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All you need is love

~ Evening Mail, 26/11/1999 by Graham Young ~


WOGAN AND PUDSEY ARE RE-UNITED FOR THE 20th ANNIVERSARY OF A SPECIALCHARITY EVENT IT'S that time of year again - when Children In Need returns toraise more money for worthy causes. GRAHAM YOUNG reports


CHILDREN In Need reaches two significant milestones tonight, but Midland presenter Michael Ball hopes a third will literally count for the most.

The acclaimed Bromsgrove-born singer turns Midlands host at Pebble Mill and he admits that the pressure is on to raise more money than ever before to add to the pounds 250 million plus collected since 1979.

What that really means is that pounds 25 million is the target everyone must aim for this year.

"It's the 20th anniversary of Children In Need tonight and it will be the last one of this Millennium, so, yes, from that point of view we are hoping that we raise a record amount," says Michael.

"It's a real incentive if you want to be able to collect the largest amount of money in one year.

"This is very much a time of reflection, to think how fortunate so many of us are.

"We are bound to be reflective about what has been before and about the future.

"We have all either got children we know or children in the family and we all want to give them the best possible chances."

Each year the Midlands raises up to pounds 500,000 on the night out of a national total of around pounds 11 million - a figure which invariably nearly doubles once the pledges come in and all of the annual collections are added together. Last year'stotal topped pounds 20 million.

To that end, Michael is looking forward to trying to establish more rivalry between the regions, to try to increase the amount raised on the night.

"That can only add to the enjoyment of the amount raised, I hope," he says.

As we chat at Pebble Mill during a rare interview, Michael tucks into various little sandwiches.

He's wearing a grey tank top that sort of went out with the ark but it suits the chubby little boy that seems to lurks within him.

Is there not a danger that events like Children In Need do more harm than good? Are they not like the 'nanny State', gnawing away at the old adage that charity is supposed to begin at home?

"Home is my four walls," says Michael, whose partner of ten years is Sixties mod queen Cathy McGowan, 14 years his senior.

"But what affects your life is bigger than the four walls you live in.

"Yes, there is a danger of people being 'charitied' out and that's a shame. But Children In Need is a great example of being committed to making a change and putting money to a good use.

"We all waste money so much. All of us are guilty. If we can just give a little bit back and know it's in the right direction, so much the better.

"And there is an obscene waste of people's potential. Just give a little back - especially this year."

As we stand on the verge of the new Millennium, I wonder how optimistic Michael is. What would he do if he was Prime Minister?

"I'd emigrate," he says, howling with laughter, before repeating the answer to even bigger laughs when I ask him again.

"Actually, I wouldn't be really happy and I wouldn't be despondent, either," he says.

"I would see an opportunity for Britain to continue as a world leader, as a good example for other countries thanks to the democracy that we have.

"There are certain areas that we are really strongly lacking in - it shocked me earlier this month, for example, to read about how 'success' rate in treating cancer compared with other countries.

"I always just assumed that we had the best health service and were at the cutting edge. To find out that we are not is an embarrassment.

"If I was Prime Minister, I certainly wouldn't be complacent by any means.

"I would know we had the resources, both human and medical, in order to help make people's lives better and there are some great things happening."

Now London based, Michael was born in Bromsgrove 36 years ago and moved to Plymouth when he was four. His parents moved back to the Midlands nearly 20 years ago and for many years he lived in Bidford.

He loves playing the NEC where he feels home from home but he reckons the further north you go from London, the warmer the audience reception.

His latest video was shot at the Royal Albert Hall simply because of the venue - in reality he admits it's a hard place in which to perfect the sound and for a solo singer to win over the audience.

What's more, he's performing a collection of covers of songs by the likes of Diamond, Campbell and Streisand. Surely he'd get more satisfaction from singing his own songs?

"Yes, I would," he says. "But it doesn't matter where a song comes from as long as it is great material.

"Some of the greatest writers have written for me. I could never compete with that.

"It would be nice to see if I could do my own songs but I was almost paranoid about it. I never had the guts to do it.

"I will never be a good enough songwriter to be able to all of my own stuff, but it's important to have a certain amount of self expression because people can identify with certain songs. If you can write those songs, then terrific."

Did he see himself being impersonated on Stars In Their Eyes?

"Yes. It was about three or four years ago and I knew it was coming on and on came this sweet little boy who looked about 12.

"He said: 'Tonight Matthew, I'm going to be Michael Ball' and, when he came out of those doors, I died.

"His voice, though, was lovely, and I am quite sure he could get work - but he didn't win!"

