Michael Sheen appeared on the BBC’s coverage of the Global Citizen Live event. He discusses the reasons he became an activist, how he can use what resources he has to create change, and how we can tackle poverty by holding power to account. The interviewer is Ade Adepitan, also interviewed are Asma Khan and David Shukman. The video has English subtitles.
Ade Adepitan: Now I’m delighted to welcome actor and activist Michael Sheen and chef, restaurant owner and charity volunteer, Asma Khan.
Now Asma, you’ve seen first hand the devastating impact of hunger, is that why it’s such a personal issue to you?
Asma Khan: Yes it is, I grew up in India and I used to do a lot of voluntary work in orphanages, you know, in the slums, in Calcutta, and I actually held a child who died because of starvation in my lap. And you know you read about this, you hear about starvation… the fact that someone died because they didn’t have food was so… I mean it really hit me so hard. It’s an image I will live with my whole life, and you know whatever I’ve been able to do the rest of my life you know, I’ve always tried to kind of help and volunteer and you know, kind of increase awareness of this because a lot of people who have never been hungry, they cannot imagine what hunger is like and it can lead to death.
Ade: Wow. it’s just an unimaginable thought but um, no thank you, for that.
Now, um, Michael, you’ve made it very well known about how important you see activism, and you’ve actually said your career is now gonna be second to your activism. Now why is it such an important subject for you?
Michael Sheen: Well I suppose first of all, who doesn’t love listening to a celebrity like me talking about poverty! Um but of course that’s one of the problems, is that the people who experience it day-by-day very rarely if ever get a platform to be able to speak about it themselves, and we have to remember that there is enough money in the world to eradicate poverty, so you could say the problem isn’t poverty, the problem is wealth and politics.
I come from an area in south Wales valleys that is part of a system that decided that work could be done cheaper and easier elsewhere so poverty hit the areas that I came from, you know, a long time ago. But I myself personally had a lot of opportunity and I’ve been able to accrue, you know, a certain amount of wealth and resource, and I just feel like I want to be able to use that in whatever way I can whilst I have it because I won’t have it forever and to be able to you know, create a little bit more access to opportunity, and a bit more fairness wherever I can find it.
Ade: Well it’s an incredible example and thank you Michael for doing that.
And Asma, it was a global concert and event like this that had a life-changing effect on you, didn’t it?
Asma: Yes it did. I was, I’d just turned sixteen and in India at that time, 1985, 84, that time you didn’t get to see a lot of international television, it was very restricted state kind of media but the live… we all saw Live Aid and that just blew me away. The fact that there were so many people around the world and there was music, and it was just incredible, and I remember this Phil Collins flying from London on the Concorde, across and it made me realise, you know, activism works. If you have a lot of people, just ordinary people, you know getting together, and through music and through conversations you can make a difference. And Live Aid was the first time I’d seen a live concert on TV you know, I was sixteen! It was the day after my birthday, I mean I’ll never forget that! And so when I was asked, you know, to come to this it really excited me, this matters a lot because I know that we can make the difference and we can put pressure. In the end the leaders owe us an explanation of what they’re doing with our money.
Ade: Powerful words, and um, that’s what events like this are about bringing the world together to try and make a difference. And thank you to all of you for coming together today Asma, Michael and David.
David: Thank you
Ade: Now watching those actions with us is BBC News science editor David Shukman, and David, what stood out for you?
David Shukman: Well it’s always inspiring to hear to hear a flurry of commitments of donations of that scale. I think it’s quite striking to see the range of targets they’re aiming at, I mean food security, education climate change. The fact that it’s governments and that it’s corporations I think that’s all for the good, and positive. I think a lot of questions remain at the same time about precisely the timescales for delivery precisely who gets the money over what time. Yeah and I think there’s a little bit of a history sometimes of bold promises not always getting delivered so I think a lot of people will want a forensic examination of precisely what happens next.
Ade: I’m sure that is to come. Now do you think these leaders could go further?
David: I think they need to if they want the COP 26 summit in Glasgow in November to deliver what’s expected of it because years ago, developing countries were promised $100bn a year to help them deal with climate change, and the richest nations have never quite got to that 100bn target, so the next few weeks are absolutely critical to see if that happens. And I think right now at the same moment the governments who might be considering how much they can give are of course weighing up challenges with the cost of living, a soaring gas price all of the difficulties associated with that and they’ll be wary of perhaps, looking too generous in case there’s a bit of a backlash from their citizens back home.
Ade: So it’s a delicate balance that they have to…
David: Very much so, they know, they’ve got their scientists effectively screaming at them that if they don’t take action on climate change soon things, including costs, are gonna get a whole lot worse down the track. So the time for action is right now but there are problems every day right now with queues for people trying to get petrol and all the rest of it, and coping with gas prices so yeah, a very difficult balance.
Michael: And it’s important to remember the words of Nelson Mandela I think that ending poverty is not charity, it’s justice.
Ade: Thank you, Michael and David, thank you very much guys.
Now I’m delighted to say that Michael Sheen is still with us have you enjoyed what you’ve seen? I saw you was tapping your foot and nodding your head to that!
Michael: Oh yeah! I love it when Ed Sheeran does all that looping, it’s fantastic!
Ade: All that looping stuff!
Michael: Yeah, love it!
Ade: Now Michael you’ve spoken earlier about how you believe that, um artists who have a profile should use their platform to do good, now why do you think that’s such, that’s so important?
Michael: Well I don’t know about do good, I think the important thing is to be clear about what the strategy is, is it about ending poverty or is it about managing poverty, because poverty management is something that can all too often be used to allow governments, and big powerful transnational corporations and super-wealthy individuals to engage in these sort of issues like climate change and extreme poverty without really getting involved in the difficult systemic, structural problems that need to happen in order to make these changes. And it’s too important to just tinker around the edges as a sort of PR exercise, so we have to hold the people with the levers of power to account to make sure that they use them rather than just saying empty promises, you know, nice commitments but actually not following through with them. I think that’s really important.
Ade: Because these artists have that platform they can speak to a wider audience?
Michael: Yeah or enable other people, or you know allow other people to speak, you know, shine the light on other people’s platforms. People have to speak up about it and make sure that these things are followed through with.
Ade: Now this is a big question, but um I think you could give it a go, but I mean what do you this is the answer to tackling extreme poverty?
Michael: Phwoar yeah that is a big question. But um, alright well look. From 1990 until very recently huge strides happened. I mean the fact that child and young people’s, uh young children’s mortality rates came down so much, meant that fewer children were dying from preventable diseases malnourishment, you know malnutrition and bad, no access to clean water and that kind of stuff, so the fact that children are being saved in that way is a great thing.
The fact that people’s promises and commitments, they didn’t live up to them completely, but the collaboration, the holding people to account, the making them, you know, sign what they’re gonna do, that does make a difference, so we have to keep pushing for that. It’s only last year that the extreme poverty rates started going up again, so we have to remember that we have made great strides, but we’ve got to push these people, and these governments to account, hold them to account.
Ade: Thank you very much Michael.