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Folkestone: Review of Esther Rantzen on her 50th anniversary in broadcasting, at the Quarterhouse

By Ashley Austen

A TV star that beams glamour and charisma, but has that common-touch could well deserve to be called a national treasure. Dame Esther Rantzen, OBE, CBE is a celebrity who has undoubtedly used her fame as a force for good.

Esther was in conversation with her daughter, journalist Rebecca Wilcox, at the Folkestone Quarterhourse for a one-off Kent date as part of her tour, where she recounted stories of her childhood at the outbreak of the Second World War.

After graduating from Oxford, her break into broadcasting came as a BBC studio manager, moving on to researcher on various current affairs programmes and then as a presenter on Braden's Week in the late 1960s. The show was replaced in 1972 with That's Life! with Rantzen as the main host regularly pulling in audiences of more than 18 million.

Esther Rantzen os touring with daughter Rebecca Wilcox
Esther Rantzen os touring with daughter Rebecca Wilcox

Her journalistic instinct to spot a good story and razor-sharp wit was only matched by an eye for TV magic as she recounted being arrested while asking the public on the streets of north London for their views on bat soup - she never forgot that the public were the stars of her show.

The overriding impression that Esther gives is that she is first and foremost a campaigner for the causes that she passionately believes in.

Her talent has led to changes in public awareness of organ donation after the campaign on That's Life! of the case of Ben Hardwick, the two-year-old who needed a donor liver becoming Britain's youngest transplant patient.

Following other campaigns on the programme, Esther suggested setting up a national helpline for victims of child abuse which later became Childline and told the audience that this was one of the things of which she was most proud, generously deflecting the praise to the hundreds of staff and volunteers.

That's Life! ran until 1994 after which she made numerous TV shows and documentries on subjects close to her heart. Having lost her husband, Desmond Wilcox in 2000, in a Daily Mail article she recounted her feelings of loneliness in older age which led to the setting up of Silverline, a befriending network for lonely and vulnerable older people, a charity in which she is still actively involved with today.

For a full list of further dates to catch Esther and Rebecca in conversation visit dameestherrantzen.com

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