Ben Elton Interview

49 year-old comedian, writer and director Ben Elton found fame as an alternative comedian in the 1980s. He has since created a huge range of popular literature, plays and television shows. As a Prince’s Trust Ambassador (www.princes-trust.org.uk), he hosted the November Futures Gala Dinner, which raised £1 million to help unemployed people into work.
Ben EltonWhich cause do you feel most passionately about?

I’m involved with several charities, including Greenpeace and [UK disability charity] Scope, all of which I feel passionately about. I think the Prince’s Trust is good because it’s very hands on. It helps a lot of people. One of my good friends is married to somebody who got started with a hand from it.

 

Is it more important to give time than money?

You need to get involved so that you recognise your own culpability; that every one of us has a lifestyle that impacts on everybody else’s lifestyle.
Do you ensure donations are used effectively?

A lot of charities, these days, seem to spend a lot of their time proving how much money they’ve spent on paper clips. But you need paper clips, so as long as the people doing it are careful and thoughtful, it might be better to spend more time spending the money than justifying the expenses.
Should sponsorship pay for a fund-raiser’s expenses (e.g. when climbing Kilimanjaro)?

This is happening so much it’s become a subject for comedians. People are saying “I’m going to have a fantastic adventure holiday, but I want to feel good about it.” You have to take it on an individual basis. If someone is taking the mickey, don’t sponsor them.
What do you get out of your giving?

We live in a massively unequal world, so giving deals with your conscience. I’ve also learnt a lot on trips with Comic Relief and meeting people helped by the Prince’s Trust. The world’s a rich tapestry; if the only thing you experience is your own little life, you learn very little.
Do celebrities ever use good causes for their own ends?

If you’re on the telly, you get asked to do a lot. Saying no for fear that somebody might accuse you of doing it for your own profile is probably more churlish than saying yes and taking the stick. Plus, if you’re a big enough star to be asked, then you probably don’t need the publicity. It’s a catch 22: I’d probably do charity work to boost my profile if I needed to, but if I needed to, nobody would ask me.
The Prince’s Trust helps young people who need it. Isn’t that a role for the government?

At the beginning of Comic Relief, a lot of people were asking whether charity was just a sticking plaster – shouldn’t we be politically lobbying instead? But you can’t argue with a bloke getting a well that he wouldn’t have got otherwise, and you can’t argue with a younger person getting a chance to put their lives back on track.
Copyright The Financial Times Ltd