Tom Hiddleston blogs for UNICEF about ‘living below the line’: sweet & lovely?

Tom Hiddleston wrote a special essay for his Dragonflies! A few weeks ago, Hiddles took the “Live Below The Line” challenge in which he chose to live on £1 a day (for food and beverages only). Hiddles tweeted photos about his meals and I do think he probably raised awareness for the issue. He’s a UNICEF ambassador and – much like Angelina Jolie’s work with the UN High Commission on Refugees – much of his role is to get press, to raise awareness, to give interviews and pose for photos and try to get people to contribute money. So Hiddles wrote an essay for the UNICEF blog about living below the line and he ends up admitting that he has a really bad caffeine addiction:

I took on the challenge of living on £1 a day out of compassion and a desire to understand the constraints and conditions of those less fortunate, who don’t have a choice. For me it was about voluntarily experiencing even the smallest fraction of the hunger, as well as the discipline required, to subsist on such a small amount. The world’s poorest families, all over the world, face such malnutrition that their growth and development is held back.

Here’s the thing. I haven’t really ever lived below the line – not below the poverty line. I still live in a nice house in London, with running water and a roof over my head, with gas and electricity. Clean drinking water comes rushing out of the kitchen tap. My surroundings are still comfortable. But the children who live below the poverty line have none of these things.

Conversely, I live a very active, very blessed life. It wasn’t always thus: everyone starts at the bottom. I have worked hard since I left school to get to where I am now. But even that statement alone is a declaration of good fortune. My parents had sufficient income, not only to feed me regularly and to feed me well, but also to send me to good schools. To state the obvious: education is power. It always has been; it always will be. I’ve been very, very lucky. It has given me an emotional and physical strength, which anyone who has lived below the line, for a long time, doesn’t have.

Most of us are physically active. I am propelled through my life by an unceasing supply of energy: three square meals of nutritious food (eggs, oats, meat, fish), but also coffee, tea, bananas, smoothies, organic vegetables, fresh fruit, chocolate, biscuits. If ever I feel drained there is always energy within easy reach. Like most people, I rush about. I dash in and out of town for meetings. I’m on the move all the time. When I am working as an actor, it is first and foremost a physical act, on stage or on set. I was lucky, that when I took this challenge on, I wasn’t doing physical action, stunts and battle sequences.

Live Below The Line made me think about food in an entirely different way. I had to plan better, to budget better. I didn’t waste a penny, or a crumb. It was a test of mind and will power. It was a test, simply because I am unused to being hungry. In order to stay within my budget I had to think carefully, and pay more attention when cooking my own meals. I had to cook my own meals and not buy food on the go. When you only have a 1 kg bag of rice, you take care not to burn it. When you only have two eggs per day, you take care to cook them right.

I enjoyed cooking during my Live Below The Line week more than I ever have. I enjoyed the meals I made for myself, more than I enjoy the food I would normally buy on the go – a coffee, a sandwich, lunch at a café, or a take-away.

Through this challenge I learned the importance of preparing food carefully. I learned to be grateful for every single mouthful. I understood how wasteful I used to be.

I realised that I have an addiction to caffeine and coffee. For most of the morning on the first few days I found it very hard to concentrate on simple tasks, without a cup of coffee. This won’t come as news to anyone who has ever tried to go cold turkey – and to stop taking a substance they are addicted to. But after a few days, my head cleared, and I found a more sustainable equilibrium.

More than anything, I learned that I could not live the life that I have, if I were hungry all the time. Some say that hunger strengthens the will, keeps you sharp. Steve Jobs once said: “stay hungry”. But that great innovator was speaking metaphorically in the language of creative ambition. In his field, he’s absolutely right. Real hunger, however, kills the spirit. More than that, it is still one of the world’s biggest killers of children in the developing world. Every 15 seconds, a child somewhere in the world dies because they can’t get enough food to eat. This is the truth about Hunger. UNICEF is committed to eradicating this tragedy from the face of the earth.

I’ve seen the difference UNICEF can do first-hand, at every level of care for malnourished children, in Guinea in West Africa. I undertook the Live Below The Line challenge to raise awareness and support UNICEF in their commitment to save the lives of the poorest children in the world.

Ultimately Live Below The Line has taught me gratitude, on a level far beyond the intellectual. This week, if you have done the same, you have my greatest respect.

