The first months of the fellowship were all about reading, networking and analyzing databases of celebrity philanthropy as well as some preliminary interviewing.
Reading has mainly focused on the fascinating work exploring public attitudes to development, especially the work of Andrew Darnton, David Hudson and Jennifer (van Heerde) Hudson of UCL and Spenser Henson of IDS.
Analysis has focused on the database created over the last four years by Steve and Myrlia Purcell of Look to the Stars and to which they have generously given me access. It provides a list of over 2300 celebrities and their involvement in 1600 charities, with a general US focus. From it I have been able to identify the charities who have worked most with celebrities, and the celebrities who have the most charitable activity. It provides a useful means of prioritizing activities over the coming months. I am now working on an index of celebrity engagement in philanthropy.
I have been able to interview, formally and informally, current and former press and celebrity liaison officers of some larger NGOS as well as a few publicists, agents and cause management officers for the major talent agencies. I cannot say who, as confidentiality is the absolute watchword in this work, but it has been fascinating. My thanks to all of you who have given your time so generously. I now have a growing list (50 and counting) of people with whom interviews are arranged or under discussion.
And the main revelation thus far? What has really surprised me is how recently the celebrity industry and the philanthropic community have begun to systematize their collective activities. The major talent agencies in Hollywood began setting up foundations to promote their clients’ charitable activities generally less than a decade ago. Third Sector (the trade journal for non-profits and NGOs in the UK) only introduced its celebrity column five years ago, and the Red Page’s weekly newsletter only came out three years ago (it went bi-weekly 18 months ago). Red Pages only began listing celebrity ailments systematically about 6 years ago. The Look to the Stars website is only four years old. There is no index of celebrity engagement in philanthropy (yet). Celebrity’s interactions with philanthropy are old (the Entertainment Industry Foundation for example was set up in 1942) but its current form and organisation are being significantly reworked.