Phillip Schofield and Christine Bleakley are fronting a new TV charity event, Text Santa, which kicked off on ITV1 on Sunday, December 11. The duo tell Kate Whiting why they wanted to get involved and hint at what the show might bring. Why did mean-spirited Scrooge end up buying the Cratchit family the largest turkey he could find? Because no one can resist a good cause at Christmas.
The festive season and charity go together like mince pies and brandy butter. So it makes sense for ITV to launch its first fundraising event for 20 years in the run-up to the day of the year on which we traditionally give the most.
Technology has moved on since the last Michael Aspel-hosted ITV Telethon in 1992. So rather than having a host of celebrities on the phones at ITV HQ, Phillip Schofield, Christine Bleakley, Holly Willoughby and Ant and Dec will be encouraging viewers to text the word ‘Santa’ and pledge their money to a variety of causes.
“It’s something ITV has wanted to do for a long time,” says Schofield, 49. “As a channel, we don’t have our big charity night and it is certainly something there’s been an appetite for within the building for quite a long time. If there’s one thing ITV does well, it’s glitz, glamour and entertainment and it will be a big fun, family festive event you can sit down and enjoy.”
The main event is on Christmas Eve when Ant and Dec, the holly and ivy of light entertainment, will be fronting a marathon show alongside Holly Willoughby. But Schofield and his new Dancing On Ice co-presenter Bleakley were in charge of the special one-hour launch show right after the X Factor final. The key for Schofield lies in the simplicity of the idea and its use of modern technology to enable giving.
“I think it’s such a neat idea, and 100 per cent of your money goes to the charities involved,” he says.
The nine good causes include Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital, Samaritans and Crisis, the national homeless charity.
“These represent a broad section of the various needs over Christmas,” says Schofield, who has two daughters, Molly and Ruby, with wife Stephanie. I’ve got two healthy daughters, thank God, but we’re working with four children’s hospitals because there’s that horror of having a sick child at Christmas.”
Coming, as it does, just a month after the BBC’s Children In Need, surely the Text Santa team must be concerned the TV viewing public are suffering from donation fatigue, particularly in these cash-strapped times.
But Schofield insists we should never underestimate the nation’s goodwill. “The one thing that always seem remarkable in this country is that even in dire financial times the British public are incredible at just digging that little bit deeper,” he says.
“Of course we’re fully aware of Children In Need and in fact I’ve done some stuff for them this year, but I don’t think you can ever have too much giving. And we wouldn’t expect anyone to dip into their pockets if we didn’t provide them a couple of evenings’ worth of entertainment, so hopefully they’ll feel compelled to help people.”
The good news for ITV is that, according to a recent Office for National Statistics report, more people are giving to charity. An extra 1.1 million have made donations this year.
Children In Need: Since 1980 the BBC, bandaged bear Pudsey and Sir Terry Wogan have fronted the annual seven-hour telethon. Backed by celebrities who pull out all the stops to win donations for disadvantaged kids, the event has so far raised more than £600 million.
Comic Relief: Also known as Red Nose Day, its aim since starting on BBC 25 years ago has been to ‘drive positive change through the power of entertainment’. It has raised £750 million for projects in 76 countries.
Sport Relief: Part of Comic Relief since 2002, raising cash while getting celebrities and the public to be more active. It incorporates a range of televised events to encourage donations and has raised £44 million.
ITV Telethon: Screened in 1988, 1990 and 1992, the 27-hour Telethons hosted by Michael Aspel aimed to raise money for disability charities. They pulled in £1.25 million, £20 million and £15 million respectively before the plug was pulled.
Text Santa: To donate £1, £5 or £10, just text Santa1, Santa5 or Santa10 to 70070. The full amount goes to the Text Santa charities. Go to itv.com/textsanta for terms and conditions and full charity details. Lines close on January 6..