[From the UNICEF blog]

I think all of this is fine. It bugs me when people complain about movie stars trying to do this kind of awareness-raising campaign, especially when the celebrity is working on behalf of an organization known to be doing a great deal of work in the world, like UNICEF, UNHCR, Save the Children or what have you. I think some people find the celebrities to be hypocritical, I guess because what would the celebrity know of poverty, how could they really understand what these people are going through, etc? But what I come away with is… at least some people are trying. Maybe they don’t always succeed, maybe the difference they’re making is negligible. But can’t we give them credit for trying? Can’t we give them credit for doing something when so many people live with so much privilege and they don’t even stop and think for one moment that billions of people don’t even have a fraction of what we take for granted?

Photos courtesy of WENN, Flaunt, UNICEF.

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

85 Responses to “Tom Hiddleston blogs for UNICEF about ‘living below the line’: sweet & lovely?”

Comments are Closed

We close comments on older posts to fight comment spam.

  1. T.Fanty says:

    I’m giving Hiddles credit for this. It’s an honest and fair response to his critics and a nice articulation of his aim. My inner dragonfly shines with the glory of a job well done.

    ETA: I can’t help but feel that the dragonfly picture is there to bait us.

  2. allons-y alonso says:

    I just have a huge bag of ‘awwww’ for this man and I love his comment on education – a good education it gives you choices as well as agency/power.

    I was quite affronted at the cynicism towards his UNICEF work. He’s communicated his aims very well here. I appreciate what he is trying to do and he’s clearly very aware of his own fortunate circumstances.

    Kudos to you, Mr Hiddles!

  3. EscapedConvent says:

    Hiddles gets props from me too. I don’t see anything to criticize here. Instead of just talking, he did something very difficult for a week, & raised his own awareness into the bargain. Empathy for one week is greater than years of empty yammering. He did a fine thing here.

    Maybe other famous names lived below the line too, but I have only heard of Hiddles doing it. So, bravo, & a curtsy to the Dragonfly King.

  4. Gina says:

    But why do these white people feel the need to travel to Africa and take cheesy pictures with poor black people like they’re some white savior making their day? What does that accomplish?

    • ds says:

      It helps UNICEF promote. He was asked, he joined, he was photographed: it helped boost PR and it’s fine

      • Gina says:

        How does it help UNICEF promote anything? All of his crazy fangirls would have donated anyway, why did he have to go to some village and take cheesy pictures?

      • ds says:

        It was probably their invitation, that’s what I mean. How does Katy Perry help? They need marketing and they’ve always used celebrities. I don’t know about his ceazy fan girls cause I’m to lazy to read about but would they donate if he wasn’t so into it?

      • Crumpets and Crotchshots says:

        I think the idea is that his fan base will donate because he is doing this.

        The key to a successful ambassador though lies in turning that into real support for and awareness of UNICEF, rather than just being about the celebrity. I don’t know if Tom has succeeded in that yet, but he is certainly trying.

    • Micki says:

      These white people probably go to give a face to words like hunger, epidemic diseases, children mortality. We all know they exist but most of us donate something around Christmas to feel good and charitable.
      I personaly stopped my donations for UNICEF after the big embezzlment scandal years ago. We still donate but for smaller charities where it’s easier to follow and control.

      • Crumpets and Crotchshots says:

        Then the question is why do we need white privileged faces in order for something to “have a face?” Why are the people who live there, the doctors and engineers who do the actual work to help the poor so “faceless” to us? I think it is a fair point that this celebrity culture tie in doesn’t solve the problem, and could in fact be part of the problem.

      • Micki says:

        Reasonable question. I’ve seen recently a documentary about one of the more famous (in Germany) actresses, who is married to a wealthy guy and has it all. She’s fighting for nearly a decade to finance shelters for abused/ raped women and girls in Tailand. They get medical help and some simple, practical education.
        She said she knocks on so many doors for money that she lost count. She goes on TV, promi-dinners and so on doing PR for her cause. Apparently though not many are interested in any sort of “beterment for the mankind” and these are people who can easily afford it.

        My point-
        1. Not even celebrities (whatever calibre) can inspire people to donate.
        2.The real ones, you probably meant (who go and work in third world countries are too busy saving the day and don’t have the time/means to do PR as well.
        3.Donated money gets into the wrong pocket-a patient in Afgan hospital funded by Germans costs about 50 p. per visit! Still the money gets lost on its way to this patient.

        The people who work in such conditions for whatever cause do an occasional TV documentary but that’s it.
        What would you suggest?

      • Lucrezia says:

        I don’t think the issues need a face, but the charities do, because it’s so hard to know which ones to trust.

