Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Fred Dinenage begs in Winchester

Fred Dinenage Blogs

I’ve recently had an experience which, if not exactly life-changing, was certainly thought-provoking – and rather scary. I’ve spent several hours on the streets of Winchester dressed as a beggar.

It was all the idea of ITV Meridian’s FOCUS producer Steve McDonnell who wanted to gauge how people are now reacting to beggars. Meridian’s makeup artist Jackie Block did a fantastic job with a wig, a beard and some skilful makeup – plus some extremely old and scruffy clothes.

Another of our producers Jon Marland let me borrow his rather old and scruffy (but extremely affectionate) dog, Spam……..and I was ready to beg, my every move being recorded by four cameras.

It was not a happy experience. I was no longer ‘that nice man from the telly’………I was a complete unknown, alone on a city’s streets. And it was quite intimidating. The reaction I got was mixed. I got roundly abused by a couple of passers-by…….several kind souls gave me money (which, of course, we gave to charity)…..and a couple of real-life beggars gave me some helpful advice.

One asked me how much I’d made. When I told him only £4.95 in a couple of hours, he told me I was doing it all wrong. He said I should try ‘spot-begging’. Going straight up to people, ‘eye-balling’ them, telling them I was skint – and more or less demanding cash. I asked him if it worked. ‘Well’, he said, ‘you risk getting the odd thumping, but I can make up to a hundred and twenty quid a day.’ Needless to say, I didn’t try it. Frankly, I found just sitting on the pavement was threatening enough.

And it made me realise how fine is the dividing line between the comfortable lives most of us lead – and life on the streets. It was not an experience I would wish to re-live. And I hope I never have to. When it was all over the FOCUS presenter, my colleague Debbie Thrower, interviewed me. She said when she first saw me sat in the street it gave her a “chilling feeling.” At first she didn’t recognise me. Neither did anyone else.

It was a day I won’t forget. A day which gave me a rare insight into a cold and lonely world.

You can watch Focus: In from the Cold on ITV Local

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