On any other day, I'd take a crap night out than a Big Night In
. There is something nigh impossible to swallow about the idea of celebrities asking the hard-working British people to donate money to fund essential public services. I'd rather watch Captain Tom Moore walk up and down his driveway to raise money than a shameless pop star-studded virtual rendition of the Foo Fighters's 2003 hit Times Like These
, but these are strange times. So I find myself in my pyjamas at 6.30pm on a Thursday night, munching the head of a chocolate bunny, eagerly awaiting Lenny Henry's familiar face.
Despite the socially-distanced presenters, skeleton crew and notable absence of a live studio audience, the formula of the show is very much the same: emotional short films about the individuals and charities supported by donations peppered by celebrity sketches and songs of varying quality.
The three-hour telethon begins with a focus on the elderly members of society who have been especially affected by isolation and social distancing measures. The whole montage is a sobering reminder of how the virus has impacted those for whom technology is not as accessible, but these feelings of compassion and concern are cut short by a video of Sam Smith singing Lay Me Down
in a white shirt that's been unbuttoned to the naval à la Simon Cowell. The same Sam Smith, by the way, who was crying on social media about having to go into lockdown in his £12 million London mansion just a few weeks earlier.
After this anthem of insincerity, I almost welcome the sight of Dawn French on my screen, whose much anticipated Vicar of Dibley
comeback features a makeshift bra made from Easter eggs and masturbation jokes. All this before 7.40pm. I am emotionally exhausted.
The weekly Clap for our Carers is heralded by Prince William and Stephen Fry joining forces for a Blackadder
revival skit in which the Duke of Cambridge alludes to the fact that he isn't wearing any trousers and misses his nightly dose of Eastenders
. I think I'm supposed to laugh – I'm mostly bored.
After stepping outside with a pot and wooden spoon, I return to my screen to find that co-hosts Matt Baker and Davina McCall, who has managed to cry twice in the brief 60 minutes she's been on air, have been replaced by Zoe Ball and Paddy McGuinness, who bears an uncanny resemblance to an early 2000s Eminem tribute act.
The Radio 1 Live Lounge version of Times Like These
is as cringe-worthy as I had feared. It's not quite as out-of-touch as the celebrity rendition of John Lennon's Imagine
that went viral for all the wrong reasons a couple of weeks ago. Or at least that's what I'm thinking until Apple's CEO Tim Cook, looking suspiciously like Paul O'Grady, rears his head to announce that the company has waived download royalties to the single, a gesture that might have held some semblance of generosity if Apple wasn't infamous for its widely-publicised tax-avoidance schemes.
The next hour and a half is an emotional tempest of well-intentioned but ill-timed infomercials and genuinely moving insights into the worlds of people whose lives had been devastated even before the pandemic gripped the rest of us. The tone of the programme blows every which way, but in between observing what books celebrities are stocking in their home office spaces, I’m reminded of the floods back in February that left many homeless, and how the virus has impacted their capacity to regain stability.
The three-hour event also spotlights how the financial impact of the virus has put increasing strain on food banks and the efforts of the distribution services working tirelessly to meet the doubled demand. We meet individuals who were struggling with mental health issues and disabilities before the spread of COVID-19 and how the quarantine has interfered with their very real need for routine. We are reminded that people are still battling illnesses like cancer and are unable to touch their loved ones in the scariest and potentially last few moments of their lives.
By the end of the night, almost £27.4 million is donated, with the government promising to double the total. It is an amazing feat in the spirit of camaraderie, but I'm somewhat distracted by the fact that the austerity measures imposed by this government are largely responsible for the struggles most of these charities are facing in the first place.
And let's not forget that, in 2017, Conservative MPs cheered after blocking a pay rise for NHS nurses, and in the months preceding the outbreak of this pandemic 10,000 workers left the NHS because of Brexit. It is the government who is responsible for supplying basic state-funded needs, but now finds itself ironically reliant on the people and services who too often bear the brunt of misguided legislative moves to pull us out of this mess.
I change the channel before a note can escape Gary Barlow's lips. I don't want my final impression of the last three hours to be the bitter taste of a multimillionaire urging me to 'sing it stronger, sing together'. It seems like such an ironic note to end an earnest celebration of altruism.