Link man Michael aims to have a ball

AMAZING JOB: Michael Ball

WOGAN'S BACK: Terry Wogan and partner Pudsey. This year's event will auction the chance to own the FA Cup for a day

STAR TURNS: Steps sing their Christmas single and Martine McCutcheon is joined by 100 children

MICHAEL Ball will be the link man at Pebble Mill, while Terry Wogan does all of the hard work in London.

"Er, we're going to be doing the real work in Birmingham - he's just there leading it," says Michael.

"Actually, he does an amazing job. Last year I know he was knackered at the end of the show.

"Things do go wrong on the night and things do test you, but I love the spontaneity of it all. You just have to keep a really good sense of humour.

"It will be controlled chaos. I really, really relish that, I do.

"Whatever happens, you have to enjoy it. I hope to be singing Love Changes Everything this year because it's the tenth anniversary of that song and one of the favourite things I have ever done.

"We'll also be singing Hey Jude on a 'bounce' across the country in the same way that we did My Way last year. It's a technical nightmare because of time delay worries."

Still, Michael says he will enjoy getting out and about among the public who are bringing in the monies they have raised.

"My tip for not being recognised in public is to not wear a big hat and dark sunglasses.

"But I do like to get amongst people - when I was at Hyde Park singing for the veterans, I wandered out among the crowd before I went on. If you don't meet your public and talk to the them you are not really part of it.

"What I really love about Children In Need is the innovative ways that people raise money. It's great to have people coming along on the night and making it really special."

20 TOP TV HIGHLIGHTS TONIGHT . . .

1. EastEnders' stars dressing up like it's 1666 (1999 upside down!)

2. The Changing Rooms team turn into Village People.

3. Martine McCutcheon is joined by 100 youngsters from all over Britain to sing this year's charity single, Love Me.

4. Steps play their Christmas single.

5. S Club 7 play live.

6. And Mel C

7. And Simply Red!

8. Read Steady Cook host Fern Britten performs with a chorus of male stars

9. The entire nation will be able to sing the Beatles hits together

10. Bob Monkhouse re-lives The Golden Shot

11. Michael Aspel turns quizmaster with Jamie Theakston and Jayne Middlemiss competing against Phillip Schofield and Emma Forbes.

12. Rolf Harris heads a unique supergroup.

13. Watch out for the Naked ChefJamie Oliver... on drums!

14. Another Level attempt to sing all the way from Glasgow to Belfast to Cardiff to London.

15. Lulu forgets her Red Alert TV disaster to sing her new single

16. The Lion King cast perform straight from the West End

17. Belinda Carlisle plays live

18. Terry Wogan joins forces with Gaby Roslin in London...

19. And Michael Ball hosts events live from Pebble Mill along with Nina Nannar and Nick Owen

20 Celebrity chefs Raymond Blanc and Ainsley Harriott.

HOW TO DONATE

Midland telephone pledges will be taken at the NatWest telephone centre in Birmingham. The number to telephone is 08457 33 22 33. Calls charged at local rate.

You can also pay money into any bank or building society: quote Freepay 1066 at any post office; or, send a cheque/PO (payable to: BBC Children In Need Appeal, BBC Children In Need, Girobank plc, PO Box 4000, Liverpool L70 1EY.

You can even donate via the internet on www.bbc.co.uk/cin

See Ceefax Page 576 for more fundraising details.

. . . AND THE

MIDLAND EVENTS

West Midlands Police are staging an 'Outrageous Cod-Piece' competition.

Ex-Cathedra's youth choir will sing in medieval style

The stars of Stand By Your Man at the Alexandra Theatre will dash to Pebble Mill after the show.

Nineteen-year-old Birmingham singer Luke Galliana will make his TV debut before the release of his first CD.

The Birmingham Royal Ballet will deliver a 'twirl'.

The Royal Shakespeare Company will bring the cast of The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe into the studio.

The Midlands' Hairdresser Of The Year will shave celebrity heads accompanied by a barbershop quartet.

Ranah The Chef will try to raise thousands of pounds in Birmingham's balti houses.

The Environment Agency will appear dressed as badgers and squirrels.

Severn Valley Railway enthusiasts will steam in with money collected throughout the year on their Kidderminster to Bridgnorth run.

John Craven will introduce the Countryfile Calendar of winning entries from its Photo 2000 competition.

Cash and cheques will arrive at Pebble Mill in a variety of ways, from the Harley Davidson Club's drive in to world champion barrel rollers who will do just that to a top flight archer who hopes to be on target with a cheque from Coombe Abbey.

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