There's no doubt that a celebrity status provides a huge platform for publicity. Society's fascination with the rich and famous is such that we feel as if we personally know them. Whilst this is arguably incredibly invasive for someone in the spotlight, when it comes to raising money for a charitable cause, it can be a helpful side-effect of fame. With fundraising events, celebrities can raise astonishing amounts of money in comparison to the "average Joe". It's understandable, of course, but is it fair?
This Monday 11th April, Mark Vaz, a window cleaner from Staffordshire, celebrated running his 300th consecutive marathon. As part of a fundraising challenge to run 400 marathons in 365 days for the Make A Wish Foundation, Monday's completion means he's three quarters of the way through a monumental physical challenge. Thus far, however, he's raised 10 thousand pounds. Having run 7860 miles, that's just under 77p per mile.
I first found out about Mark's fundraising efforts in June 2015 after reading on Facebook that he was going to attempt 90 marathons in 90 days for the charity Tommy's. I was pretty astonished to say the least... now maybe this is because of my apparent inability to run long distances without feeling like my body is physically rejecting what I'm asking it to do, or maybe because I thought it was sheer insanity. I followed Mark's posts and if I'm entirely honest, I thought he would fail at some point. He recently told me that he started the challenge having never run a full marathon in his life. This is alarming considering that what he was attempting to achieve would put his body through more than any of us could comprehend. But he did it. 90 marathons, that's 2360 miles. And guess how much money he raised at the end of it? Just over £4000. I remember feeling saddened when donating to his Money Giving page, that this man had put himself through so much physical strain for charity and had raised such an unreflective amount as a result. What makes this even more surprising is that straight after completing the 90/90 Mark decided to begin another challenge to complete 400 marathons in 365 days.
Of course, I'm not saying that people should feel in any way morally obliged to give up their hard-earned cash in the first place, but when compared to the ease of the levels achieved by celebrity figures, the difference is pretty stunning.
Mark and his supporters contacted national media outlets a number of times but were told it was simply "not enough of a story" for them to feature. Not enough of a story?! A dog wins the UK's biggest talent competition and it's in the Ten O'clock News, but running 90 consecutive marathons doesn't make the cut? To put this into context, by the end of the 90/90 challenge he had broken the Guinness World Record for the number of consecutive marathons run, by 37 marathons, literally miles ahead of the previous titleholder, Amy Hughes.
Put side by side with just a few examples of celebrity efforts: in 2011 David Walliams raised £1,093,325 swimming the length of the River Thames and in 2016 Eddie Izzard was dubbed "Marathon Man" for running 27 marathons in 27 days after raising over £1 million in the process. Now these feats are undeniably impressive. I would never want to belittle these achievements and even celebrities putting themselves up for such physical challenges should be highly commended. Hell, I can't run 5k without feeling like I'm going to throw up and my face turning an alarming shade of crimson. But there lies a shocking disparity when compared to ordinary working people, putting themselves through similar, if not even more gruelling sport fundraising challenges.
I guess I wanted to write about this because Marks efforts are pretty astounding. To fit his work around his running, he will regularly run 79 miles in one day. Not only has he had to wake up at 3am to run a marathon before starting work as a window cleaner and personal trainer, but he's also faced huge personal costs to keep his challenge going and been victim to cruel internet trolling throughout his experience. Going through 19 pairs of top end running trainers, endless items of sports clothing, fuel, food and accommodation - it may be a challenge for charity, but it comes at a price. He says the most difficult thing about what he's attempting, however, has been how mentally draining it is. In his words: "physically I'm fine and my body has adapted, but mentally I have suffered". For someone that's lost three and a half stone in weight since he started, that's a pretty big statement.
What's disappointing here is that because he is an ordinary man who hasn't been in the spotlight, Mark's story and his challenge are deemed unworthy of national coverage, unlike celebrities who are given a prime-time documentary slot and front page cover of various newspapers and magazines. The majority of the press coverage Mark has received has been local and I really think his efforts need greater recognition - not just because of the physical lengths he's putting himself through, (by the end of it he will have run 10480 miles), but because of the mental stamina he must have in order to remain positive and determined. He maintains this level of strength despite the lack of awareness he has received in comparison to his celebrity counterparts. At the end of the day, whether someone's a celebrity fundraiser or a "normal" person, the underlying moral of selflessness is still the same - they're just trying to raise money for a good cause.
If you want to donate to Mark's cause, click here.