When did Red Nose Day start and why do we celebrate it?

Lenny Henry with a red nose posing for Red Nose Day 2022

As the telethon kicks off tonight, many are keen to know when did Red Nose Day start and why we celebrate it?

Comic Relief's Red Nose Day 2022 is officially here. And as usual, many of us are looking forward to a day of wacky fundraising challenges and a night of star-studded comedy - all in the name of charity. Fans of the biannual funny day might be surprised to learn that the event has been going on for several decades now, raising much needed funds for vulnerable people in the UK and Africa.

Whilst many of us have our merchandise ready, the good news is you can still buy your Red Noses (opens in new tab) for this year at your local supermarket. Just remember to pop to the shops before the telethon kicks off so as not to miss specials from The One Show and Glow Up - plus epic challenges by Olympic diver Tom Daley and Radio 1's Jordan North (opens in new tab).

When did Red Nose Day start?

The very first Red Nose Day was televised on BBC One on Friday 5th February 1988. 30 million viewers tuned in to watch a special of Blackadder and characters of The Young Ones take on University Challenge. The event featured over 150 celebrities and comedians and raised £15 million in total.

Red Nose Day 1988 also featured the original red nose - a simple plain red ball that founders Sir Lenny Henry and Richard Curtis wanted to symbolise their charity. Over the past 32 years, sales of the Red Nose alone have raised over £70 million.


Designs for the iconic Red Noses change every year. And in 2021, Comic Relief released their first line of plastic free red noses (including the packaging). The new Red Nose is made from a material called bagasse, which comes from sugar cane.

There are eight different noses available to buy in 2022. The animal based designs include the colourful Cam the chameleon and lesser-spotted rare Nose. 75p from every Red Nose purchased in 2022 will go directly towards Comic Relief (opens in new tab).

£1.50 | Sainsbury's (opens in new tab)
Red Nose Day 2022 Red Nose - £1.50 | Sainsbury's (opens in new tab)
Pick up one of this year's noses in store or online at Sainsbury's. There's 8 different designs and you'll find your randomly selected one inside one of these boxes.

When was Comic Relief founded?

Comic Relief was founded in 1985 by screenwriter Richard Curtis and comedian Sir Lenny Henry. On Christmas Day 1985, Comic Relief launched live from the Safawa Refugee Camp in Sudan on BBC One. The charity was initially set up in response to a huge famine in Ethiopia. It has since evolved to raise money for vulnerable and disadvantaged people in both the UK and Africa.

Whilst the first Red Nose Day didn't start till 1988 - there was a big fundraising evening held two years prior in April 1986. This included British comedy stars like Rowan Atkinson, Billy Connolly and Steven Fry.

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1986 also saw the release of the first Comic Relief single. Singer Cliff Richard was joined by the cast of The Young Ones to re-record his hit Living Doll. The single reached Number One in the UK charts and all proceeds were donated to the charity. Other stars who recorded a Number One single for Comic Relief include the Spice Girls, Cher, Westlife and Sam Smith.

In December 2001, the charity announced Sport Relief (opens in new tab). Alternating years with Red Nose Day, the biennial event encourages people to get active with their fundraisers for Comic Relief.

Stars from the world of sport also appear with comedians in sketches for Sport Relief’s telethon. These past skits include James Corden as Smithy (from Gavin and Stacey) coaching the England football team in a one-off TV special.

Why do we celebrate Red Nose Day?

Red Nose Day is a day that celebrates comedy and people doing something silly in order to raise funds for the charity Comic Relief. In response to donations and the public's generosity, stars from the world of film, TV and comedy come together to put on special entertainment. This is normally a telethon broadcast live on Red Nose Day itself.

This year’s event is about the power of humour and reuniting the country through comedy. Money raised in 2022 will go towards helping issues like homelessness, domestic abuse, poverty and mental health problems. Comic Relief have highlighted these as a priority, having been severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Facts about Red Nose Day:

  • Comic Relief has raised over £1 billion since it was founded in 1985.
  • The highest Red Nose Day total was recorded in 2011, raising £108,436, 277.
  • To date, Comic Relief have funded over 17,000 projects in the UK through your donations.
  • There's been over 25 official Comic Relief singles released over the years. The best-selling one was comedian Peter Kay's version of Tony Christie's Is This The Way To Amarillo?. It sold 1.28 million copies and spent 7 weeks at Number 1 in 2005.
  • 1987 marked the first Red Nose Day in Victoria, Australia. A year later it went national.
  • New Zealand celebrated their first Red Nose Day in 1989.
  • It wasn't until 2015 that America hosted it's first Red Nose Day. It featured a telethon with special skits performed by celebrities like David Duchovny and Seth Myers.

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