Griff Rhys Jones says to be bold and ask for what you need
25th April 2021

The one lesson I’ve learned from life: Comedian Griff Rhys Jones says you have to be bold and ask for what you need

  • Griff Rhys Jones OBE, 67, is best known for BBC comedy sketch shows 
  • Welsh comedian, actor and presenter had to ask Alan Sugar to give him £1m 
  • He explained he learned how to be bold and ask for what he needs

Welsh comedian, actor and presenter Griff Rhys Jones OBE, 67, is best known for his BBC comedy sketch shows Not The Nine O’Clock News and Alas Smith And Jones. He lives in Suffolk with his wife, Jo, and has two grown-up children.  

HOW TO PERSUADE ALAN SUGAR TO GIVE YOU £1M! 

I’ve never been good at asking for what I need, which, as I fundraise for charity from time to time, can be a problem.

In the 1990s, I had to raise £20 million to restore the Hackney Empire. I took a potential donor, a famous heir to a fortune, out to lunch but he was dismayed when I asked him, over the creme brulee, if he would like to contribute. He thought I was his new best friend. Now I was asking for his money.

Next I tried gathering individuals with a combined net worth of £8 billion for a dinner on the stage. I made a moving speech, but didn’t directly ask for contributions. I thought the cause was obvious, until no one coughed up.

Welsh comedian, actor and presenter Griff Rhys Jones OBE, 67, who is best known for his BBC comedy sketch shows Not The Nine O’Clock News and Alas Smith And Jones, said that you have to be bold and ask for what you need

I soon learned that you have to be bold and ask for what you need. One Christmas Eve when I was still struggling to raise money for the theatre, Alan Sugar rang and asked: ‘How much are you short?’ I found it hard to be so direct, but replied: ‘One million.’ He said: ‘Put me down for that.’ The theatre’s artistic director, Roland Muldoon, was overjoyed, but the sum required was in fact £1.25 million.

I had to summon up the courage to ask Lord Sugar for more money — and, if you’ve seen The Apprentice, you can imagine how hard that was. But finally, I managed to be direct. He was very good about it and paid up.

My best friend once called me a coward, and to be honest I still feel like one, and a bloody nuisance for asking for help — until I think of the good charities do.

In the recent Celebrity Bottom Drawer auction for East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices, we raised £150,000 by getting celebrities to auction off some of their possessions. So many of the people we approached directly sent something.

Many wealthy Brits find ‘giving’ an embarrassment. I had to reassure people working alongside me on that auction that rejection is their problem, not ours. You have to keep going and be un-British to succeed.

East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices care for those with life-threatening conditions in Cambridgeshire, Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk (each.org.uk). 

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