Band Aid remembered: how one nurse inspired a phenomenon

Dr Dame Claire Bertschinger reflects on her experiences of nursing in Ethiopia in 1984, and how her work helped to kickstart a star-studded charity song for famine relief

Photo of Dr Dame Claire Bertschinger working in Africa in the 1980s, and the Band Aid single Do They Know It's Christmas?
Dr Dame Claire Bertschinger working in Africa in the 1980s, and the Band Aid single Do They Know It's Christmas? Picture: Alamy / BBC

The incredible work of a nurse that inspired a hit charity song and global humanitarian effort to feed starving people in Africa is remembered in our latest Nursing Standard podcast episode.

On the 40th anniversary of the formation of charity superstar group Band Aid, Nursing Standard talks to the nurse who helped prompt the cultural phenomenon led by musician Sir Bob Geldof.

Dr Dame Claire Bertschinger was working for the Red Cross in Ethiopia in 1984 when she was featured in a BBC news broadcast about the devastating drought.

Journalist Michael Buerk described the biblical famine he was witnessing as the ‘closest thing to hell on earth’.

Thousands of people had already died and seven million were threatened with starvation in the war-torn country.

Terrible choice to be made during famine

Dame Claire tells journalist Erin Dean how she was running a feeding station where hundreds of women brought their starving babies each day.

‘There were just thousands of people starving, hungry, wearing tatters, not even clothes, just rags,’ she says. ‘There was insufficient food for everyone. It was the most horrendous thing you can imagine.’

There were few resources available, and Dame Claire had to choose who would be fed and saved. One day she went out to select the 60 or 70 children they had food for that day – and found there were more than a thousand waiting outside.

Charity single and concert raises millions for famine relief

The BBC footage prompted musicians to launch Band Aid, and the recording of charity single Do They Know It’s Christmas? It featured some of the most famous musical stars in the world at that time, including George Michael, Bono, Boy George and Sting.

The song was also performed at a charity concert, Live Aid, on 13 July 1985, which raised more than £100 million for famine relief in Ethiopia.

Dame Claire reflects on her experiences

Dame Claire describes how she had little idea what was going on with the fundraising at the time – but it did have a rapid impact on the care available in Ethiopia.

She reflects in the podcast on her experiences in Ethiopia and other countries, the impact it has had on her, the legacy of Band Aid, and what she has learned through her varied career.

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