January issue of Third Sector.