THE BLOG

Thanks a Billion!

27/03/2015 18:32 GMT | Updated 27/05/2015 10:59 BST

On Friday 13 March I had the privilege of informing the British public that they had achieved something extraordinary.

Thanks to their absolutely unwavering, endlessly creative and downright inspirational support since Comic Relief began 30 years ago, more than £1billion has been raised.

That the announcement was made from the stage of the London Palladium, just around the corner from where we held our first comedy gig at the Shaftesbury Theatre all those years ago, was a reminder to me of just how far things had come.

It was such a spur of the moment notion when Richard Curtis and a few of us got it going that it's hard to believe it has gone on to become so close to people's hearts. Back in 1985 Ethiopia was being torn apart by famine, and a gaggle of fresh faced comedians thought they might be able to raise a bob or two to help.

Three decades and a billion pounds later though what's changed?

For starters there's still a big perception that it's only Africa that benefits.

The reality is very different.

Since Comic Relief began, projects funded in the UK have touched the lives of more than 10 million people. From helping to establish the first and only National Domestic Violence Helpline - which has since received over 1.3million calls - to playing a key role in the introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act, the money raised by Comic Relief's supporters has made a huge difference here at home too, often shining a light on issues which can all too often be hidden away and making real lasting change to millions of people in our own country who need help the most.

In terms of what has been achieved overseas it can be easy to fall into the trap of highlighting what still needs to be done, without properly acknowledging the real progress which has come about as a direct result of money raised for Comic Relief.

For instance, since 2009 Comic Relief cash has helped nearly six million people affected by malaria and has actually helped to halve the number of cases of malaria in some parts of sub Saharan Africa.

The £11.5million we've been able to use in the past five years to vaccinate more than two million children has also had a huge impact, helping to protect them from a host of preventable but deadly diseases.

Then there's education, perhaps the single biggest weapon in the battle to eradicate grinding poverty. Comic Relief funding has helped get 250,000 children across Africa into school and learning - giving them the chance they deserve to learn, earn and pull themselves and in turn their own families out of the poverty trap for good.

It's a fantastic list and what's more, these achievements form part of a bigger picture which sees a whole host of African countries having made huge strides in recent years. Since the first ever Red Nose Day for instance the proportion of children going to primary school in sub Saharan Africa has more than doubled, while since 2000 child deaths from malaria have been halved, and HIV infections among children have fallen by almost 60%.

This is real, tangible change, something I saw in all its glory a couple of months back when I visited Kenya's capital Nairobi to see Bernard again, a boy I'd first met in 2011 when I spent a week living in the country's largest slum, Kibera.

On that first visit, the horror of the way Bernard and his orphaned siblings were having to eek out an existence shocked me to my boots. The squalor and stench of the room they all had to live in was beyond anything I'd ever encountered.

So to be able to go back and see Bernard and his brothers and sisters thriving because of the help they have received was extraordinary.

For Bernard and his siblings, what has really been transformative isn't just confined to their surroundings, it's the presence of hope in their lives. They are all in school and can see a future for themselves.

Now, when they say they want to be a teacher, a journalist, a business owner - it's not a cruel pipe dream. It's within reach, a possibility. There's lots and lots of hard work at school ahead of them of course and there's no doubt that there's is still a tough life, but compared to where they were it represents everything that's worth celebrating about Comic Relief and people like you who continue to make it the force for good it is.

Because that's the most important point of all. Comic Relief is everybody's. The enduring support it has been shown since it began has enabled it to help those that need it the most both here and elsewhere. It's an extraordinary thing and I'm enormously proud to be a part of it - and so should each and every person who has done their bit over the last 30 years.