Dame Esther Rantzen DBE
Esther Rantzen was born in Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire in 1940, and graduated from Somerville College Oxford with a degree in English. She joined the BBC as a sound effects assistant in radio, then became a researcher in television, and in 1968 became a researcher/reporter for Bernard Braden’s consumer programme, Braden’s Week.
When Bernard Braden went back to Canada, in 1973 Esther became the producer/presenter of the consumer programme That’s Life! which ran for 21 years, and drew audiences of over 18 million. It achieved fame, (and notoriety) for its talking dogs, Jobsworth Awards and campaigns on behalf of abused children, organ transplants, safe playgrounds, hospital patients and to provide justice for consumers. She also created the documentary series The Big Time which discovered singer Sheena Easton, invented the Children of Courage segment of Children in Need, and Hearts of Gold which ran for seven years, honouring unsung heroes and heroines.
For seven years she presented her daily talk show “Esther” on BBC2, and “That’s Esther” on ITV (with co-presenters Lara Masters and Heather Mills). She has made a number of pioneering programmes on child birth, mental health, drug abuse, and child abuse (in the campaigning series of programmes, Childwatch). In 1986 she invented the concept of ChildLine, (the children’s helpline which was launched on Childwatch), which she then chaired for twenty years. She is currently President of ChildLine, is a trained volunteer counsellor, and is a Trustee of the NSPCC since its merger with ChildLine in 2005. She is a Patron of a number of other charities including the Red Balloon to recover bullied children, and she helped to found the Association of Young People with ME, of which she is President.
She has now invented the concept of a new helpline for older people, The Silver Line, to provide advice, information and a befriending service. She is Chair of the Board of Trustees.
She has received a number of awards, including the OBE for services to broadcasting, and the DBE for services to children. She received the Royal Television Society’s Special Judges Award for Journalism, and was received into their Hall of Fame. In addition she received the Dimbleby award from BAFTA, (the first woman to receive it), the Lifetime Achievement Award from Women in Film and Television, the Snowdon award for services to disabled people, has 6 honorary doctorates and has been made an honorary Fellow of Somerville College. She has appeared in Strictly Come Dancing for the BBC, and the jungle for ITV. Recently she stood at the 2010 General Election as an Independent candidate for Luton South.
In 2011 she published her book “Running Out of Tears” (The Robson Press) to celebrate ChildLine’s 25th Anniversary.