We have just learnt that our favorite guy was made a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in Queen Elizabeth’s annual birthday honours. This very well-deserved honor comes for Damian’s services to drama and to charity especially for initiating Feed NHS, a campaign Damian ran with Helen that raised more than 1 million pounds to provide food for NHS workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We send our heartfelt congratulations to Damian! What he and Helen did for Feed NHS is exemplary citizenship. Helen would surely be made a CBE herself if she were with us today. And we know she’ll smile from above as Damian accepts his. We love them and we are so proud of them. So why don’t we go back to March 2020 today and visit Damian and Helen launching and managing Feed NHS along with their partners?
Damian was filming Billions in New York and Helen was filming Peaky Blinders in Birmingham when the pandemic hit. The couple came back home, and only a few weeks after the lockdown started in the UK, they, in collaboration with comedian Matt Lucas and John Vincent of Leon Restaurants, launched FeedNHS to deliver hot and healthy meals to the front line heroes across the UK.
Here is Damian and Helen blogging about how Feed NHS came about on the campaign website:
“We’re Damian and Helen and like all the best things in life, this started with a chat to a friend.
The friend, Bob, a senior player in the NHS asked us, ‘In every meeting, all we talk about, is how are we going to feed our staff? I don’t suppose you two could help?” We had no idea how, we knew nothing about the world of catering or NHS hospitals (a lot’s changed since then!) but nevertheless we did have the good sense to call John Vincent , the CEO of LEON. We told him our story. “l ’ve been looking to do something in that area and trying to figure out how. Let’s do it together! Can I introduce you to a friend…?” he said. Well that friend turned out to be none other than the comedy god himself, Matt Lucas. “I will write a song and all proceeds will go to your campaign! “he offered. And the baked potato song was born. And so together we set off on our mission to feed the NHS. First, by raising the money to feed some 20,000 staff in the Imperial and UCLH Hospital Trusts and then, we hoped, beyond…
Some of our front line workers are working in nonstop shifts in hot and exhausting PPE often unable to return home to family , but instead self-isolating in nearby accommodation and with cafes and restaurants closed there is nowhere for them to eat. At the moment we and our partners are together delivering 40,000 meals a day to 88 hospitals across the country but to continue, we need your money. Why? Because we’re a not for profit coalition. No one is making money from this. In fact, it’s you, YES YOU! that’s actually paying for these meals. You, the British public are feeding the Frontline and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
So, who is this coalition?
Leon and its CEO John Vincent led with the initiative for this whole campaign from the start. You MUST have had the delicious chicken aioli at least once.
Baxter Storey provides hospitality services to businesses across the UK . With a background of creating fresh, nutritious food its teams have been volunteering their time to work from specially opened kitchens across the UK. From making scones for paramedics in Newcastle to providing over 7,000 plant protein meals to London hospitals and producing 1,500 free meals a day to hospital staff across Edinburgh and the Lothians, they have ensured NHS staff and key workers have access to fresh food.
Mealforce is providing nutritious, fresh meals ,daily, to NHS frontline workers through a coalition of organisations. Brilliantly, they have formed a partnership with Manchester United football club who are now providing 60,000 meals from their kitchens.
Feed Our Frontline is a coalition of UK restaurants and food providers who have joined forces to support the NHS during the coronavirus crisis. They provide delicious meals and produce to our heroic hospital staff, completely free of charge to the NHS. Their service runs on goodwill and essential costs, which are in turn covered by generous donations from you to the Feed NHS campaign.
So, that’s our story so far.
Please join us on our mission to feed our heroes on the Frontline.
They deserve it.
Helen, Damian, John, Matt and all of us at #FEEDNHS X”
When Damian and Helen formally launched Feed NHS on Good Morning Britain on March 27, Helen talked about the emotional ups and downs she had during the pandemic while Damian joked he did not know his wife looked like that 🙂
Then they appeared on BBC Breakfast the following morning where Helen made a strong and an absolutely true statement about how the pandemic has brought the country together.
