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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

Exclusive: TV presenter’s charity role in doubt after Covid-19 comments

 

Neil Oliver said he would “cheerfully risk” catching the virus and claimed there is “another Battle of Britain being fought just now”

A TV presenter’s role at a veterans’ charity is in doubt after he claimed those who disagree with politicians on Covid-19 restrictions are fighting “another Battle of Britain”.

Neil Oliver has faced criticism after suggesting on GB News that people who were criticised for not taking the Covid-19 vaccine were living under ‘tyranny’.

TFN was contacted by a reader who highlighted Oliver is an ambassador for charity Combat Stress, questioning whether he is still suitable for his role due to comparisons between coronavirus restrictions and the Second World War.

The charity supports former servicemen and women with mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression.

Combat Stress has said it is waiting to speak to the presenter before determining his future association with the organisation.

Oliver, a former president of the National Trust for Scotland who rose to prominence after presenting BBC shows such as A History of Scotland and Coast, was one of the headline presenters announced when GB News arrived on the air this spring.

He has regularly criticised restrictions introduced during the pandemic, branding lockdown “the biggest mistake in world history”.

In a six-minute piece to camera which aired on the channel last week and has now amassed 200,000 views online, Oliver said he would risk catching Covid for freedom.

He said: "For the sake of freedom, yours and mine together, I will cheerfully risk catching Covid. That is a chance one among many that I am prepared to take and happily. Life is not safe.”

The speech also made several references to the sacrifices of those made during the war for freedom.

Oliver said: “Those Spitfires and Hurricanes were piloted by men, and also by boys not long out of school. They risked everything for freedom, mine and yours, the last full measure of devotion.

“I cannot be sure, but I don't think they fought and died, so a government might seize and hold that freedom like a deck of cards, dealing them out one by one to those deemed deserving.

“I think they fought for unconditional freedom for each man, woman, and child. That's what I think.

“I've been reading about people calling people who have chosen not to take the vaccine, 'plague rats'. I've read about people calling for those plague rats to be rounded up and locked away, out of sight.

“There's another Battle of Britain being fought now. It's being fought by a minority outgunned and shouted down by those who would [won't] accept freedom handed to them by MPs on condition that they do as they are told.

"That's not freedom. That is tyranny. And I for one will not live under that yoke, as I have done all my life, I salute the few. I hope to see you on the other side.”

Oliver has served as a celebrity ambassador for Combat Stress since 2017 -  alongside actors Sir Patrick Stewart and Joanne Froggatt and Bake Off winner Sophie Faldo. When announced, he said he would use his profile to raise awareness of the charity’s work.

A spokesperson for the organisation said the charity disagreed with Oliver’s comments, and found the prospect of him “cheerfully” risking catching Covid alarming.

The statement said: “Neil Oliver has long been an ambassador for our work transforming the lives of veterans, for which we and the veterans are immensely grateful. While he is entitled to express his views, we cannot condone anyone taking unnecessary risks with their health and, through doing so, potentially affecting the health of others. Across the UK, there are those – including some of our veterans and staff – who are clinically extremely vulnerable, meaning Covid-19 could be fatal to them. The prospect of someone willingly spreading the disease is alarming.

“In addition, we strongly disagree with Mr Oliver comparing the heroes who defended this nation in the Battle of Britain to those who oppose the Covid restrictions. The Battle of Britain was one of the most significant victories in this nation’s history and we rightly honour and commemorate everyone who played a part in it. So too will we continue to honour and remember the NHS staff and frontline workers who bravely put their lives on the line during this pandemic to care for people in need and keep vital services running.

“We have reached out to Mr Oliver and are waiting to speak to him before determining his future association with Combat Stress.”

Oliver served as president of the National Trust for Scotland between 2017 and last year, with thousands signing a petition calling for his removal due to comments he made on independence.

 

Comments

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Astrid Whyte
about 1 month ago

I believe Mr Oliver should meet a few sufferers of Long Covid - or, alternatively, spend a day in a busy ICU. It's a such a pity he uses his fame in this manner - I agree that 'shaming' people who choose not be vaccinated is a form of discrimination, but equally, his comments fall not short of that inasmuch that those who 'obey' lockdown rules are making a joke of those who fought in the last war? How on earth can he compare this type of 'freedom fight' with that of battling a pandemic? I think this is just empty rhetoric!

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Eric Sinclair
about 1 month ago

I do not agree with every word of NO that is quoted (in particular the misspelling of 'yoke'!) but anyone who has read what he has written or said over recent years can be in no doubt that he should remain as an appropriate ambassador for this charity. I suspect that complaints about these statements may have more to do with his anti-independence views - to which he is entitled - than with his comments about Covid.

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Stephen
about 1 month ago

Any charity board would have to think seriously about the reputational damage of being associated with Neil Oliver. His contribution towards the divisive societal splits being fostered by the right, with imagined grievances are fast moving towards the extremes. His comparisons with the war generation are as intellectually vacuous as they are offensive. The reality of that generation is that they lived with far greater personal sacrifices and limits to their freedom - while soldiers were dying for their freedom the general population were also living with rationing, wardens coming round to ensure their homes were blacked out. Their children were sent to live in other parts of the country. They understood the sacrifice of some personal freedoms for greater public good. The Neil Oliver's of the world would have been demanding the right to leave their living rooms blazing with light as the bombers went over as their god given right to freedom. Yet Neil Oliver and his like balk at a piece of cloth on their face. Any charity should be ashamed of such a divisive, deliberately offensive "ambassador".

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Jock
about 1 month ago

He's entitled to his opinion. TFN is too fawning to the SNP. Why haven't you campaigned for all care staff to all be vaccinated? Ok for our loved ones to be put at risk but not for a hairy TV presnter to have a view.

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Stephen
about 1 month ago

Jock - in regard to care staff vaccination, one reason there has probably not been much of a media led campaign is because the latest data shows close to 100% of care workers in Scotland being vaccinated (very difficult to be precise due to the diverse nature of the workforce but for the care home sector Public Health Scotland believe there was effective 100% vaccination by June). So there's not really a lot to campaign for. And no one is denying Neil Oliver his right to his views. Indeed he is being well paid on national television to spout them. The question is whether a charity would want to be associated with someone with those views. It looks like Combat Stress are taking a very sensible view that they would rather not, a view they are also very entitled to take.

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Jock
about 1 month ago

He's entitled to his opinion. TFN is too fawning to the SNP. Why haven't you campaigned for all care staff to all be vaccinated? Ok for our loved ones to be put at risk but not for a hairy TV presnter to have a view.

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Edward
about 1 month ago

Agree with Stephen on the need for any charity board trustees to be careful with any involvement with this publicity seeking self publicist. His extremist views approach, ' I will cheerfully take on the risk of my infecting and killing your elderly family in the name of my odd views on what freedom is'. It's also repellent the way in which people who were not even alive at the time, still less participants in WW2, exploit and disrespect the reality of war and the motives of those who did participate. On potential reputational damage arising from association with this individual, trustees could refer to the experience of the National Trust for Scotland (itself with a questionable track record on good governance).

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Edward
about 1 month ago

Agree with Stephen on the need for any charity board trustees to be careful with any involvement with this publicity seeking self publicist. His extremist views approach, ' I will cheerfully take on the risk of my infecting and killing your elderly family in the name of my odd views on what freedom is'. It's also repellent the way in which people who were not even alive at the time, still less participants in WW2, exploit and disrespect the reality of war and the motives of those who did participate. On potential reputational damage arising from association with this individual, trustees could refer to the experience of the National Trust for Scotland (itself with a questionable track record on good governance).