Philip Pullman Interview

62 year-old Philip Pullman is author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, the first of which was released as the film The Golden Compass in 2007. He supports the charity Medical Foundation for the care of the victims of torture – (Photo Wolf Marloh)


What is the first charity you can remember supporting?

I gave some pocket money to War on Want when I was about 11. I saw a poster in the officer’s mess during a Christmas party at my Stepfather’s RAF Station. It had the most effective form of persuasion, which is facts and figures: how many people die, this amount of money will save so many lives. I was struck by this, and by where it was.

Which cause do you feel most passionately about?

A background concern is climate change, which I think is going to change human life forever. It’s something that every government should be throwing all their resources into. They show no signs of doing so. We need a politician of such oratorical fluency or such passion that people are roused from their slumbers. But there’s no sign of anybody like that. We had hopes for Obama, but he’s been caught up with other things.

Another recent focus is a medical foundation which supports and helps heal victims of torture []. I think of all the things that can overtake us as human beings – ill health accident, old age and so on – the worst is torture, because it serves no purpose other than to create agony. If evil exists anywhere, that’s where.

Do you ensure that your donations are used effectively?

You can’t pester charities to see where money’s going. If you were that suspicious, you probably wouldn’t be donating anyway.

What percentage of our income should we give to charity?

I think how much can I afford this year, and I give that much. I did have the idea of setting up a charitable foundation to regularise donation, but then along came the financial crisis.

Should charitable donation be private?

Interestingly, the gospels are completely contradictory about this. At one point Jesus says, if you’re giving to charity: “let not your left hand know what your right hand doeth”. Somewhere else he says: “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify the Father” So what do we believe? I don’t know. As somebody said, the best thing is to give in secret and be found out by accident.

What do you get out of your giving?

A sense of satisfaction of having helped someone. Not self gratification, but a sense that I’ve made a little bit of difference to maybe a few people in a small corner of this difficult world.

Do charities fill a gap left by an ineffective government?

In one sense they do, but there will always be room for charity. When you pay taxes you do so involuntarily. When you give to charity it’s voluntary, which I think is good.

Copyright The Financial Times Ltd