People Making a Real Difference During the Corona Crisis
by Lucy Dunn | The Telegraph | May 16, 2020
Two months ago the world changed and the people we took notice of changed, too. A new gravity gripped the nation. Almost overnight headlines pronounced ‘the death of celebrity’. Pampered individuals living in bubbles with carefully crafted Instagram fantasies quickly felt off-key.
We suddenly wanted to witness great acts of altruism. We wanted to read about people rolling up their sleeves and pitching in. Ordinary people suddenly became the new stars – who knew that a 100-year-old veteran called Captain (now Colonel) Tom would become such a national treasure?
Conversely, some people in the public eye came in for criticism for reading the mood wrongly. Like singer Sam Smith, who posted a ‘quarantine meltdown’ picture crying on the steps of their £12 million mansion. (Smith later insisted the video had been a joke that backfired.) Or Victoria Beckham, whose fashion label sought £150,000 in taxpayer funds to place 30 staff on furlough. (Following a backlash about the Beckhams’ personal wealth, the brand later reversed its decision.) And like Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish, who was caught breaking lockdown rules 24 hours after imploring his 297,000 Twitter followers to ‘Stay home. Protect the NHS. Save Lives’.
Stephanie Alice Baker, senior lecturer in sociology at City University London, who is currently studying influencer marketing during the pandemic, observes, ‘Most of those who have been publicly criticised are ones who have flaunted their privilege, appeared greedy by using taxpayer money to furlough staff or been accused of acting irresponsibly by ignoring social distancing rules and relocating to their second homes.’
‘Right now, we’re looking for sincerity in people to leave us with that warm glow, like Colonel Tom,’ says Ellis Cashmore, honorary professor of sociology at Aston University, and author of the book Kardashian Kulture.
He says that the lockdown has highlighted the people who are not in it for themselves: ‘Over the years our culture has progressively become more cynical – we are always looking at celebrities wondering what they stand to gain from their actions, so when these extraordinary times throw up some genuine characters, it’s a hugely pleasant and unexpected surprise.’
People like Damian Lewis and Helen McCrory, who set up a JustGiving page and raised over £1 million, Sophie Wessex who has been volunteering cooking meals for front-line staff, or ex-McLaren boss Ron Dennis, who was inspired by his doctor daughter to found SalutetheNHS.org, a venture delivering food packs to hospital staff.
So what do these new feel-good power players have in common? Cashmore believes they are contributing something collectively. ‘The figures that have become resonant lately are those who have appeared to have adjusted their lifestyle in a way that reflects ours exactly,’ he continues. ‘People like celebrity trainer Joe Wicks, who went online early and seemed to understand the predicament in a way that celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger, reclining in a hot tub with a cigar telling the world to “stay home”, did not.’
So will it last? Both Baker and Cashmore are sceptical. ‘I believe we’re in a period of cultural remission, meaning the prominence of celebrities has receded and their importance has been re-evaluated: when it comes to life-and-death situations, do they actually matter?’ says Cashmore. ‘That’s the kind of question we assume people are asking. But my suspicion is that this is a question we only assume people are asking. After all, look at the story about Meghan in court with the Mail on Sunday. In a properly run world, this shouldn’t interest us. But it still does.’
Whether our new focus is permanent or not, there is a long list of inspiring names who have won our respect during this pandemic. No doubt there will be more acts of goodwill in weeks to come and more people who will come to the fore, but for now, here are the 47 names to watch out for and maybe even add to your Thursday-night claps.
The Power Couple
When production halted for their TV shows (Peaky Blinders and Billions), Helen McCrory, 51, and Damian Lewis, 49, asked a friend at Imperial College Healthcare Trust how they could help in the crisis. In no time they were throwing themselves into raising over £1 million (and counting), teaming up with comedian Matt Lucas and food chain Leon’s CEO John Vincent to make healthy meals for NHS staff. With hospital canteens shutting and nearby cafés closing amid the lockdown, many employees had been going without nutritious food. justgiving.com/fundraising/feednhs
The Good Samaritan
When your business is under threat of being wiped out by the lockdown, what do you do? You could roll into a ball and cry, or you could be like food chain Leon’s co-founder and CEO, John Vincent, 48, who rolled up his sleeves and helped Helen McCrory, Damian Lewis and Matt Lucas in their FeedNHS effort. Not content with this, Vincent has also launched a Feed Britain service, a basic food and ready-meal delivery within the M25, with all profits going back to the NHS.
The Proud Father
Former McLaren boss Ron Dennis was inspired by his doctor daughter, Charlotte Hall, to set up SalutetheNHS.org, a venture delivering food packs to frontline hospital teams. Echoing Formula One’s efficiency and speed, Dennis and his team had delivered almost 20,000 packs within two weeks of launching. These include Boost Energy selections of juice, fruit, sandwiches and flapjacks to sustain NHS staff on the go; Boost Ward packs of ready meals, and Boost Meals for workers to take home so they don’t have to stop to shop for food. Informed by Hall’s insider knowledge, hospital staff also get Soothe & Care packs containing lip salve and face cream to help skin pinched by tight face masks.
The Expert Engineer
Consortium VentilatorChallengeUK, which formed mid-March in response to Covid-19, was tasked by the Government with bringing together some of the UK’s top engineering firms with the aim of making ‘10 years’ worth of ventilators in 10 weeks’. One company in particular stepped up: Formula One engine-maker Mercedes AMG HPP, headed up by MD Andy Cowell. CPAP breathing devices were in short supply, so together with University College London, Cowell and his team set about reverse-engineering them so they could be produced in their thousands. They are currently manufacturing 1,000 a day and the design has been made freely available for other countries to use.
The Constant Companion
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