Jo Brand last night became the seventh high profile arts performer to give of her time and talent for free to support what has become an annual ‘audience with …’ to raise funds for Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research. These events started when my literary agent, Ed Victor, won his battle with leukaemia – thanks in large part to the research of the charity – and decided he wanted to put something back. As I am chairman of fundraising, this meant having a meeting with me and the charity’s excellent chief executive Cathy Gilman (who started out as a volunteer) to discuss what this help might be. We settled on an audience with Mel Brooks, who is a friend of Ed’s. So Mel was interviewed at the Criterion Theatre – kindly donated for the evening by Sally Greene – by Alan Yentob of the BBC, who is a friend of Mel’s, of Ed’s, and of mine. It was a great success, so much so that we then repeated the exercise in the States, for our sister charity. Only one camera recorded it, but nonetheless HBO decided they wanted to broadcast it, and it was nominated for an Emmy.
Between us, we have since delved into contacts books to persuade Stephen Fry, Michael Palin, Kevin Spacey, Billy Connolly, Miranda Hart and now Jo Brand to turn out on a cold November Sunday night and perform for the cause. Today, Cathy Gilman and I have both been getting excellent feedback about last night. People who have been to all seven of these evenings were saying Alan’s interview with Jo was right up there with the best. They both did a fantastic job in getting the mix exactly right between belly laughs and serious discussion not just about Jo and her life and history, but also some of the issues involved in that life. With my mental health campaign hat on, I particularly valued the part of the conversation that focused on her dad, whose depression went untreated for years, and her decade as a psychiatric nurse. I also loved that Jo has not mellowed about comics like Bernard Manning whose various ‘isms’ she so clearly despises.
Alan Yentob is a very good interviewer and goes to huge effort in preparing properly for these events, with regard to the film clips – including last night one of Jo and Ruby Wax as the Cheeky Girls which Jo could hardly bring herself to watch – photos, research and the planning of the interview. At one point, when talking about comedy as the new rock and roll, with Michael McIntyre able to fill the O2 night after night, and musicians now making their money through live performance rather than records, Alan said that people are always on the look out for a good night out … well last night was a really good night out. Everyone left feeling that, and I got the sense they could have happily stayed all night and watched and listened to the two of them chatting.
So many many thanks to both of them. It is remarkable that we have now done seven of these, and they have all been of such high quality and helped not just raise money but add a new strand to the charity’s profile and reach.