        Micki already brought up the UNICEF embezzlement scandal, though I actually had the opposite reaction: I prefer to donate to UNICEF because they noticed the fraud and fired the thieves. (They’ve actually caught a few since the big scandal in the 90′s … clearly they have anti-fraud systems in place.)

        LBtL is being supported by Hiddles, Jackman and Affleck. I doubt they’ve each examined every last inch of the books, but I assume they checked out the charity before supporting it (or – more likely – had someone check it out for them). Put a celebrity as the “face” of a brand, and most people will assume it’s trustworthy. (Admittedly, Lance Armstrong, Khloe Kardashian and Madonna definitely aren’t helping that automatic “celebrity = trustworthy” association!)

  5. Magneticfieldz says:

    I dunno. I like the guy. He seems like a dude who has really wanted to be successful and famous, finally landed it, and now wants to do something good to pay it forward. No harm from that IMHO.

  6. moon says:

    Wow. Is he verbose or is he verbose?

  7. Crumpets and Crotchshots says:

    I get what Gina is asking, and I get the criticisms regarding class and privilege– but I think his heart is real and that his efforts come from the right place. His essay articulates that well. I’m glad he wrote this and acknowledged the issue of privilege, which was a bit of an elephant in the living room during his twitter campaign. This makes me feel a big soft spot for this guy.

    I can name plenty of celebrities who have done real work on this. I’m glad he is joining their ranks.

    • Gina says:

      I don’t doubt his heart is in it. But my parents emigrated from a developing country where rich white celebrities would stop in, gather the villagers for pictures, and make them smile. It is gross to me.

      • Crumpets and Crotchshots says:

        Like I said, I get what you are saying. I once lived in a developing country myself.

        There is a criticism to be made about celebrities doing this ambassador thing to feel better about themselves, or because the position carries status, and I’ve made those criticisms myself.

        What matters to me is what they do when the cameras aren’t there. Some of these celebrities do go the extra mile and actually do something. Mia Farrow, Angelina Jolie, Matt Damon, and Ben Affleck come to mind as people who are not just doing this for themselves– they’ve put out real effort.

        I think Hiddles’s intention are sincere, and I hope he gets into this more deeply. In this essay he kind of sounds like he really wants to do that.

  8. Mel says:

    I’ve been thinking about this lately as I see a bunch of stuff online about this live below the line thing. Don’t you think hungry people would appreciate him buying them a meal with that £5 rather than saying, hey man I’m hungry too. It just seems pretentious. Going hungry for a week isn’t going to help anyone. Stock a mission with food, donate money, do something that makes sense.

    Ok, I’m off my soap box.

    • Faye says:

      I wasn’t going to say anything for fear of getting jumped on, but I’m going to second you here. Maybe it is my unromantic, overly practical nature, but to me, celebs who really care are the ones donating money. Their living off 1 pound a day is like Marie Antoinette playing shepherdess at Petit Trianon. Perhaps it calls attention to a good cause somewhat, but ultimately isn’t very useful. If they did that AND gave a donation, I’d be really impressed.

      I’m very active in a lot of charities, and while most charities appreciate non-financial contributions like time, what they really need, mostly, is money.

      • Mel says:

        I donate money and food. I figure that goes farther than my sympathy.

        And occasionally my husband will grab a homeless vet and take him for a beer. Probably not a great idea but vets for vets kind of thing. They just sit and chat about old times.

    • Emma13 says:

      Yeah, it kinda reminds me of the walk a day (or more) without shoes campaign I’ve seen on campus.

    • T.Fanty says:

      I agree, but I think that PR-wise, talking about one’s donations (assuming that some of these people do) is even more perilous than this kind of activism. You’re not going to get anyone talking about donating financially, and I think that’s kind of right, because earnings are private. Especially for someone who is trying to get away from the label of privilege.

      • Faye says:

        @T.Fanty – I know mileage varies on this one, but I see no virtue in pretending you’re not privileged. To me, someone who has the privilege and wealth associated with that kind of celebrity and uses it in a concrete way to help charities –i.e., through donations– is very commendable. And it’s a lot more “authentic” then pretending to be poor for a week when in the end, you’ve gone back to being rich and you haven’t actually accomplished anything measurable for a charity.

        And why wouldn’t talking about your donations inspire others to donate? We have tons of charities in my city, from hospitals to the symphony, where the donations range from millionaire-level, to $10 a month or something similar on an installment plan. I honestly have yet to hear someone say, “Wow, that idiot arrogant millionaire is donating to that cause – I’m not that privileged so I’m not giving anything!”

