It has been 30 years since the comedian and actor Sir Lenny Henry was asked by his friend Richard Curtis, the comedy writer, for help with a new charity initiative called Comic Relief.
Curtis wanted Henry to help him write a letter to encourage performers to get involved. "Richard was really scared to write letters to people because he was the arty bloke who wrote Blackadder," says Henry. "He thought that a letter coming from me would be better than a man with a puff ball of red hair and glasses. My job was to sign hundreds and hundreds of letters. It was post-Live Aid and everyone wanted to help."
Three decades on and Henry has become synonymous with the charity. He has been involved in every Comic Relief fundraising evening since 1988 and has visited projects in the UK and Africa to make documentaries about the plight of struggling communities. Earlier this year, he was awarded a knighthood for services to drama and charity.
Henry says that praise must go to those who work behind the scenes: "Comic Relief's success is down to the ingenuity of the trustees and people who make these things happen – we wouldn't be anywhere without them."
He struggles to pick a favourite from his many visits to Comic Relief-funded projects, but one that sticks in his memory is the building of the Iyowla clinic in east Uganda. "When I arrived, there were bats in the belfry, rats running around and hardly any staff or equipment," he recalls. Within three months, it was completely rebuilt and had better facilities than the hospital in the town, says Henry. "That transformation is tantamount to a miracle," he says.
Kevin Cahill, chief executive of Comic Relief, says: "You can't think of Comic Relief without thinking of Lenny Henry. He has been tireless in his efforts to encourage the public to raise money and to tackle the issue of extreme poverty and social injustice."