Russell Tovey: “Kids deserve to be fed and not worry about being hungry”
Billericay-born actor Russell Tovey is a man of many talents and ventures. On Friday, his latest film hit the big screen: ‘Allelujah’ directed by Richard Eyre and based on the 2018 Allan Bennett play of the same name, is a comedic love letter to the NHS. Though if you haven’t yet caught Allelujah, you may recognise Tovey from his roles as anxious werewolf George Sands in Being Human, headstrong Stephen in The Good Liar, or even as the co-host of acclaimed podcast, Talk Art.
Having conquered film, TV, art, podcasts and even become a best-selling author, the 41-year-old’s latest endeavour - supplying children with breakfast at a west London school - may come as a surprise. Last month, Tovey visited the breakfast club at Ark Burlington Danes Academy in White City, taking on the role of dinner lady to make sure that each and every student began their day with a decent breakfast. Some of the students, whose ages ranged between three and eighteen, gifted the actor with drawings of himself, whilst others declared they would never wash their hands again after shaking his. “You’ve made me cool” they told him (quite the compliment from today’s Gen Z).
Kids deserve to be fed and to be able to learn and not worry about being hungry
The trip to Ark Burlington Danes Academy is part of Tovey’s work supporting Magic Breakfast’s Great Big Breakfast. The non-profit charity is set to fill the bellies of 200,000 children across England and Scotland, with the help of the public who can host their own breakfast parties in support of the organisation next month. “Three quid feeds a child two school week’s worth of breakfasts. Incredible. Wonderful. If everybody did it, it would make such a humongous difference” he explains, urging the public to host their own breakfast wherever they wish - at home, work or school - to help spotlight this growing issue.
“We’ve all got to do something,” he says, “I’m the sort of person who, if I want to do something, I want to know everything. I’ll buy all the books. I’m going to see all the exhibitions. I will read all the blogs. I’m obsessive.” After hearing news of children not having access to free school meals at his nephew’s school in Essex five years ago, Tovey decided enough was enough.
“When I first started helping and connecting with Magic Breakfast, they were feeding around 60,000 kids up and down the country every morning. I thought that it was astonishing, terrifying, and wonderful that this is what they do, yet I was obsessed by the fact that they have to do this, that this is something that’s needed.”
As the cost of living continues to bite, the number of children going to school every morning hungry has seen a dramatic rise to four million in the last six months, according to a new survey from The Food Foundation, things are improving slowly but surely. At the end of February, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan introduced a £130 million scheme that will fund free meals for every primary school child in the city. But for the rest of the country, children are still trapped in a system where education is free but food is not always available.
“Dickensian gloom” is how Tovey refers to the millions of hungry children in the UK today, unable to concentrate in lessons due to lack of food. “When I was a kid, there was never a point when I was thinking, I don’t know when I’ll eat again. That was never something I even had to consider,” he says.
Tovey’s path to becoming an actor was enriched by his school experience. Growing up in Billericay, Essex, he was drawn to the arts from an early age and was able to pursue this interest with the help of encouraging teachers. “My teachers were incredibly important to me and looking back they treated me like an adult from the moment I stepped in class and that felt so important that they were nurturing and encouraging,” he says. “I got into my groove, found my friendship groups, sort of ruined myself a bit, worked out who I was, what I was doing, where I was going. School was where I found out who I was.”
His childhood was “incredible”, he tells me without an ounce of hesitation. He was the self-described “geeky kid” who’d do anything for a laugh: “It was a happy experience. When I look back at my schooling it was really bright,” he says, another reason why supporting The Great Big Breakfast is a no brainer for the actor.
“This feels like the most important thing right now, kids deserve to be fed and they deserve to be able to learn and have a rightful place in society and not worry about being hungry,” he says.
Looking to the future, Tovey hopes these changes will help to sustain young people’s health and wellbeing, allowing them to focus on their dreams and passions without any limitations. "If you’re interested in something then don’t stop yourself from wanting to know anything about it. Keep being a nerd and never apologise for enthusiasm,” he advises, “lean into whatever you’re into, it’s a really positive thing and will change your life.”
Russell Tovey is supporting Magic Breakfast’s Great Big Breakfast event running from 17th to 30th April 2023. To show your support, register today to receive resources giving you tips and tricks that will make your own big breakfast a success - all whilst supporting Magic Breakfast’s mission of making sure that no child is too hungry to learn.