The John Griff Column: When the celebs teach lessons in compassion.

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All too often we hear of the bad things in life – mud is thrown and whether justified or not, it sticks. Repeatedly we hear, read, see and consume the thinly veiled or totally unveiled bile of the hatred of others by those who seek to hide behind the anonymity of social media – and with the calling of July’s General Election I think it’s a pretty safe bet that there’s going to be plenty more of it.

So step forward Coldplay’s Chris Martin and take a bow not only for his musicianship, but his compassion and humility too.

Last weekend saw Radio 1’s Big Weekend play out – finally – in Luton. For months the approach roads to the town had been emblazoned with bannering and road signage to both promote and warn road users that the event was coming and that roads inevitably would be affected. Years ago I went to see Dire Straits play Woburn Abbey – the gig was great but the journey to get out onto the roads surrounding the estate and so home took way longer than the support and headline acts did to play.

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Coldplay were the headline act at Luton on Saturday night and in so doing, arguably put the place on the map. Reporting elsewhere told the story of a campaign lobbying the band to alter the lyrics of one of its most successful songs ever and change ‘Yellow’ to ‘Orange’. It was a football thing and although the band didn’t go quite that far, they did the next best thing when vocalist Chris Martin delivered his own ode to the town, which went down rather well. But it’s not why I suggest he should be taking that additional bow.

Northampton's floods from Easter 1998 also taught a few lessons in kindnessNorthampton's floods from Easter 1998 also taught a few lessons in kindness
Northampton's floods from Easter 1998 also taught a few lessons in kindness

Instead, this is why.

The BBC News website reported a story about Luton resident Saundra Glenn, who has osteoarthritis and, as a result, "a dodgy right hip". Determined to see the band play but contemplating having to go home to do so on TV, she had been walking towards the accessibility box office but stopped to have a rest against a nearby fence. As she did, a large car pulled up alongside her, whereupon Saundra was invited to get inside so that the car could give her a lift. In the back of the car – of course – was Chris Martin.

Accepting the lift, but politely declining Martin’s own offer to help her into the car, not only did Saundra get driven into the artist area sat next to her hero, but he then arranged for a buggy to take her to the place she needed to be in order to see the show play out. "It's the fact he's conscious of disability, he's such a kind person." she was quoted as saying.

And with that simple, selfless act, Chris Martin not only saved Saundra’s day, but probably made her year. For Matin it was literally nothing – his journey was extended by no more than a few seconds and saw him delivered to exactly where he needed to be and would have gone anyway. But his consciousness and awareness of Saundra’s needs and his compassion for how he could meet them in an instant made all the difference. Did it make him a supernatural person, gifted with supernatural powers? No, of course not. Random acts of kindness like his go on every moment of every day – they just don’t draw the kind of attention that someone of Chris Martin’s standing commands. In some ways you might say that that’s a pity – but is it really the case? Would we really want to see every act of kindness – random or otherwise – so reported? Undoubtedly not – such stories would get wearingly boring very quickly I suspect. Instead, it does us good to know that there is that kind of simple kindness out there.

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Those unreported simple acts really do make the difference. During the pandemic I vividly recall stories of how ordinary people – not just multi-millionaire rock stars – had come to the assistance of each other with things as simple as getting a few groceries during their hour of daily exercise for someone housebound in turn. It was the same during the Northampton floods of Easter 1998. Then a contributor to commercial radio, I had been dispatched to St James, the hardest hit part of the town by floods which had forced some homeowners upstairs into their bedrooms, or worse. With a live microphone in one hand and a camera in the other, I asked a local community leader what was needed and in shortest supply. ‘Boats’ he said. ‘We need boats right now, to help get people out and to safety.’ Almost as he said it, from a variety of directions precisely that started to arrive. Sea cadets with aluminium boats, residents with inflatables and even a couple of guys with jetskis. It was both astonishing and wonderful to see. Later, I got involved myself with the approval of my station manager, who authorised the use of the station’s 4x4 ‘Black Thunder’ radio cars to ferry cold firefighters back to the Mounts Fire Station after standing in freezing cold, waist deep water for hours, so that they could have a hot shower, get something to eat and get back to into action again. I even spoke to someone flooded out of his home who was sitting on the street among the remnants of his belongings. ‘It’s been a great Easter’ he said. Incredulous, I asked him if he was simply being ironic. Replying, he said ‘No – I’ve never spoken to my next door neighbours, but we’re helping each other out now and I think I’ve made some new friends as a result.’

At last weekend’s Crick Boat Show, I watched as time and time again the marshals and other show volunteers got members of the public whose cars had become stuck in the car parks moving again. Hours and hours of heavy rain had made the grassy meadows treacherous to the inexperienced and the marshals and volunteers proved themselves to be the heroes of the day. From the radio chatter I believe they actually enjoyed it too. Random acts of kindness they were not – but certainly acts of kindness nonetheless, for which they are due due gratitude.

Take that bow, Chris Martin. Not only did you and your colleagues deliver a fantastic set in Luton, thanks to your compassion, you also taught a great lesson from which we could all benefit. As the band played Hymn For The Weekend, it was him for the weekend and beyond – and particularly for Saundra Glenn.