        I’m sure Hiddleston and others come from a good place, but it just seems like wasted effort. The point of P.R. for charities is to get others to support them, right? So how is Hiddleston pretending to be poor for a week but not actually donating going to get anybody to support the charity? I’m not being argumentative, I honestly don’t understand that. Again, mabye it’s my too-literal nature.

      • T.Fanty says:

        @ Faye:

        I agree with that, but Hiddles, Cumby, et al are working very hard to escape the label of out-of-touch posh boys. Publicly admitting to what he donates is a no-win situation (again, assuming that he does). If he donates a little, it won’t be enough, but if he donates a lot, he’ll be accused of being aristocratic and patronizing to his fans who can’t donate as much at all. It’s not a good PR move.

        That said, he might talked about collecting and donating the money he would have spent on lunch/coffee/snacks that week. Half of what “live below the line” is about is looking at our own “basic” lives and recognizing the privilege in that.

      • Crumpets and Crotchshots says:

        I would not assume that he isn’t giving. Honestly, I’d be surprised if he wasn’t. But this is rightly a private matter. I admire people more who give without caring who is watching or what they think.

        I’m getting so tired of the preoccupation with image– Hiddles and Cumby are both as posh as posh gets, and there is baggage that goes along with that which neither is unpacking. That said, Hiddles is being pretty conscientious and is at least making the effort. I appreciate that.

      • T.Fanty says:

        C&C: I get that, but you can see in many responses to these boys, what a reactionary thing class is. BC is right in noting that there is a bias against class, and it’s hard to ask people to sacrifice/be more aware/be better citizens without appearing condescending. Isn’t that implicit in the ridicule of Hiddleston’s tweeting (taste in poetry notwithstanding)? It’s something that they have to navigate, and it’s something that people are less forgiving of. I think BC tries to unpack it regularly, and all he gets is hostility for doing so. Class really is the last taboo (that, and Man-hedgehog love associations, or so Tiggywinkle tells me).

    • mia says:

      Agreed! If somebody is miserable, I won’t be helping them by being miserable, too. I’ll just be adding to the world’s miseries.
      And I don’t think we need this kind of campaigns to make people aware of poverty. We see poverty everyday, anyway. Not just in Africa — everywhere!

      • New Here says:

        Happened to stumble upon this discussion of what’s the point of Tom doing this. I happen to think it’s very effective. Saw his potato video the other day and I begin to put myself in his shoe (or should I say the shoe of the underprivileged). I’m not really well-off myself and I don’t really go researching charity around the world. We are too busying living our own life and the thought of ppl suffering in Africa doesn’t come to mind often. I don’t think Tom doing this is extraordinary or especially admirable. I think it’s effective though bcos it does make me think how hard it is for those who’s suffering and how easy is it for us to help. I don’t know about you, but I think this kind of “put yourself in their shoes” kind of way is very effective on me. And I’m not going to think that I’m the only one who gets influenced this way.

  9. taxi says:

    LBtL for a week brings home to the practitioners just how tough it is. It raises their own awareness of the need to donate. Maybe add an extra zero or 2 ?

  10. Anna says:

    Big AWW to Hiddles. Love him and love his writing (I read all his posts from the Africa trip). Also good on him for being very straight-forward about his upbringing. I actually like that he doesnt get defensive or guilty about the ‘posh’ thing a-la Cumby, but just takes it as a fact, without taking it for granted.

    • Miss M says:

      This! He doesn’t brag/whine about his upbringing. Honesty + humbleness = Authenticity, which it is refreshing! Take notes, Cumbiston and cumber collective.

      ps: just edited to give TommyannE credit for being authentic.

      • dasha says:

        Cumberquat could use a huge lesson in being humble, talk about an overly inflated ego. Never have I heard anyone grumble that much about being posh and having no spawn the way that guy does. He needs to either keep to talking about his projects or get a PR person to turn the noise down.

        Doesn’t Tom come from an even more posh background than Cumberquat? I remember reading that his mom’s family is some kind of landed wealth and he’s related to a baronet or something? Yet he does not say “oh being posh is so tiring, I hates it, I really do, wah my nail done broke”. Tom does not have the hands of a coal miner or a ditch digger, his palms are very soft like he uses some kind of expensive hand creme. You can tell he’s never had to do any hard labor in his life. In another life he would have been a landed gentleman straight out of a Austen novel.

      • Crumpets and Crotchshots says:

        Dasha, actually he *has* made that complaint in interviews, mainloaning about how people judge Jonfor being privileged, and jow hard he has struggled for his success. And yes he is way more posh a d wealthy than Cumby.

