Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Are celebrities ashamed?

I have worked in the charity sector for some time and often used this resource 'Look to the Stars' which tells you which charities celebrities support, and which charities are supported by which celebrities.  It's useful when you are researching someone to see if they support a charity like yours, or have a particular interest.  And also interesting if you just like finding out about celebrities.

Annie Lennox supports more
than 30 different charities
When I looked at education, cancer, environment and child related charities the numbers of celebrity supporters ranged from 85-115. Yes, a big charity with a wide emotive appeal may have more than a hundred celebrities who are prepared to put their name down next to that charity and offer support in whatever way they can. Sometimes it's just a name on a list or attending a function, sometimes it's full fledged fundraising or financial support. Most of the time it falls somewhere in between.

When you look on the site and find out how many celebrities have nailed their colours to the mast of Alzheimer's - you get ten. Just ten. Yet dementia is one of the most pressing issues in the western world. So my question 'are celebrities ashamed?' is a valid one.  Are they not willing to put their name to a charity that deals with addressing a challenge that very possibly faces us all? At least 50% of the UK population know or have a relative with dementia, and something like one in three over 65 will die with a dementia related illness over the next thirty years. So why aren't there more high profile individuals who support research and care for dementia?  I don't suppose any celebrities will pipe up and respond to my question.

My thoughts are - and these are just my personal thoughts - that they are if not ashamed, perhaps embarrassed. I think most people have a cautious reaction to dementia because the symptoms manifest in behaviour change. Dementia patients are very often fit and healthy - yet their behaviour and cognitive abilities make them 'difficult' to manage in a society where we have a culture that aspires to youth, health, beauty and (I think there is irony here) celebrity.

Sir Terry Pratchett
Yes there are celebrities who support dementia and they will have a tale to tell of close personal involvement and the distress that is unavoidable with this degenerative disease. Sir Terry Pratchett has been very active in his media awareness campaigns about Alzheimer's - understandably as his own health deteriorates with the rare version he has. Glen Campbell has openly told people he has the disease and is doing a last tour 'while he still can'. Actors Tony Robinson and Larry Hagman, entertainer Russell Grant and musician Sir Cliff Richard have lost loved ones to Alzheimer's. But with dementia affecting nearly a million people in the UK alone - surely they aren't the only ones?

But I am not laying the blame for lack of public understanding of dementia at the feet of celebrities or any one part of society. Every single one of us must look into our own hearts. There are very few of us who will not be coming into contact with it over the next thirty years.

Useful links:

Alzheimer's Research UK
Alzheimer's Society
Dementia statistics
Look to the Stars

Photographs - from Look to the Stars website

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