“We’re only as strong as each other.”
And Damian tweeted on March 30 that the first hot meals were being delivered to St Mary’s Paddington Hospital that day.
First hot meals from us at #FEEDNHS @RealMattLucas @JohnV_LEON going out to St Mary’s Paddington today! Hot meals for NHS front line soon to start all over UK. Please donate at https://t.co/FAPLmAiu6n to help FEEDNHS! pic.twitter.com/zjDIv2Xpi5
— Damian Lewis (@lewis_damian) March 30, 2020
Damian told Deadline:
“There’s no centralized model for doing something like this and working with the NHS, there’s no centralized model at the NHS either. Crucially, this can only last as long as people give money. That’s the point. No one is funding this except the public.”
And while Helen shared more about coping with Covid-19 on the BBC Coronavirus Newscast…
“We’re all doing our bit and not going out. But you feel responsible, you know you’re watching the news, we’re all reading it, we’re all finding out what’s happening over the world, and it’s so overwhelming.
It sort of seems, as Damian says, it’s fantastical. You think you’re absolutely fine, you’re pottering along, you’re coping with it. Cleaning, cooking, cleaning, cooking, cleaning, cooking. And you suddenly burst into tears.’
‘And it’s this fear, and it’s the vulnerability coming out, and then you pick yourself up and you go along again as if nothing happened. And it’s very surreal.”
…Damian talked to Bloomberg about their aim with Feed NHS as well as the vulnerability the Covid pandemic has brought:
“When you have done four hours straight, working ventilators in PPE (personal protective equipment) gear, you can walk out and someone will hand you a hot, healthy meal,” he said. “We all want to do something that can help. Staying at home is an odd feeling, like being under house arrest, feels cowardly, oddly, even though it is the most important thing you can do.”
“I find myself within the course of a day launching from great assuredness and certainty about how we are all going to pull through this, myself and my family. And launching from that to great teariness and vulnerability and a sense of not knowing, which is very undermining, and wanting to give comfort to people around you, just launching back and forth. Anyone who knows grief will know how this feels: Being OK and then crying. This is a small version of that, or maybe a larger one.”
And they shared with The Telegraph how they had a sense purpose in the middle of a global pandemic:
Damian: “I think we do feel we have a sense of purpose, which is great. I’ve actually found it quite stressful, being all hands to the pump. For some it’s been time to switch off, have some calm, be with one another. But we were flat out.”
Helen: “One of the definitions of stress is feeling overwhelmed and out of control of your situation, and I think being able to control something does make you feel much more able to get up and have a focus on what you need to do. Damian and I have spent a month on the phone…”
And their efforts paid off handsomely. Damian and Helen helped raise more than £1.5 million pounds for the cause. And while the campaign started in London hospitals, it was soon able to reach out to the other big cities like Birmingham, Manchester, Aberdeen, Cardiff, and Edinburgh serving thousands of hot and healthy meals to the frontline heroes.
On Out to Lunch podcast with Jay Rayner (which was originally recorded weeks before Helen’s death) Damian said that he was ‘very proud’ that he and Helen helped raise over £1.5 million to feed NHS staff during the pandemic.
“I am very, very glad we did it and I am full of admiration for people who give their time working in the charity sector.”
Helen was probably very sick as she was tirelessly working on the Feed NHS campaign. However, their partners had no idea that she was sick! Here is Leon’s CEO John Vincent writing about Helen:
I didn’t know Helen was ill. I don’t know how long she was receiving treatment, nor what type of cancer she had. Part of me wondered if I should have known, if other people knew and I didn’t. Was there something I missed?
“Helen was very proactive – this wasn’t a charity celebrity appearance where they ask, ‘Where do you want me?’ In everything from technical issues, when we struggled to set up the Just Giving page, to deciding who to partner with, she was deeply involved. It helped that she was an acute judge of character, perhaps part of her skill as an actor.”
And if this is not inspiring, what is?