Alternative Christmas message
Since 1993, Channel 4 has broadcast an "alternative Christmas message" usually featuring a contemporary, often controversial celebrity, delivering a message in the manner of Her Majesty. This tradition started by accident when, running a series of programmes on 'Christmas in New York', the channel invited Quentin Crisp to give an alternative message – playing on the pejorative term 'queen' meaning a very feminine male homosexual. In contrast to the Queen's message, the alternative lasts only three to five minutes. The concept seems to date back to a sketch in a Christmas special of The Two Ronnies, where Ronnie Barker delivered a Christmas message from "Your Local Milkman". Examples of recent variations to the Alternative Christmas message proliferate on YouTube.
List of alternative message presenters
- 1993 – Quentin Crisp
- 1994 – Rev. Jesse Jackson
- 1995 – Brigitte Bardot
- 1996 – Rory Bremner as Diana, Princess of Wales
- 1997 – Margaret Gibney, a Belfast schoolgirl who broadcast a plea for peace in Northern Ireland
- 1998 – Doreen Lawrence and Neville Lawrence, parents of Stephen Lawrence
- 1999 – Sacha Baron Cohen as Ali G
- 2000 – Helen Jeffries, mother of a Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease victim
- 2001 – Genelle Guzman, survivor of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center
- 2002 – Sharon Osbourne
- 2003 – Barry and Michelle Seabourn, a Merseyside couple who appeared on Channel 4 reality show Wife Swap.
- 2004 – Marge Simpson with Lisa Simpson
- 2005 – Jamie Oliver
- 2006 – "Khadijah", a veiled British Muslim
- 2007 – Major Andrew Stockton, a British soldier who lost his arm fighting in Afghanistan
- 2008 – Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran
- 2009 – Katie Piper, television presenter who underwent surgery after sulphuric acid was thrown in her face.
- 2010 – A team of midwives, from Channel 4's One Born Every Minute programme
- 2012 – Adam Hills from Channel 4's The Last Leg with Adam Hills
- 2013 – Edward Snowden, NSA whistleblower
- 2014 – William Pooley, volunteer nurse and former Ebola patient
- 2015 – Abdullah Kurdi father of Aylan Kurdi
- 2016 – Brendan Cox, widower of Jo Cox
Marge Simpson was chosen to give the message due to Channel 4's recent acquisition of rights to broadcast The Simpsons.
In it she commented on David and Victoria Beckham's marriage in a negative comparison with hers and Homer's, and compared the special relationship between the UK and the US to that of Mini Me and Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers films ("Helping out in all our zany schemes to take over the world"). Lisa Simpson also held a sign supporting Cornwall's secession reading "UK OUT OF CORNWALL," while chanting "Rydhsys rag Kernow lemmyn" (Cornish for "freedom for Cornwall now").
The majority of Jamie Oliver's message was in the form of a comedy sketch, where he was a school cook preparing junk food, including "Turkey Twangers", for children. This turned out to be a nightmare, and he awoke to give a message about his wish for the new year being for British children to be fed better. He was chosen to deliver the message following his successful Jamie's School Dinners series. The broadcast also featured actress Jessica Stevenson as a dinnerlady.
This message was due to be presented by Khadija Ravat (b. 1973 in Zimbabwe): a British Muslim teacher of Islamic studies who has worn a niqab for ten years. The decision of Channel 4 to have a veiled woman giving the speech was a particularly controversial one due to the media attention that the niqab has received in the UK in 2006.
With regards to the decision, Channel 4 said that it was fitting that the "alternative Christmas message should be given by a Muslim woman in a year when issues of religious and racial identity and freedom of expression have dominated the news agenda."
The address went out at 3 pm, the same time as the Queen's speech on BBC1 and ITV1. Ravat had stated that she would not be watching her own broadcast in favour of watching the one given by the Queen. Her place was taken by another veiled woman, with the first name Khadijah. She was a convert to Islam in 1996 and took up wearing the niqab two years after she converted. She stated during her speech that her great-grandmother was a suffragette.
The alternative Christmas message on E4 was Fonejacker's Christmas Message in which actor Kayvan Novak prank-called members of the public. This five-minute broadcast was also a preview of his new series which aired in mid-2007.
