We know him for presenting the likes of Made In Chelsea: End of Season Party and Tool Academy, so why is Rick Edwards attempting to shake up politics by heading to the Houses of Parliament?
It might come as some surprise to discover that Rick Edwards, TV presenter and host of both Made In Chelsea: End of Season Party and Tool Academy, has done a TED Talk. At the Houses of Parliament, no less. Whilst most of us would associate Rick with his work on Channel 4 and his famous pals – he’s still close friends with Alexa Chung and the rest of the T4 gang, and can often be spotted in the Irish pubs of Kentish Town cheering on his beloved Liverpool FC – the television star is currently concerning himself with helping young people get into politics. What’s more, he’s not just going on a few chat shows to discuss the issue; he’s actually doing something about the problem of low voter turnout in the 18-24 age group – hence the TED talk.
‘I really care about this, and more to the point, I really worry about it,’ says Rick, calling me from the kitchen of his home in Kentish Town. Clearly passionate about his cause, he is engaging without being evangelistic, and manages to articulate his stance on current affairs whilst retaining the down-to-earth charisma that makes him a very likeable TV personality. At one point, his cat interrupts the conversation, but having dealt with temperamental popstars during his time on T4, Rick doesn’t let anything halt his train of thought.
‘It started for me when I began doing Free Speech on BBC3, the youth version of Question Time; that inevitably made me more aware of the issues that young people face in this country today,’ he explains. ‘I started to learn about this dwindling voter turnout in 18-24 year olds and it became easy to see that is why young people in the UK are getting a bit screwed, because if you don’t vote, then you are almost of no value to the political parties. As it stands, with all the austerity measures in place, young people have been hit the hardest – and I wondered if there was anything I could actually do to halt that decline in turnout and to make politicians pay heed to the problem.’
A few eloquently-penned Huffington Post blog entries later, and Rick found himself approached by the organisers of TedxHousesOfParliament to speak at their event (if you haven’t yet seen his talk, entitled ‘How to get young people to vote’, we’d highly recommend taking 13 minutes out of your day to do so). ‘It would have been quite easy to speculate and pontificate about the emotive reasons why young people might not be voting in that talk, but what I wanted to do instead was to suggest some practical things that would immediately increase voter turn out amongst young people,’ he explains.
Rick’s primary solution is the introduction of VAAs, or Voter Advice Applications, which are already used very successfully in Europe. ‘So many young people I spoke to said they just didn’t know enough about the political parties to be able to vote,’ he says. ‘They didn’t feel like politicians spoke to them, or that they could speak to politicians, so there’s a real disconnect. They were all asking me where they could find out the information without any of the misleading wording in manifestos.’
As a consequence, Rick has teamed up with the think tank DEMOS and the organisation Bite The Ballot to crowdfund the first VAA for the UK – it would be a very straightforward app, which asks users some simple questions before calculating which political party they are most aligned with.
It’s a great idea, but there is definitely an elephant in the room: why is Rick, a TV presenter, making VAAs his personal crusade? ‘I totally recognise that it shouldn’t be me doing this, it’s sort of ridiculous. It is weird that the presenter of Tool Academy is telling people to vote!’ he laughs. ‘But like Emma Watson quoted in her UN speech, if not now, when, and if not me, who?’
When he isn’t rallying the great and good from the world of business and celebrity to help with the Bite The Ballot cause, Rick is a man of simple pleasures, who enjoys nothing more than a trip to his local to watch the football. ‘I’m a big fan of O’Reilly’s on Kentish Town Road. Pubs these days, by and large, have had makeovers and are quite plush and “gastro”, but that place hasn’t had a makeover in about 100 years. It’s a classic boozer, so I like it,’ he smiles. And whilst avid viewers of Made in Chelsea fans might secretly hope that Rick hangs out with the cast (who he royally derides in the end-of-season wrap shows), he categorically denies that, revealing that Oliver Proudlock would be the only MIC-er he would go for a pint with. ‘He’s a very nice guy, who actually works hard at his clothing label,’ Rick says, wryly. ‘But myself and the MIC cast tend to move in very different circles…’
Find out more about Rick’s crusade at bitetheballot.co.uk