For some time now, Americans have come to rely on a few spring phenomena like clockwork. Pastel Peeps, for one. Cherry blossoms, too. And then, as the season melts into summer, the appearance of red noses—a few here, a few there, not unlike the early scenes of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, before you are suddenly surrounded by the bulbous honkers.
Hello, Red Nose Day!
For the uninitiated, Red Nose Day is a fundraising initiative launched in the late Eighties by the U.K.-based charity Comic Relief, which uses the power of laughter and entertainment to enact very real change in the world. In the U.S., it's been going strong for five years now, ushered to these continental shores by co-founder Richard Curtis, a filmmaker, and his partner Emma Freud—our #VBGivesBack woman of the month—to help end child poverty. "Our funds have helped around 65,000 homeless teenagers so far and provided over 36 million meals to hungry children across America," notes Freud, a broadcaster and script editor (who is, yes, related to that Freud).
In addition to raising money and awareness through sales of red noses at Walgreens, the campaign corrals the talents of a blinding constellation of stars: Julia Roberts, Naomi Campbell, Mindy Kaling, Seth Meyers, Ryan Gosling.... For this year's edition, which takes place on May 23rd, the festivities include a special Hollywood Game Night, hosted by Jane Lynch on NBC, and a sequel to the beloved cult movie Four Weddings and a Funeral—which, by the way, happens to be the first film the duo worked on together.
Here at Veronica Beard, we're celebrating as well. In addition to donating $10 from every veronicabeard.com order to the nonprofit, we'll be handing out red noses at all our stores that day. Join us—and join the cause.
What is Red Nose Day? And the mission behind it?
Red Nose Day started in the U.K. It was co-founded by my boyfriend, Richard Curtis, back in 1988. I started working there 30 years ago stuffing envelopes, and now I’m Executive Producer—so I clearly slept my way to the top.
Red Nose Day is a fundraising campaign that uses the power of entertainment to end child poverty. It started when Richard went to Ethiopia with Oxfam during the terrible famine of 1985—around the same time that Bob Geldof produced Live Aid—and it changed him forever. He was working as a comedy writer for the BBC at the time, and when he got back from the refugee camps, he tried to rally his friends in the British comedy community to raise funds for the projects he’d seen. There was a big question mark at that time about how appropriate it was for him to use comedy to raise money for such a very serious problem—but that isn’t how he saw it. He felt that if the comedians he worked with could use their profiles and their powers to raise money while entertaining audiences, it could only be a good thing. He was galvanized by the fact that he'd seen children on the point of starvation still laughing when something funny happened, even in the horrors of the camps. Comedy and tragedy can exist together and it became the first time that the BBC had embraced using humor as a means to support people in crisis. Red Nose Day quickly became part of the British calendar and it’s now become a national day of celebration in the U.K., raising shedloads of cash that has the power to transform the lives of millions of vulnerable people.
How did the U.S. get involved?
Five years ago Richard brought Red Nose Day to the States. His ambition was to create a day of fundraising activities, brilliant TV comedy, and inspiring short films explaining to a mass audience the difficult areas we are helping to fund. We wanted the money to support children living in poverty—50% to be spent all over America, and 50% to be spent internationally. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation had granted us a start-up fund and he was determined to make it work. But… how on earth do you launch a national campaign in a country you’ve never even lived in? Luckily he had a secret weapon…
When he isn’t fundraising or working as an advocate for the UN, Richard writes and directs movies—so he contacted all the American performers who had been in his films and asked them to help. Julia Roberts (the world’s greatest female) agreed to visit a mobile medical centre in Phoenix, Arizona, helping to care for children living below the poverty line, and she also went to Kenya and make a series of fundraising films about vaccination projects we support there. Rachel McAdams was photographed in our T-shirt and the cast of Love Actually made a 14-minute sequel for Red Nose Day. We contacted any British stars we knew who had an American profile, and Emma Watson, Ed Sheeran, Chris Martin and Hugh Grant all helped us out. Slowly the word started to spread… Jack Black travelled to Uganda and spent a couple of nights sleeping rough to show the life of street children there. Nick Cannon agreed to dance for 24 hours non-stop in Rockefeller Centre and Naomi Campbell pulled a switch on the Empire State Building, which turned the lights on top of the tower a glorious, traffic-stopping red.
Gradually, things started to happen without us even asking: Kim Kardashian posted a photo of herself wearing a Red Nose which went viral, Ryan Gosling got papped wearing a Red Nose on a shopping trip, the Simpsons all wore Red Noses, Casey Neistat broadcast a whole video without even referencing the Red Nose on his face throughout, and sales of the noses instantly increased.
