Poor old Stacy Dooley. It is less than four months since she wooed the heart of middle England. Alongside the nations favourite boy next door Kevin Clifton, with her fake tan and sparkly frocks, she Paso Doble’d all the way through prime time to picking up the precious glitterball. Today, just four weeks away from All Fools Day, poor Stacey is now the poster girl for perpetuating a colonial era narrative. How did this all turn in to one nasty PR palaver?
On a goodwill awareness raising shindig for Comic Relief, Stacey used her broadcast Instagram channel to message to her fans. This was seized upon by the Labour MP for Tottenham, David Lammy.
“My problem with British celebrities being flown out by Comic Relief to make these films is that it sends a distorted image of Africa which perpetuates an old idea from the colonial era.” Lammy said. Cue the virtue-signalling, trolling, deflecting and misinforming. Extremists leapt in and poisoned the political debate. Celebrity, controversy, topicality is a toxic mix – a recipe to bake off a torrent of noise and debate.
Now I well understand the concerns of David Lammy. As a man who has spent a three decade career out of playing with first-glance perceptions, I can understand the problems with an image of a wealthy, white woman smiling next to a young black child, in a country still recovering from the decimation of colonialization. Whose benefit is that particular photo for? The child? He is barely aware of it being taken, and presumably entirely ignorant of the wider connotations of having your image used as a picture of poverty, alongside the caption (and I quote) ‘OB.SESSSSSSSSSSED 💔’ for the scrolling perusal of 676k followers. There isn’t a link to a funding page, there isn’t an explanation beyond ‘obsession’ and the only context we have to work on is a
picture perfect Dooley beaming into the camera, while her young friend looks meekly at the ground. Yet it’s a clumsy sentiment and she should have known that this post would carry a whiff of exploitation. She should take it down.
But how do we fix the issue? Not like this – with another entry in the bottomless pit of culture wars. Equal parts pointless and passionate. Our human desire to fix the problem immediately in front of us, means we have lambasted her, and ultimately have created bigger problems.
Comic Relief is, and always has been, a brilliant organization. The most talented showbiz luvs the country has to offer, putting on a show that provokes great British generosity and helps some of the poorest people on the planet. The red bus, the red post-box and the red nose. Quintessentially and perfectly British. When Fiona Halton asked me to help Jane Tewson during the time of setting up Comic Relief, it was incredibly difficult to kick start momentum. a But thanks to the blood, toil, tears and sweat of hundreds of people it spluttered and roared into the mammoth it is today. To date, it has raised over £1bn for charitable causes. Sadly it is at risk. This is a crisis for many charities who rely on celebrity support something the media demands when providing pu blicity oxygen. How many A list celeb agents will ask their charges to consider charity involvement when it attracts such negativity? Sad times for good intentions. Will we see the £82m raised for those most in need in 2017 repeated this year? It’s not mad to expect celebrities to think hard about optics or the charities they support, but few want to be dragged into a negative media cycle.
In a perfect world, charities would never be accused of white saviour syndrome. In fact, charities wouldn’t even be as necessary because Multi nationals (you know who you are) would pay their taxes and our Foreign Aid budget wouldn’t be under constant assault from zealots.
But we aren’t in a perfect world. The nuance of an Instagram filter and a cute kid could be the tipping point for a myriad of A listers reconsidering their charitable actions. Every argument seems to divide down binary lines. We are in a mix up, tough world where children starve and rot to death every day. Take the selfie down, take the Twitter attack down, and in this hyper speed world we are in, let us take a moment to think, before we all find ourselves in the back seat of a car hurtling into danger.