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Sir Lenny Henry stepping down as Comic Relief host after nearly 40 years

Sir Lenny Henry is stepping down as host of the BBC’s fundraising telethon Comic Relief after nearly 40 years.

The 65-year-old comedian co-founded the charity with director Richard Curtis in 1985, and hosted the first ever Comic Relief show three years later, raising £15m during eight hours of TV comedy.

Donations have since surpassed £1.5bn, with funds raised to help tackle poverty and help provide food, healthcare and safe shelter for vulnerable people in the UK and around the world.

Henry will present the much-loved charity event for the last time on BBC One on Friday 15 March. Announcing his departure, he said it was time for “new generation” after many years at the helm.

“When we first started Comic Relief back in 1985, I never dreamed we’d still be here today,” he said. “I thought we’d probably do three shows and that would be it, but fast-forward nearly 40 years, and that enthusiasm and determination to step up and help others has never wavered.”

While he will no longer front the show, Henry will remain involved behind the scenes and will continue as an Honorary Life President, a role he has held since 2017.

“As life president of Comic Relief, I’m excited to see some new and familiar faces come forward now to present the big night and lead us into the next chapter,” he said.

Sir Lenny steps down as Comic Relief host after 40 years (Rebecca Naen/Comic Relief/PA Wire)
Sir Lenny steps down as Comic Relief host after 40 years (Rebecca Naen/Comic Relief/PA Wire)

On who might be his successor, Henry told the Evening Standard: “Dave Chapelle, David Tennant, Ncuti Gatwa. There are so many people coming up that deserve our attention. There are a lot of people who could easily present Comic Relief.”

In March 2023, the Red Nose Day charity raised over £31m, with a three-hour live show including sketches with stars of The Traitors and Kylie Minogue.

Donations for the cause help to tackle poverty, provide food, healthcare and safe shelter for people in the UK and around the world.

In his statement, Henry acknowledged that people were struggling amid the cost of living crisis: “But we also know that the British public are brilliant, you’re so kind and generous, if somebody has a problem, you always want to help out,” he said.

This year’s Comic Relief was officially launched on Wednesday (31 January), with the release of a sketch starring the likes of presenters Alex Jones, Alison Hammond and Davina McCall, actor Dame Joan Collins, comedian Rosie Jones, and music mogul Simon Cowell.

Comic Relief of Alison Hammond, Sir Lenny Henry, Davina McCall, Simon Cowell, Rosie Jones and Nick Grimshaw, who along with other celebrities will join Sir Henry in a new sketch to launch Red Nose Day 2024 (Comic Relief/PA Wire)
Comic Relief of Alison Hammond, Sir Lenny Henry, Davina McCall, Simon Cowell, Rosie Jones and Nick Grimshaw, who along with other celebrities will join Sir Henry in a new sketch to launch Red Nose Day 2024 (Comic Relief/PA Wire)

The theme for the forthcoming fundraiser will be “Do Something Funny for Money”, and the stars are all seen answering Henry’s call to embrace the call to arms to raise money for Comic Relief on Red Nose Day.

There will also be a comedy night at the London Palladium on 26 February, where Aisling Bea, Fatiha El-Ghorri, Joel Dommett, Mawaan Rizwan and Sara Pascoe will appear alongside Henry for the charity.