Opinion: Celebrity agenda exploits our good name

Peter Stanford

It's shameful to admit it - but, hey, I'm Catholic, so the confessional mode comes naturally. The truth is that I've spent one too many Saturday nights of late watching Celebrity Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? Middle age is beating at the door.

There is, of course, the unholy joy of contestants tripping over what seem like easy questions (and the converse when they effortlessly answer on Shakespeare even though they star in Emmerdale). And then there's the (unintended) black humour as Joan Collins moves seamlessly from telling us any money she raises will go to children because "they are our future" and then names a hospice as her favourite charity.

Occasionally the mask slips. Paul McCartney and his wife Heather were stuck on a question to take them up to £8,000. The chatty Heather was sure she knew the answer. Paul wasn't so confident. "Oh, go for it anyway," she urged, or words to that effect. "If you get it wrong, you can just make up the money for our chosen charity." Indeed. Make it up and add a nought or two. But that's not the point, is it?

Unintentionally, Lady Mills-McCartney gave the game away. Millionaire celebrities give their time (and brains) to win for charities what by their standards are tiny sums of small change. It would be much more charitable, arguably, just to write a cheque in the privacy of their homes.

So why do they do it? Probably because they're good people and, like the rest of us, get caught up in a cause. But there is also the exposure. And Heather, who has been compared unfavourably with the late Linda McCartney, did seem to have an awful lot to say when she was facing Chris Tarrant. It felt a bit like one of those make-us-like-Camilla outings that Prince Charles's erstwhile press man, Mark Bolland, organised to soften public perceptions of the Duchess/ Princess Consort/future Queen.

There is in all of this just a hint of the good name of charities being exploited to further someone else's self-seeking and trivial agenda. If it makes money, some charities would say, don't let it bother you. But it risks cheapening and tainting public perceptions of our work. If we become just another facet of the world of Heat magazine, rather than organisations with a serious desire to make the world a better place and raise uncomfortable and unhappy issues that those same readers of Heat usually don't give a stuff about, then we will ultimately be the losers.

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