How to give it: Tamsin Greig

Actor Tamsin Greig, 45, is starring in the world premiere of Jumpy at the Royal Court Theatre, London. She supports the Christian aid and development agency Tearfund (, with whom she travelled to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda.

What is the first charity you can recall supporting?

When I was 17 a neighbour I knew well died of cancer and I became au pair to her three little girls. In circumstances like that, when you can’t really help, I think it’s a human response to do something beyond oneself. So I did a sponsored parachute jump for Cancer Research. It was exciting and ridiculous.

Why do you give to charity?

I knew a homeless guy who’d give all the copper coins that people gave him to charity. So I think there’s something that makes us want to give. For me it’s quite a selfish luxury: you feel enlivened, deepened and self-nurtured by generosity.

How did your trip to the DRC affect you?

I think we can understand so much by reading things but I think experiencing something takes us to a new level of appreciation. In [the play] God of Carnage there’s an impassioned speech about the Congo. I thought that it was interesting but didn’t understand the realities of a lawless country driven by fear, yet where people still have the drive to live. Visiting the Congo later on, I found myself appalled at my previous lack of compassionate engagement but delighted to be given a second opportunity.

Why do you support the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Stand Up for Shakespeare campaign?

The RSC asked me to help make Shakespeare more accessible in schools. Having had children, and experience of Shakespeare, I was happy to. You have to be selective with charities. I think it’s about engaging with your own temporal experience. Things come along that are relevant to your current life and you can go for them.

Should we have an option to donate money at cash-points?

We live in a fast-paced culture where we’re asked to make snap decisions all day long, so I suppose cash-point donations feed into the immediacy of our life experience. So it’s a great idea. But I think it needs careful handling. It would have to be done across every bank and the control should not be with banks’ head offices; local charities should have a say about who’s supported. Also, cash-point donations should be a supplement to – rather than instead of – long-term commitments that allow charities to plan ahead.

What’s your favourite example of a charity in action?

Heal Africa ( runs a hospital treating women in DRC who have been victims of sexual violence. I met a woman whose rapists had cut off her lips and cheeks to silence her. But she could still talk. In fact, she couldn’t stop talking about what had happened and how she prayed for her attackers to be forgiven. It was the most courageous irony.

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