Jane Bradley: Charity and luxury make uneasy mix

Liz Hurley. Picture: PALiz Hurley. Picture: PA
Liz Hurley. Picture: PA
BROWSING my Twitter feed the other day, a tweet from Elizabeth Hurley caught my eye.

“HELP KIDS LIVING ON RUBBISH DUMPS. Pls bid on my gorgeous @Versace heels in #celebrityshoesauction.”

The juxtaposition of these two phrases, “kids living on rubbish dumps” and “my gorgeous Versace heels”, made me feel a little queasy.

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Liz is one of the hundreds of stars taking part in the great Celebrity Shoe Auction. The premise is fairly simple. Someone famous takes a pair of shoes, signs them and puts them on eBay.

The thousands of pounds expected to be generated from the sale goes to the charity Small Steps Project, which helps poverty-stricken children living in appalling conditions on rubbish dumps around the world. Not for a second do I dispute the work of this charity or how valuable the cause is.

I’m sure the children living on rubbish dumps don’t care where the aid is coming from – if the money provides warm blankets, food and shelter over the cold winter period, that is obviously what matters most.

Everyone from TV chef Jamie Oliver to tennis star Laura Robson has donated a pair of shoes – in the case of these two, beaten-up trainers. Bill Oddie has proffered a pair of old rubber clogs, while comedian Matt Lucas has signed a pair of baby bootie Converse trainers, which, he claims in a note enclosed with the shoes, to have worn until he was in his mid-thirties.

The majority of the items of footwear, especially the well-worn ones, don’t rankle quite so much as the designer brands handed over by some of the Hollywood elite.

It took me a while to work out what it was about these donations that bothered me so much – after all, these people are raising money for charity. What’s not to like?

But it is the conspicuous consumption of some of the stars’ donations which sticks in the craw.

When Liz sent out that tweet with, I am sure, the best of intentions, I wonder if she thought about what it sounded like?

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“Hi world! I have so many pairs of fancy designer heels, that here’s one I don’t even NEED! So I thought I might as well get some idiot to pay over the odds for my crappy old shoes so that I can feel good about helping children living in dire circumstances.”

I wasn’t the only follower who took exception to the tweet. “Those same kids prob made your Versace heels,” commented one man.

“Wotta sacrifice, Hurls,” added someone else. Another wrote: “There’s something quite hypocritical with this. Match the highest bid, anything, please.”

The whole point of charity is that those who are more fortunate help those who are less fortunate. Of course it is.

But it seems incongruous that the incredibly fortunate are boasting of making what is actually a tiny sacrifice – paying their assistant to spend five minutes wading through an overcrowded shoe cupboard to pick out one of the many items of super-expensive footwear they no longer need – so that the fairly fortunate can make a substantial sacrifice by forking out half their monthly salary on a pair of old shoes to help the very unfortunate.

What’s more, it doesn’t seem to be the most economical way of raising money.

At the time of writing, Liz’s shoes, which have generated 15 bids, are currently attracting a top price of £255 – with just one day to go on the auction.

A quick check online – I’m not an expert on the price of designer shoes – revealed that she probably paid double that to buy the footwear in the first place. If she paid for them at all.

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It would make a lot more sense if the incredibly fortunate directly helped the very unfortunate themselves by some more substantial means than chucking away a pair of shoes which they probably didn’t even realise they still owned.

Of course, that leaves the fairly fortunate with the responsibility of making their own donations to charity – to whatever extent they can manage – without the lure of a sweaty pair of shoes as compensation.

At the very least, we could avoid the ludicrous situation in which rich people can tweet about children who live on rubbish dumps and their “gorgeous” designer heels in the same sentence.

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