Do they wear capes in real life? Of course not, but for as long as I can remember, real-life heroes have usually had a special aura – or they have typically led thousands of people in victory over some appalling enemy. Coronavirus has changed all that, in the click of a finger. First, because as an enemy it is remarkably pervasive and so tiny that it cannot be seen by the naked eye. Second, because in terms of global leadership, there has been something of a vacuum.
Our political leaders have not seemed valiant. The line-up has been afraid and timid. Their lack of imagination has been disappointing. They have not been heroic. They have dithered.
However, we still need someone to put on a pedestal. In a crisis, we are too vulnerable without heroes. At first, it seemed right and proper to bestow the mantle of heroism on our doctors and nurses, who were on the frontline and coping with risks to their own health in saving the lives of others. However, after a while they overtly rejected this soubriquet. They did not want to be seen as heroic. It was not magic that they were bestowing. It was their training. They wanted to be seen as professional and efficient.
Alright, but who else is out there? People who patiently sit in supermarkets behind Perspex screens and log my grocery shop are pretty heroic, in my view. They have to deal with the general anxiety and urgency of the situation as experienced by grumpy members of the public. The same goes for street cleaners, binmen and council workers. They have pulled on the visors and got on with it. At least we don’t have rubbish all over the place to add to our problems.
But most of all, I have been witness to the amazing generosity of some unsung heroes and these are the people to whom I dedicate this piece. I am chair of a big charity, BBC Children in Need, which ran a fundraising televisual event at the beginning of the Coronavirus crisis. We raised more than £80 million, thanks to the generosity of the UK government, big corporations and members of the public. The money raised is going to children and young people who are frightened, who are isolated and who have been bereaved. It will go to help young people who don’t have devices to keep up with schoolwork and it will go to provide help to young people and children who are at risk of domestic abuse. It will go to help the homeless and those who have been stricken with poverty thanks to the collapse of the economy. It will buy clothes and shoes for teenagers.
One of my very welcome tasks was to personally thank the individual, unheralded people who gave over and above the normal realm of generosity on that amazing night. These people are my heroes and I have written to each and every one of them. They are people who simply texted their bank details and each gave tens of thousands of pounds to children they will never see and never know. They are my very real and very remarkable superheroes and I salute them. Thank you so much.