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

The telethon is a fundraising even for comic relief

Radio presenter Greg James holding a red nose in front of a blue background
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Red Nose Day is on the horizon and as schools, shops and businesses start their fundraising, many are keen to know when did Red Nose Day start?

Comic Relief has announced plans for Red Nose Day 2023 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.

As people up and down the country get ready to begin their fundraising challenges and buy their Red Noses for this year, Comic Relief have revealed an exciting night of TV including  AJ Odudu, Joel Dommett, Zoe Ball, Paddy McGuinness, and David Tennant. Ahead of the 2023 telethon, here's everything to know about when Red Nose Day started and why we celebrate it...

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, and this year Comic Relief’s famous round icon has been through the most dramatic makeover since its debut, which sees it turned into a honeycomb sphere made entirely from plant-based materials.

In a 2013 interview with The Telegraph, Comic Relief co-founder Sir Lenny Henry looked back on the first Red Nose Day. He said: "Comic Relief these days is much more in line with shiny-floor shows like The X Factor – fast, zappy, presenter-led – but we were just asking everybody to be kind and help.

"Everything went wrong, of course – the autocue stopped, someone tried to do some magic and it didn’t work, Frankie Howerd came on and wouldn’t stop talking – but people were really moved by the films.

"I thought that if I made people laugh, and donate, then maybe the kids I visited in the Kibera slum in Kenya wouldn’t have to live in a room with a sewer running down the middle of it."

When was Comic Relief founded?

Comic Relief is the charity behind both Red Nose Day and Sports Relief, and it 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 famine in Ethiopia, though it has since evolved to raise money for vulnerable and disadvantaged people in both the UK and in Africa.

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

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. 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. Last year, Sport Relief, Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games and the BBC teamed up for a one off, All-Star version of the Commonwealth Games with two teams of celebrities and sporting legends going head to head to raise lifechanging money for Sport Relief. 

Why do we celebrate Red Nose Day?

Red Nose Day encourages 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 as part of a telethon broadcast live on Red Nose Day itself.

This year’s TV event takes place on Friday 17 March, and will focus on the cost of living crisis as millions of people in the UK and across the world need support now more than ever.

Hosted by AJ Odudu and Joel Dommett alongside Zoe Ball, Paddy McGuinness, and David Tennant - alongside a host of stars and supporters - the BBC One broadcast will bring viewers an unmissable evening of comedy, live music, exclusive prizes, and plenty of surprises. 

It's also been revealed that Kylie Minogue, will feature in a one-off special of much-loved BBC sitcom Ghosts, and a hilarious parody of Love Island will see a very unexpected contestant looking for love. 

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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Emily Stedman
Features Editor

Emily Stedman is the former Features Editor for GoodTo covering all things TV, entertainment, royal, lifestyle, health and wellbeing. Boasting an encyclopaedic knowledge on all things TV, celebrity and royals, career highlights include working at HELLO! Magazine and as a royal researcher to Diana biographer Andrew Morton on his book Meghan: A Hollywood Princess. In her spare time, Emily can be found eating her way around London, swimming at her local Lido or curled up on the sofa binging the next best Netflix show.

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