  11. Teeny says:

    I find his essay to be sincere. In his case, he seems like a genuine individual who is trying to bring awareness to a cause. The formula that these foundations use has been used for decades (taking pictures with underprivileged/malnourished kids) and because it works and influences donations, the celebrities pretty much have to do those photo ops once they sign on to be a spokesperson. I personally don’t have a problem with this. He appears to be a grounded celebrity and I’m glad he’s using his time to help others. I would say criticism would be warranted if the spokespeople were famewhores like the Kardashians only out to pad their pocketbooks. Do they even participate in any charity work? Whatevs. I’m a fan of the Hiddles and I applaud him for this venture to help those who have not been as fortunate as himself.

  12. mia says:

    If somebody’s hungry, I’m not helping him by going hungry myself. I’ll help him by feeding him.

  13. TheyPromisedMeBeer says:

    This post, the Kevin Spacey dog rescue post, and the Lilo post where she talks about how the best thing for her is to send her overseas to work with kids could not have been timed more perfectly. The juxtaposition is perfect.

    So after putting on my glasses, drinking a fifty gallon drum of coffee, and generally getting my un-cranky on (look, it’s finals week. I’ve turned into a praying mantis), I’m ready to say: I’m actually really impressed. I’m not being cynical at all, either. He put his money (or lack thereof) where his mouth was and was humbled in the process.

    The best thing to come out of this though is his writing. He should do that more often – he is verbose, yes, but also good at getting his point across without pandering or condescending. And I don’t feel like it’s a product of his fancy education – that’s natural talent right there.

  14. dasha says:

    Very well written.

    He has addressed his privilege and he is grateful (unlike Cumbersquish who complains about the downfalls of being rich) and that to me earns him brownie points. I still think he should have kept his involvement on a more personal level, and just said “yes I am doing this, if you would like to donate, please do” instead of five days of pictures of food. You don’t have to prove you want to do good for the world, just do it.

    • TheyPromisedMeBeer says:

      “I still think he should have kept his involvement on a more personal level, and just said “yes I am doing this, if you would like to donate, please do” instead of five days of pictures of food. You don’t have to prove you want to do good for the world, just do it. ”

      Yes! This is why I felt so cynical about it at first. I just couldn’t figure out how to say it so nicely.

  15. ds says:

    I just stumbled upon this while working and thought about sharing on this subject,29307,1626519_1373664,00.html

  16. bluhare says:

    This is a very complicated subject. On the one hand you have the wealthy people who attend galas purporting to support a worthy cause, but really going because it benefits hem socially.

    Then you have people who throw money at the problem and think they’ve done their bit.

    And then there are the people who volunteer the time to help. Sometimes that’s worth more than money, and it’s rare to find someone who’s willing to commit the time and mental energy because, let’s face it, a lot of this stuff is really disturbing to see first hand.

    Then you get into developing/third world countries and there’s the corruption to deal with as well.

    What’s the answer? I don’t know. I do know that I’m going to volunteer my time to a charity because it’s damned time I got out of my own head and did something for someone else. I’ve done it before a few times, and there is the burn out factor, but it’s time to wade in again.

  17. Jenn says:

    The pics are obviously to raise awareness. If he was black, would it make it ok? He may have done real work while there, not just a photo-op. His essay seems sincere, and LBtL helps people empathize with the poor and hungry, both of which I was as a young child. So please, by all means, let’s bitch about someone who by all appearances, wants to help those in need. He could be another shallow self-involved star.

  18. Marie says:

    I’m not going to criticize when celebs are doing what they think is right to help something like that, as I think he truly cares about the issues he’s trying to convey, and there isn’t just one solution to these complex problems. If his efforts raise more money, then great. I just think that many of his fans are so bent on getting attention from him that they want to do something for UNICEF that will make them stand out versus going to volunteer at a food bank in their own neighborhoods. I think motive matters, and I believe Hiddles’ motive is to help the issue of global poverty, while I think a lot (not all) of his fans are motivated by getting attention from him. That’s not Hiddles’ fault, of course, but it’s hard to stomach the whole campaign when it’s clear that many people are looking for kudos from him. Oh, and word is that he’s a significant donor to UNICEF UK, not just mugging for the cameras on their behalf.

    • Lucrezia says:

      Have you heard the phrase: “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”?

      IMO, this is the opposite … who cares why fans donate, as long as it ends up doing some good?

      Unfortunately, “the road to eradicating world poverty is paved with the lusty tears of attention-seeking dragonflies” doesn’t have quite the same ring.

  19. Violet says:

    Kudos to Tom for stepping up to take this challenge, and raising awareness in the process.