Dame Esther Rantzen DBE CBE is a celebrated broadcaster and campaigner.
Dame Esther has appeared in more than 2,000 TV programmes including documentaries, talk shows, reality shows and quizzes as well as writing columns for The Times, Telegraph and Daily Mail, in addition to 5 books.
In 1986 Dame Esther launched Childline, the free confidential helpline for children and young people, which she chaired for nineteen years. The charity has now helped more than 4 million children and young people, both online and via the telephone. The Childline model has now been successfully copied in 150 countries around the world.
In 2012, Dame Esther launched a new confidential helpline for older people, The Silver Line Helpline, which provides information, friendship and advice 24 hours a day, every day of the year. The biggest single problem older people disclose is loneliness. Nationally launched in November 2013, it receives around 10,000 calls a week. Independently evaluated by the Centre for Social Justice in a Report entitled “When I get off the phone I feel like I belong to the human race” (a quote from a caller), and also by Anglia Ruskin University, it was found to target successfully the loneliest older people. Beside the Helpline, trained volunteers, The Silver Line Friends, provide a matched befriending service, and Silver Circles. She is Founder/President, and a Trustee of the charity, which merged with Age UK in December 2019.
After graduating from Somerville with an MA in English, she joined the BBC, first as a sound effects assistant, then a researcher. While training to be a producer/director in 1968, she became a researcher and reporter for Bernard Braden’s consumer programme “Braden’s Week”. When Braden returned to Canada in 1973, she became producer and presenter of its successor, “That’s Life!”. The show ran for 21 years and at its peak drew an audience of 22.5 million. It achieved fame for its talking dogs, Jobsworth Awards and campaigns on behalf of abused children, organ transplants, safe playgrounds, and to provide justice for consumers. Its most viewed episode featured Sir Nicholas Winton being introduced for the first time to the survivors he had saved from the Holocaust including Lord Alfred Dubs. She continues to appear on TV, and regularly contributes to “The One Show”, political and news programmes on many different topics especially those relating to broadcasting, growing old ungracefully, and to the abuse of children and older people.
A creative producer as well as a presenter, she invented the documentary series “The Big Time” which discovered Sheena Easton, created the “Children of Courage” segment of “Children in Need” and invented “Hearts of Gold” which ran for seven years, honouring unsung heroes and heroines.
In addition to being the first woman to receive the Dimbleby Award from BAFTA she has also received the Royal Television Society’s Special Judges Award for Journalism, the Snowdon Award for services to disabled people, 6 honorary doctorates, an honorary Fellowship from Somerville College, Oxford and a Lifetime Achievement Award from Women in Film and Television.
She received an OBE for Services to Broadcasting in 1991, in 2006 a CBE for Services to Children, and became a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2015 for her work for children and older people, through Childline and The Silver Line.