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Telegraph Interview: Isolated in Suffolk Put to Good Use – April 24, 2020

Isolated in Suffolk, TV’s First Couple Have Created a Scheme to Supply the NHS with Thousands of Meals

by Guy Kelly | The Telegraph | April 24, 2020

Spare a thought for celebrities at the moment. Forced into lockdown like the rest of the civilian population, and with unreliable Wi-Fi at their fourth homes, many have been unable to maintain their expensive round-the-clock PR advice.

That’s the only excuse I can think of for some recent announcements, anyway. Left unattended by people whose job it is to say, “That isn’t… the best look”, we have had the likes of billionaire Sir Richard Branson attempting to solicit mass public sympathy (and money) to help his struggling business. So, too, Victoria Beckham, who, from her Cotswolds mansion, has furloughed 25 employees rather than, say, dip into her estimated £360m fortune. Even Idris Elba, fresh from Covid-19, has drawn ire for his suggestion the “world should quarantine for a week every year to remember this time.”…

Fortunately, though, not all celebrities are quite so errant when left to their own devices. The Telegraph spoke to some who are putting their spare time to good use, beginning with actors Damian Lewis and Helen McCrory.

The couple, who have been married for almost 13 years, were working apart when lockdown neared in March. Lewis, star of Homeland, was in New York, filming the fifth series of Sky’s Billions, when the TV business started shutting down, forcing him to return to England.

McCrory, who was last seen in ITV’s Quiz, meanwhile, was closer to home, filming the sixth series of Peaky Blinders. Together with co-star Cillian Murphy and producers, it was her decision to tell the BBC she was “not comfortable doing this anymore” and request they pause production.

It meant television’s golden couple – the Boxset Posh and Becks, if you will – were reunited and left twiddling their thumbs, which isn’t a situation in which they often find themselves. “It’s amazing, I had no idea [she] looked like that!” Lewis joked on Good Morning Britain recently.

The pair live in Tufnell Park, north London, in a house they bought from Hugh Laurie, but are currently isolating with their children, Manon, 13, and Gulliver, 12, at the family’s country home near Sudbury, Suffolk. I wonder if that means they’re among the hordes of Londoners who fled to their second homes – much to the chagrin of locals – when lockdown began? “No no, we were here at the time and we stayed,” Lewis, 49, insists, over the phone.

Regardless, they’ve little time to infect their rural neighbours, because the couple have been hard at work, aiding the coronavirus effort with a scheme that’s already making a difference.

“We have a lot of friends who work in the NHS, so we spoke to them about what it’s like on the frontline, and one of our friends, Dr Bob Klaber [consultant paediatrician and director of strategy, research and innovation at Imperial College Healthcare], spoke about the need for NHS staff to get hot meals,” McCrory, 51, explains.

With hospital canteens understaffed and eateries nearby closing, some health workers were working overwhelmingly long shifts with barely any food. McCrory and Lewis sprang into action, initially organising for stacks pizzas to be delivered, before realising that “is lovely, and loads of people are doing that, but that isn’t easy for the hospitals to manage,” Lewis says.

Developing an idea to deliver meals to the NHS, they contacted John Vincent, CEO of high street food chain Leon, who was also keen to help. Combining their efforts – and boosted by Little Britain star Matt Lucas, whose fundraising song about a baked potato was in aid the scheme – they launched #FeedNHS.

The JustGiving page for the campaign has now raised more than £1m, and by linking up with other food campaigns Mealforce, BaxterStorey and Feed our Frontline, more than 25,000 hot meals (not just from Leon, other chains like Wasabi, Tortilla, Franco Manca and Dishoom are also on board) are now being delivered every day to NHS staff across 55 hospitals nationwide. There is funding for the coalition to serve more than 1 million meals, but additional donations are needed to extend the provision beyond six weeks.

“People have been unbelievably generous – just look at how much they gave Captain Tom,” Lewis says. “I think if anything, that’s what’s coming out of this: the public’s goodwill.”

Before last month, the most complicated thing Lewis or McCrory had delivered was a monologue, but they’ve had little time to learn how to run a food supply network. They’re up early, hitting the phones, sending emails and calling in favours.

“I think we do feel we have a sense of purpose, which is great. I’ve actually found it quite stressful, being all hands to the pump,” Lewis says. “For some it’s been time to switch off, have some calm, be with one another. But we were flat out.”

One of the definitions of stress, McCrory adds, “is feeling overwhelmed and out of control of your situation, and I think being able to control something does make you feel much more able to get up and have a focus on what you need to do. Damian and I have spent a month on the phone…”

All this, alongside home-schooling? “Oh f***, I mean, the kids are feral,” McCrory laughs. “Mud in their hair. We would definitely have been shut down by Ofsted by now. But they’re doing well.” A pause. “I think, I’ve no idea actually. Damian, are they doing well?”

“They’re all right,” Lewis replies, not sounding entirely sure himself. “Their TikTok skills are coming on no end.”

Read the rest of the original article at The Telegraph