Russell Brand appeared on Question Time last night, pitted up against UKIP leader Nigel Farage. But what the comedian did before he appeared on the show will surprise you.
Recorded at the Gilbenkian Theatre in my old home city, Canterbury, the show was billed by some wags as a kind of rumble in the jungle gladiatorial contest between Farage and Brand.
You may have heard that Brand called Farage a “pound shop Enoch Powell”, while the comic was heckled for not wanting to stand for parliament.
But as part of his preparation, Brand did something you might not expect for the comedian, who hosts The Trews, a topical news channel on YouTube. He could have dined in a fine restaurant. He could have visited many of the excellent pubs in the city (little shout out to my old local, the Bat and Ball). He could have done some sight seeing in the city centre.
Instead he chose to spend some time visiting the city’s food bank, run by a series of volunteers.
Writing on Facebook, Russell shared an emotive visit that clearly left a lasting impression on him.
He wrote: “I visited before arriving, partly to learn about it, as a researcher told me there might be question on them and first hand knowledge would make me look good, and partly because, y’know, I actually care.
“In a warehouse in a retail park Christians and sixth formers assemble bags of what would rightly be considered “staples” in a kinder world.”
Canterbury is just 17 miles from the White Cliffs of Dover, something that makes Russell think of that Dunkirk Spirit: ” it feels like there’s a war on and the livid coloured packaging goes sepia in my mind as Dame Vera scores the melancholy scene.”
He then goes into detail about the foodbank and its work:
“The donations come from ordinary local folk ‘We get more from the poorer people’ says Martin, a quick deputy in a cuddly jumper. ‘More from Asda shoppers than Waitrose.’ As I contemplate cancelling my Ocado (or whatever the f*** [editor’s asterisks] it’s called) order Chrissy, the lady who runs the scheme says that this year people who received packages previously have now donated themselves. Previous recipients often volunteer an all. Here older folk and the students diligently box off the nosh and I determine to give them and their heartening endeavor a shout out on the show and my writhing, nervous gut begins to settle.
“Chrissy explains how the Caterbury Food Bank has brought people together, not just those it feeds but those who volunteer. ‘It seemed like a good way to worship Christ’ she says. Martin, who I am starting to gently fall in love with, observes that supermarkets profit from the enterprise as Food Bank campaigns encourage their customers to spend more there. ‘Do you think there’s an obligation for the state to feed people?’ I ask ‘or room for a bit more Jesus kicking the money lenders out of the temple type stuff?’
And like parts of the Thames Valley, foodbanks reach a need that some people don’t think exists.
Russell relates a conversation that he had with the foodbank volunteer Martin.
“[Martin said:] ‘People think that Canterbury is affluent, but all around us are pockets of the hidden hungry'”. The hidden hungry. ‘I’m gonna use that’ I tell him as I scarper. He makes a very British joke about charging me as I get in the car and I tell him I nicked some jammy dodgers, and we laugh so that’s alright.”
The experience at the food bank has clearly stayed with him and he sees a parallel between the volunteers that are working there and those who are taking on fears about UKIP policies.
He ends his blog with this:
“The Britain I love is unafraid and brave. We have a laugh together, we take care of one another, we love an underdog and we unite to confront bullies. We voluntarily feed the poor when the government won’t do it. These ideas and actions that I saw in the food bank and across the camera bank are where the real power lies and this new power is the answer, no question about it.”
Xn focuses on foodbanks because we think it’s a shame that the hidden hungry are struggling so much. Well done Russell Brand for this visit – you didn’t have to, but you did. Bravo.