The 2008 Christmas message was given by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of The Islamic Republic of Iran. The message was given in Persian with English subtitles. In this message Ahmedinejad said that "if Christ were on earth today, undoubtedly he would stand with the people in opposition to bullying, ill-tempered and expansionist powers". The message was considered controversial and received much criticism both before and after its broadcast. Much of the criticism was centred on Ahmadinejad's allegedly anti-semitic and homophobic views. However, the message itself was not regarded as inflammatory and did not make any reference to these two issues. Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell called Ahmadinejad a "criminal despot, who ranks with Robert Mugabe, Omar al-Bashir of Sudan and the Burmese military junta as one of the world's most bloody tyrants". The broadcast resulted in almost 300 complaints to the media regulator, Ofcom, but it ruled that there was no breach of the broadcast code.
The 2009 message was delivered by Katie Piper, a former model and television presenter who had featured in an edition of Channel 4's Cutting Edge documentary strand in October 2009. The hour-long documentary, which traced Piper's recovery from an acid attack in March 2008, had received significant viewer attention; it had received the highest viewing figures of any entry in the Cutting Edge strand during 2009, and received the most viewer responses of any Channel 4 show in October 2009. The documentary has since been made available for international broadcast.
The huge response to the Cutting Edge programme led Channel 4 to invite Katie Piper to give 2009's alternative Christmas Message, which focused on the theme of "appreciating the beauty in life" and also allowed Piper to reflect on the huge public support she had received following the earlier film. The message also featured new footage of Piper and her family at home. Piper's message was aired at 3 pm and repeated at 8.50 pm on Christmas Day 2009, the later showing being broadcast following on from a re-airing of Katie: My Beautiful Face. The 3 pm screening attracted 500,000 viewers and the 8.50 pm broadcast drew 400,000.
The 2010 message was delivered by a team of midwives as part of One Born at Christmas, a festive special based around Channel 4's hit documentary series One Born Every Minute. One Born At Christmas was broadcast live in various slots on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and will follow the work of nursing and medical staff and chronicle the experience of parents giving birth over the Christmas period. It had earlier been erroneously reported that Dino "Dappy" Contostavlos of N-Dubz would be giving the 2010 message; Channel 4 later clarified that he would be featured in a segment on T4, not giving the main message itself.
Two Alternative Messages were delivered in 2011. The first to air was a 'Just Be Yourself' message, airing at 13.55 on Christmas Day, and fronted by four people who appeared in diversity-themed programming during 2011 on C4: Max Laird of Seven Dwarves, Susan Campbell-Duncan of Beauty and the Beast: Ugly Face of Prejudice, Karen Gale of My Transsexual Summer and, giving her second alternative Christmas message (a first for the series), Katie Piper of Katie: My Beautiful Friends. The second message, airing at 16.15, featured Vic Goddard and Stephen Drew, head and deputy head of the school featured in the hit documentary series Educating Essex.
He was chosen to give the message following Channel 4's successful broadcast of the 2012 Summer Paralympics. The focal point of the speech reflects on the success of the games and its successful "superhuman" promotion and how it changed the perception to disability. His speech concluded with the camera panning out to the Olympic Stadium and archive footage of the athletes (some quoted in his speech) during the games to the tune of Public Enemy's "Harder Than You Think", the theme tune of its coverages.
Ex-National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden delivered the alternative UK Christmas message, urging an end to mass surveillance. Snowden opened his two-minute message, recorded in Russia, with a reference to novelist George Orwell, author of 1984, saying the surveillance technology described in his works was "nothing compared to what we have today". He said: "A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all. They'll never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves, an unrecorded, unanalysed thought." He added: "The conversation occurring today will determine the amount of trust we can place both in the technology that surrounds us and the government that regulates it. Together we can find a better balance, end mass surveillance and remind the government that if it really wants to know how we feel, asking is always cheaper than spying."
Volunteer nurse and former Ebola patient William Pooley delivered the 2014 message on Christmas Day. Mr Pooley, who attended the University of East Anglia, hit the headlines after contracting the virus earlier this year. After making a full recovery, Pooley decided to return to Sierra Leone to continue his work there as a nurse. He used the broadcast to appeal for support, saying: "I don’t want to make you feel guilty, but I would like you to think just for a few minutes about what you could do to help. What a wonderful Christmas present that would be." 
Abdullah Kurdi gave the 2015 message, the father of Alan Kurdi, the young Syrian boy who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. Pictures of the boy washed up on the beach made global headlines.
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