Christmas is a time for giving, and during the festive period many of us are thinking about how we can help the less fortunate.
Dame Helen Mirren is the same, but admits philanthropy isn’t as big a part of her life as she would like. “I have to be brutally honest with myself, [it’s] not nearly as much as it should be,” she says with candour. “We’ve all become obsessed with our own worlds, be it family or work.”
It’s easy to always feel like we should be doing more; with so much need in the world, is it even possible to feel like you’re ever being charitable enough?
Despite being hard on herself, Mirren is using the festive period as a time to give back. “It’s interesting, in particular Christmas seems to bring that feeling of community out in people,” she says.
That’s why Mirren is supporting the Just Eat Christmas Meal Appeal for the third time this year – a partnership with charities Social Bite (social-bite.co.uk) and FoodCyle (foodcycle.org.uk), looking to fund 200,000 meals on Christmas Day and over the winter months for homeless and vulnerable people in the UK.
“The need certainly never goes away,” she says frankly. “This year in particular with Covid, I’m sure has been particularly intense for many people and particularly difficult – and we’re still not out of that.” She calls homelessness in the developed world “a terrible indictment on our culture”.
That being said, Mirren adds: “We’re really hoping people will be able to really enjoy Christmas. Christmas is such an important part of the year, whatever religion you are. It’s an important social and communal moment in the calendar for all of us to come together over food and enjoy the sparkles – and sometimes the excesses and gift-giving – all the pleasures of Christmas.”
When reflecting upon her experiences growing up, Mirren says thoughtfully: “We were very close to the line financially, my family, there literally wasn’t any leftover money for philanthropy. But certainly they [her parents] gave us a sense of the importance of community – the fact that we’re all in it together. It’s not a world of us and them, it’s just a world of us.”
Nowadays, Mirren says with glee: “I have more than one community.” There’s her tribe in the US – Mirren is married to American film director Taylor Hackford – and her home in the UK. “I have my London, my roots, and I feel equally close to both of them, honestly,” she says. “I’m in London right now and I’m so, so happy to be back in London. I couldn’t be here for a year and a half. I’m just so, so happy to be back with my neighbours, my sister – I am a Londoner at heart.”
She’ll be back in the US for Christmas this year, sharing food and gaieties with her American family. “It’s always a bit funny in Los Angeles, because it can be like 80 degrees outside [around 27 degrees Celsius],” she muses. “And you’ve got fake snow everywhere – but I need my snow, even if it’s fake.”
Food is central to the holiday period, with Mirren saying: “Christmas, as well as being this wonderful Christian holiday, is also a pagan or ancient holiday of people coming together – almost always over food.
“Why do people come together over food? I think it’s deep in our DNA as humans. At Christmas in particular, because of the awareness that everybody else is having a lovely Christmas dinner – it must be so devastating and lonely and unhappy to be one of the people who is not enjoying that.”
The Just Eat Christmas Meal Appeal, run in partnership with charities FoodCycle and Social Bite, aims to fund 200,000 meals for the homeless, vulnerable and lonely this Christmas. Members of the public can donate £3, £5, or £10 when they order a takeaway on Just Eat and the food delivery app will match their donations pound for pound.
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