Arlene Phillips OBE, 68, is choreographer, theatre director, children’s author and television presenter. She supports several charities, including Sense, which helps people with sensory disabilities, particularly those how are both deaf and blind (www.sense.org.uk). She will host the Sense Awards on October 4.
What is the first charity you can recall supporting?
Growing up in Manchester, my family always gave to charity, especially to Poppy Days [the Royal British Legion] and the Salvation Army, who’d come down our street with a band. As soon as I had money I gave to leukaemia charities, because my mother died of leukaemia when I was 15.
Which cause do you feel most strongly about?
I can’t pick just one; there are so many people suffering in the world. I give to leukaemia charities because of my mother and my father had Alzheimer’s so I’ve done quite a bit for them. Some people work with only one charity but I want to spread myself around.
Why support Sense?
I get requests every day from different charities. I don’t have time to do something for them all but every now and then one will strike me and I’ll think: “I just have to make time for them”. When Sense got in touch it struck me that being deaf and blind must be so hard in a world that’s so full of wonderful sights and sounds that we take for granted. Sense finds ways to help people through this.
How do you choose which charities to support?
I’ve decided to concentrate on where my appearance can help raise money for charities. That’s why I’m presenting at the Sense Awards and I’m hosting another awards ceremony for an Alzheimer’s charity. It goes on for ever!
How have attitudes to charity changed in your lifetime?
As with everything today, the media plays an ever increasing role, so with more information one hopes there is more giving.
Big Society. Will it work?
It’s a lovely phrase and a good idea but most people don't know what it means. The government needs to make it clearer. There are plenty of people willing to go out and help – the clean-up after the recent riots showed that – but nobody’s going to go knocking on doors to find a needy neighbour. People need to know where and when and how they can help. So one thing to create immediately is a central hub telling people exactly that. Secondly, charities should be encouraged to open up. My youngest daughter wanted to work in an old people’s home in her gap year. We phoned everywhere but we couldn’t find anywhere that would accept her help.
Do you give change to homeless people?
I do in New York, simply because there are more homeless people and they’re much more visible than in London. My partner gives to everyone in London too. He can’t walk past anyone asking for money without turning his pockets out.