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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 February 2006, 17:05 GMT
Why do celebrities join campaigns?
By Martha Buckley
BBC News

Tom Conti
Tom Conti hates to see injustice
Campaigners hoping to attract maximum attention to their cause often try to enlist celebrity backing.

From Duncan Goodhew's quest for better public swimming pools in London, to pop star Damon Albarn's fight to save a Notting Hill post office from closure, people in the public eye have been willing to get involved in local battles.

But what is that makes a well-known person decide to speak out on an issue?

Actor Tom Conti is involved with the London Motorists Action Group, which campaigns against "excessive" parking charges and fines in the capital, and opposes the congestion charge.

A long-time north London resident and campaigner on local authority issues, he says he became involved simply because he saw the treatment of motorists as an injustice.

He says: "I just hate unfairness in government and there's a vast amount being perpetrated against anybody with a vehicle - and that's an awful lot of people.

I do ask myself, 'Why am I doing this? Where are the politicians?'
Tom Conti

"The local authorities are supposed to be there to help the people rather than harass them, but at the moment people are being harassed.

"I started complaining and somehow the papers got hold of it and here we are."

Despite this, Conti says he "hates" politics and does not consider himself a political person.

He says: "Politics and the whole right-wing, left-wing thing is nonsense. There's only common sense really and an understanding of what human beings are, and human beings do not want to be dictated to."

'Failure of politics'

He says the fact people like himself feel the need to mount their own campaigns to get their voices heard on issues they consider important, indicates a failure of national and local politics.

He says: "I do ask myself: 'Why am I doing this? Where are the politicians?'"

Conti's involvement has attracted publicity to the campaign and helped raise its profile locally.

He says: "The papers want to sell papers and it's easier to sell papers with a few famous names scattered through them than not.

Arabella Weir
Arabella Weir says people have a duty to take action

Another north London resident, Arabella Weir, campaigns on behalf of her local primary school, where she is co-chair of the Parent Teacher Association.

Like Conti, the writer, actress and comedian was inspired to start taking action on an issue which was close to home - supporting her children's primary school.

She says: "I think in common with local people I got involved with my kids' school because it affected me.

"And my kids' school was evidently not the school of choice for white, middle-class people despite being surrounded by expensive houses.

"So I decided to get involved because I thought if people like me don't and yet we vote Labour and claim to be socially aware, then what chance has anybody got?"

'Rewarding'

She says she finds it "sort of sad" that charities and campaigns now feel they have "no chance" unless they have celebrity backing.

But she adds: "I also think if you do have the access to press that an 'ordinary' person doesn't have, then it is your duty to do something about it - to use this to the advantage."

She admits campaigning can be time-consuming but says she has found it "incredibly rewarding".

She says it is important for people to take action on local issues, rather than simply blaming government for failing them.

"Councillors have enormously large workloads... so you just have to persevere and if they are letting you down then you make sure you do something about it.

"You say to the MP, 'You're letting me down' - especially with e-mail these days, you can make your feelings known in the blink of an eye."


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Actor Tom Conti on helping his local community


Arabella Weir on campaigning for her local school




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