Damien Hirst Interview

Britain’s most successful living artist Damien Hirst is a champion for Kids Company (www.kidsco.org.uk), a south London charity which supports vulnerable inner city children.


damienWhat is the first charity you can remember supporting?

Colouring bricks at school for famine in Ethiopia. Every time you paid 10p you got to paint another brick, until it made up a wall of all different colours.


When did you make your first substantial donation?

I’ve always been asked to give to friends’ and other people’s charities, but it was all getting out of hand. My manager Frank Dunphy and I decided to focus on [disability charity] Scope, since I knew a child with cerebral palsy. But we had some problems when some people working there were discovered misappropriating funds. I was making a bit more money by then, so I switched from one to five charities. There’s Surfers against Sewage because my wife Maia is a surfer, and Survival because she’s into saving indigenous tribes. There’s Strummerville, which buys instruments for children who can’t afford them, in memory of my friend Joe Strummer who died, plus a children’s cancer charity called Demelza, because I think how terrible childhood cancer must be. Finally we chose Kids Co, because that’s just a great charity.


Which cause do you feel most passionately about?

I chose five because I couldn’t decide on one. I’m trying to give a million pounds a year to each of them while things are going well.


Is it more important to give time than money?

I don’t have enough time at the moment. I don’t even do my own paintings. So I try to keep a distance, but you can’t help getting involved, especially when it’s kids. When I made some paintings recently for Kids Company, I really wanted the kids to like the paintings.


Do you ensure that your donations are used effectively?

I’m a bit of a nihilist, so I look at the world and think: “Nothing can be done: with all the money in the world, nothing can be done.” The figures needed are just humungous; anything you give feels like a drop in the ocean, so you make sure the bit you do give is beneficial. Frank keeps in contact with the charities and finds out where the money goes.


What do you get out of your giving?

For me in business, generosity works – I’ve always been very generous in paying people for what they do. I like to be the artist who pays most to assistants, and we give big bonuses. Because I run a business like that, it makes sense to give to charities. I don’t really like to talk about it, I just think if you can afford it, then it’s a nice thing to do.


Have you ever regretted supporting a charity?

Definitely not. Just one letter is enough. I got a letter from the mother of one of the kids who died at Demelza, and that makes it all worthwhile.
Copyright The Financial Times Ltd