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Celebrities and Charity: The Price of Philanthropy

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COMIC RELIEF
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Damned if they do, damned if they don't. For the last seven years I have worked with celebrities, their agents, publicists (and in some cases their mums) to coordinate their support of charitable projects. And while no-one invites condemnation like a wealthy celebrity who does nothing for charity, those who do contribute open themselves up to a whole other raft of criticism.

Of course, we all support charities for all kinds of reasons in all kinds of ways, and those living in the limelight are no different.

The big difference is once you're famous, you'll be judged. Every move a celebrity makes - be it at work or during their private life - is up for scrutiny, including the issues that concern them; their politics; their faith; and the charities they choose to support.

And once they decide which charities to support, the questions start again. Is their support authentic? Are they putting their time and money where their mouth is? If so, are they giving enough? Everything else they do or say is scrutinised for evidence of hypocrisy. And of course, the cynical voices demand to know what they're getting out of it - what are their real motives?

Take David Beckham's announcement that he would give away his salary from new club Paris St-Germain for the duration of his five month contract: a whopping £3.4 million, to be donated to an as-yet-unnamed Parisian children's charity.

Soon after the initial fanfare, back slapping and warm cockled rumblings came accusations that this grand gesture was no more than a PR stunt, or a theatrical tax dodge. And that it was just 'a drop in the ocean to the likes of him'.

Well, let's have a look at this, starting with the 'PR stunt' accusation.

So much has been made of 'Brand Beckham' over the years that anyone who cares enough to have an opinion on him, as a footballer or otherwise, is not likely to radically rethink that opinion based on this one action. A quick survey would show that most people think that a millionaire giving away some millions to help needy children is a good thing. That's not really what I would class a 'stunt'.

As for PSG, signing an icon was always going to secure a few million column inches; they didn't need an angle on the story to achieve that. And anyone who is going to run out and buy PSG's new stock of Beckham-branded gear would do so regardless of how he spends his wages.

The real winner here, in PR terms, could well be the charity. Right now, I couldn't tell you the name of a single French children's charity but I bet I'll remember the name of the lucky recipient of the Becks bucks. This donation could literally be the gift that keeps on giving if it raises the profile of a deserving cause, encouraging others to support their work.

Now, let's look at Beckham's motive and authenticity.

When a friend asks us to sponsor them to run the London Marathon, we don't stop to ask what they're getting out of it, even though - for many - it will be the chance to fulfil a life-long ambition or an incentive to get in shape. That doesn't put us off sponsoring them - what's wrong with people getting some personal benefit out of doing a good turn?

For some, the very act of helping others gives them a feeling of well being - does that mean their act means less? If you occasionally give to charity to make you feel less guilty about having 'too much', does your donation no longer count? Surely it's the impact of someone's actions that matter, not every different reason behind them.

I am not suggesting we all sit around feeling sorry for celebrities - there are obvious perks to fame and fortune; I am merely pointing out the double standard.

And say what you like about Beckham, he has lent his considerable clout to a huge number of charitable causes. He is an Ambassador for UNICEF, a founding member of Malaria No More, and has fronted numerous Sport Relief initiatives, as well as making ad hoc donations to auctions, hospital visits and such like.

There is also the David and Victoria Beckham Charitable Trust, which remains deliberately under the radar. I know of families that have received support from this trust with the stipulation that there be no publicity. So excuse me for giving Beckham the benefit of the doubt over his authenticity. Apart from anything, what's so unbelievable about a father of four being sympathetic towards a children's charity?

As an aside, I would be interested to know - of his detractors - how many donate their own time or money to charity. If Beckham's average overseas trip with Sport Relief lasts five days, that's 120 hours of free time given up in one go. Spread that over a year and its 2.5 hours a week. I wonder how many of us can put our hand up and say that we do as much? I certainly can't.

Now the killer. The MONEY. The £3.4 million 'drop in the ocean'. Well what's the alternative? Buy more cars and houses? I can't see how anyone can make this argument with a straight face.

When it comes to the personal wealth of a top flight footballer, do I think that their salary is representative of their contribution to the world? Of course not. But that is a whole other rant.

What we do know is Becks is a role model and his actions may might just inspire others to consider what more they could do to help in their own sphere of influence. That would be nice, eh?

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