OPINION: Let real people speak for you

PETER STANFORD, a writer and broadcaster. He chaired the trustees of the national disability charity Aspire and now sits on various trustee boards

Paula Craig completed her seventh London Marathon last week. The first six she did as an able-bodied policewoman, the fourth, still as a policewoman, but in her wheelchair after suffering a spinal-cord injury in a cycling accident.

Hers is an inspiring story and I've sat up and listened each time she has told it in various papers and on radio. From the point of view of the spinal injuries charity she works with, Paula is the perfect ambassador.

She's a natural with an audience and effortlessly embodies the charity's can-do philosophy.

Most charities, if they look hard enough, have someone like Paula in the ranks of their friends or associates. If they used them a little more thoughtfully, there would be less need to play the tired old game of celebrity chasing, with the attendant proliferation of costly celebrity fixers on charity payrolls. People will distinguish between a celebrity mouthing words from a script, and an honest, from-the-heart personal story.

A mind-set has taken hold that says no cause is sufficiently just, no appeal powerful enough in its own right, unless it has a famous face attached to it. Sometimes, to be fair, a celebrity can make the difference. Think of Brian Rix with mental health or Roy Castle with cancer. But these men spoke from personal experience. There was a reason beyond their name for them to be there.

Contrast that with a development agency that better remain nameless and its new campaign in Tanzania. To draw attention to it, it sent out a bit-part actress from a now defunct sit-com and an ageing rock star's latest moll. A spokesperson explained that, because of their "national profile", these two women would be "invaluable

in getting the message across. Yet most people would not be able to put a name to their faces, and they had neither moral nor ethical weight.

I don't mean to criticise the two individuals, but I do object as a past donor to that charity when money is wasted on ill-thought out and doomed publicity stunts. If there is a tangible benefit, by all means use big names. If not, search out a Paula.

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