Presenter, campaigner and journalist
Contacts: Jackie Gill Management and lbabooks
Contributing to many shows and news bulletins, Dame Esther regularly presents industry and voluntary sector awards ceremonies and chairs panels on topical issues
On radio, television, in newspapers and podcasts, and in her own theatre shows touring around the UK and on the Edinburgh Fringe
She is popular and trusted by viewers, listeners, readers, corporate clients and companies sponsoring good causes, and as a brand ambassador for companies offering housing, insurance, helplines and a range of other products and services.
Born in 1940 in Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire she graduated from Somerville College Oxford with an MA in English, and now has seven Honorary Doctorates and Fellowships. She joined the BBC as a sound effects assistant in radio, then became a researcher in television. Training to be a producer/director in 1968 she became a researcher and reporter for Bernard Braden's consumer programme, "Braden's Week".
When Bernard Braden went back to Canada in 1973 she became the producer/presenter of the consumer programme "That's Life!" which ran for 21 years, and drew audiences of up to 22.5 million. It achieved fame for its talking dogs, Jobsworth Awards and campaigns on behalf of abused children, organ transplants, safe playgrounds, and to provide justice for consumers. Now its most viewed episode featured Sir Nicholas Winton being introduced for the first time to the survivors he had saved from the Holocaust including Lord Alfred Dubs.
Dame Esther has become a household name, appearing in more than 2,000 TV programmes including documentaries, talk shows, reality shows and quizzes; she played Dick Whittington in Bognor, is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, the Times and the Telegraph and is author of 5 books. A creative producer as well as a presenter, she invented the documentary series "The Big Time" which discovered Sheena Easton, created the "Children of Courage" segment of "Children in Need" and invented "Hearts of Gold" which ran for seven years, honouring unsung heroes and heroines. She rashly took part in "Strictly", "First Dates" and "I'm a Celebrity". She regularly contributes to "The One Show", political and news programmes on many different topics especially those relating to broadcasting, growing old ungracefully, and to the abuse of children and older people. She writes for newspapers and magazines as well as authoring five books including a history of Childline, and one novel. In 2010 she stood as as an independent candidate in Luton South.
In 1986 Dame Esther launched Childline, the free confidential helpline for children and young people, which she chaired for nineteen years. She is currently President of Childline, is a trained volunteer counsellor and was until recently a Trustee of the NSPCC. Childline merged with the NSPCC in 2005.
The charity has now helped more than 4 million children and young people, both online and via the telephone. It has been copied in 150 countries around the world.
For the first five years, sexual abuse was the commonest problem children reported to the helpline. Then for seven years bullying became the most common problem. However, in 2009 the online counselling service was launched, and since then, there has been a huge increase in contacts relating to suicidal thoughts, eating disorders and self-harm.
In 2012 Dame Esther launched a free confidential helpline for older people, The Silver Line Helpline, which provides information, friendship and advice 24 hours a day, every day of the year. The biggest single problem older people disclose is loneliness. Nationally launched in November 2013, it receives around 10,000 calls a week. Independently evaluated by the Centre for Social Justice in a Report entitled "When I get off the phone I feel like I belong to the human race" (a quote from a caller), and also by Anglia Ruskin University, it was found to target successfully the loneliest older people. Beside the Helpline, trained volunteers, The Silver Line Friends, provide a matched befriending service, and Silver Circles. She is Founder/President, and a Trustee of the charity, which merged with Age UK in December 2019.
In addition to being the first woman to receive the Dimbleby Award from BAFTA she has also received the Royal Television Society's Special Judges Award for Journalism, the Snowdon Award for services to disabled people, 6 honorary doctorates, an honorary Fellowship from Somerville College, Oxford and a Lifetime Achievement Award from Women in Film and Television.
She received an OBE for Services to Broadcasting in 1991, in 2006 a CBE for Services to Children, and became a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2015 for her work for children and older people, through Childline and The Silver Line.
"That's Life!" was responsible for many pioneering campaigns, including seat belts, playground safety, and organ donation. Since then her campaigns include anti-bullying, awareness of post-natal depression and M.E./C.F.S., working for alienated grandchildren and honours for comedians. She is a Patron of many charities especially those working with children, disabled people and older people.
Esther was married to award-winning documentary film-maker Desmond Wilcox from 1977 until his death in 2000. They had 3 children, and she now has five grandchildren. Her family tree was the subject of "Who Do You Think You Are?" with some unexpected results.
Esther now divides her life between London and the New Forest, but also travels the world as a lecturer and Ambassador for the organisations she represents.
Esther continues to attempt to fulfil the challenge of the motto on her coat of arms, "If not now, when?"