Gwyneth Paltrow, Elizabeth Banks, Mindy Kaling, the cast of This Is Us, the judges and stars of The Voice, Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Ben Stiller and so many others came on board. Seth Meyers agreed to host our first television show; Craig Ferguson nailed our second. Connie Britton launched our educational program into schools all over America as they bought into the "Red Nose Day Lesson Plan" helping teach empathy and with kids helping other kids. All these people have gone above and beyond the call of duty to raise money for children living in poverty—and five years later we’ve raised nearly $150 million to support incredible projects that have helped millions of kids.
Above: Emma Freud, carrying the VBGB tote bag. Here, clockwise from top left: Thandie Newton, Chrissy Teigen and John Legend, Kelly Clarkson, Sean Hayes, Ryan Eggold and Kristen Bell.
How many Red Noses have you sold since the launch?
We have the most amazing and inspiring partnership with Walgreens, which is the exclusive retailer of our Red Noses. They have an amazing CEO who agreed to make 5 million Red Noses in our first year in America—and they sold out in just over a week. They’ve now made and sold over 40 million Red Noses in the last four campaigns and, with the support of their incredible team and customers, have raised more than $71 million for Red Nose Day. It’s crazy. We never dreamed we would have a partner on their scale, with their commitment and support. They are literally our heroes.
How did you first become involved?
When the first Red Nose Day happened in the U.K., I was working as the host of a BBC radio show and I interviewed Richard, who was producing the first seven-hour telethon. The interview was five minutes long, and conducted down the phone rather than face to face, but something HUGE clicked in my head. I started working at the charity after that—doing menial jobs or whatever was needed. By then, I was hosting a TV show three times a week, and my best friend said she could always tell if I was working on TV, or working in Richard’s office at Red Nose Day, because I always wore more make-up for Red Nose Day. Two years later we started going out and now we’ve made four children and 16 movies together.
What causes does it support? Could you tell us about the organizations that benefit from its fundraising?
I’m so immensely proud of the way we spend our money—we support remarkable projects, with transparent accounting and a real emphasis on long-term change. From food banks in California to street kids in Uganda, from mobile health clinics in rural Tennessee to clean water solutions for families in Ethiopia—we’re trying to keep children safe, healthy, and educated, distributing the money through organizations like Save the Children, The Global Fund, and Feeding America—always aiming to provide on-the-ground support to children who need it the most. Every dollar we raise, and every Red Nose we sell, has the potential to help a children going through the roughest of times.
Red Nose Day supports a number of different issues worldwide, but is focused on child poverty in the U.S.—what led to that decision?
The stats in the U.S. are terrifying. More than 2 million children in America are homeless every year and 1 in 6 children don't know where his or her next meal will come from. More than a billion children around the world are without basic needs, like shelter, clean water, enough to eat or basic medical attention. Our funds have helped around 65,000 homeless teenagers so far, and provided over 36 million meals to hungry children across America. In total, the money we’ve raised has supported over 16 million children across America and in some of the poorest communities in the world.
What can we expect for Red Nose Day USA 2019?
2019 is TOTALLY going to be our best year yet. We have a three-hour show on NBC on Thursday, May 23, where we will be exploiting our film history yet again... We’ve made a little sequel to the first movie Richard and I ever worked on together: Four Weddings And A Funeral. The entire cast reassembled for a two-day shoot in London, as well as the original director and producer—and the result is beautiful. You see how everyone has aged (Andie MacDowell, barely at all; Hugh Grant, sooooo much) but the jokes are just as sharp, and the ending just as romantic. I’m really proud of it. We also have a celebrity-packed special edition of Hollywood Game Night hosted by Jane Lynch, and many other incredible surprises you’ll have to tune in to see. (P.S. It comes on at 8pm ET/7pm CT.)
Most memorable moment with the charity?
We lived in NYC in 2016 to help Red Nose Day take off—and seeing our son’s school team being sponsored to play a soccer tournament in fancy dress, with painted red noses, was one of those moments when my life felt very joined up.
And your favorite Red Nose Day sketch?
Our greatest TV moment was probably the Game of Thrones sketch that Chris Martin and Coldplay made for us. It was a brilliant unexpected mash-up that you could never have seen anywhere else. If you missed it, it’s here.
But in second place, I love this celebrity-phone-tree sketch from the second Red Nose Day USA. It took a thousand emails, some actual begging, and many weeks to make—but, to me, the first time I watched it all edited together was the moment I felt that America had actually taken Red Nose Day on board. You can see it here.