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21 famous people you probably didn't know supported Red Cross

From a princess to a stuntman to a rapper – meet 21 stars from Australia and around the world who’ve helped Red Cross do what it does.

These men and women have supported us in different ways, big and small, from driving ambulances in war-torn Europe to helping bring the global media spotlight to big humanitarian issues.

To each of them, thank you for your time, passion and all you helped make possible. Thank you, too, for believing in our mission to be there for the most vulnerable people in need - no matter where they are, no matter who they are.

1. Amelia Earhart

Aviation legend Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, volunteered with Red Cross during WWI. After finishing high school and seeing wounded soldiers returning from the war she took a Red Cross first aid course and volunteered as a nurse aide at a military hospital in Canada. It has been said that the stories Amelia heard the men tell about their adventures inspired her desire to travel and explore.

2. Walt Disney

Walt Disney tried to enlist in WWI but he didn’t make the cut because he was just 16. Determined to do his part he learned Red Cross’ ambulance corps were accepting volunteers from 17, so he doctored his birth certificate and signed up. Walt was sent to France, arriving just after the war ended, and worked as a driver and mechanic for Red Cross supply trucks. The story goes that his passion for art was evident even then and he covered some of the vehicles with cartoons and drawings, as well as illustrating posters for Red Cross.

3. Kate Ritchie

Australian actress, radio host and former Home and Away star Kate Ritchie has been our ambassador for more than seven years. She helps to raise awareness about the work we do and the people we can help, plus she also helps us raise funds for our programs and inspires more people to get involved.

4. Princess Diana

Princess Diana helped put a Red Cross campaign to ban landmines in the global spotlight. “Two thousand people every month are killed or maimed by mines around the world – that’s one person every 20 minutes,” she said during a visit to Angola with our colleagues in 1997. “I learnt … that many mines are specifically designed to maim, containing just enough explosion to cause mutilation.” While there, Diana – perhaps the most famous woman in the world at the time - walked through a live minefield, met with amputees and brought unprecedented worldwide attention for the issue. That trip, six months before her death, is said to have boosted the campaign for a treaty that was signed later that year.

5. LL Cool J

Rapper and actor LL Cool J is a member of American Red Cross’ Celebrity Cabinet. This group of actors, TV personalities, musicians, athletes and public figures donate their time, skills and passion to raise awareness about Red Cross’ work. A few years back this Grammy Award-winning musician, who was appointed to the cabinet by Barack Obama, received an American Red Cross Humanitarian Award for his service.

6. Dame Nellie Melba

One hundred years ago Australia’s Dame Nellie Melba, probably the world’s biggest singing sensation, was belting out tunes to raise money for Red Cross to support the war effort. The opera star was a self-confessed terrible knitter and sewer, so while many were knitting socks for soldiers she sang in concert halls, raising £100,000 pounds over the course of the war. That was an incredible amount of money at the time. This diva of the stage also served as president of her local branch – we reckon it would have been like having Adele or Beyonce as your club president.

7. Agatha Christie

One of the world’s best-selling authors Agatha Christie volunteered for us before she became famous. While her husband went off to fight in WWI the British crime writer worked as a nurse in a Red Cross hospital. She was a favourite with the soldiers and doctors at the hospital and she soon moved into its dispensary, says TV network History. It was there Christie learned about drugs and poisons, invaluable knowledge for her later literary career.

8. Nelson Mandela

Anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela, who was visited by the International Committee of the Red Cross during his 27 years of imprisonment, spoke at a number of Red Cross events in his lifetime. In his autobiography and in other public activities he always talked about the importance of our work. South African Red Cross honoured him with their first ever humanitarian award. The Nobel Peace Prize winner said: “Not only does the Red Cross hold a special place in our collective sense of ourselves as a globally caring community; to me personally, and those who shared the experience of being political prisoners, the Red Cross was a beacon of humanity within the dark inhumane world of political imprisonment.”

9. May Gibbs

Illustrator and children’s author May Gibbs created a series of more than 30 postcards to be included in Red Cross parcels sent to Australian troops during WWI. It was from these early works her classics Gum-Nut Babies and Gum-Blossom Babies were born. According to the State Library of NSW, Gibbs, who created some of Australia’s most iconic designs during her career, said: “I did the gumnut cards because I wanted to do something for people to send to the soldiers.”

10. JK Rowling

Novelist JK Rowling’s charitable trust has supported the work of our mates at British Red Cross and also their disaster appeals for a number of years. So much so they presented Rowling – whose Harry Potter series is the best-selling book series of all time – with a Red Cross Humanity Award. The award honours philanthropists and humanitarians whose work has changed people’s lives across the world. “I have long admired the impact of Red Cross’ work in the aftermath of conflict or a disaster and it is a privilege to help support it,” she said.

11. Ernest Hemmingway

Before penning some of the 20th century’s fiction classics American novelist Ernest Hemingway did a volunteer stint with Red Cross. During WWI Hemmingway, who was 18-years-old at the time and working as a reporter, signed to help Red Cross in Europe. He worked as an ambulance driver on the Italian Front until he was wounded by a mortar shell while handing out chocolate to soldiers in a dugout. It has been said Hemmingway’s Red Cross involvement was a major influence on his development as a writer and led to some of the finest American literature on the Great War.

12. Maggie Beer

Australian culinary icon and author Maggie Beer is another of our ambassadors. Every October she throws her support behind our annual Big Cake Bake fundraiser. Maggie also helps promote our programs which improve access to fresh healthy food for disadvantaged communities, that build school and community gardens and help older people overcome loneliness.

13. Annie Lennox

Singer and songwriter Annie Lennox, who has sold more than 80 million records, gives much of her time to supporting humanitarian causes – including Red Cross. A few years ago Lennox, of Eurythmics fame, received British Red Cross' Services to Humanity Award. The award was in honour of her “outstanding humanitarian work and her tireless efforts for families affected by HIV and AIDS”. It’s been written that Lennox’s ability to raise awareness through her music and to use her international profile for the benefit of others is an example to everyone.

14. Eleanor Roosevelt

Former First Lady of the United States Eleanor Roosevelt volunteered with lots of aid and humanitarian organisations – including Red Cross. Roosevelt – who helped to write the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – promoted Red Cross’ fundraising appeals, blood drives, staffed a Red Cross canteen for soldiers and helped balanced the books. In the 1940s Roosevelt also visited the South Pacific for Red Cross to report on the conditions servicemen endured.

15. Dave O’Neil

Aussie comedian and radio personality Dave O’Neil’s first gig out of university was working as a field officer for Red Cross.  Back in the 1980s he delivered talks and conducted training sessions for us in Victoria. “I got my taste for public speaking at Red Cross … I loved doing it.” O’Neil found he enjoyed telling jokes and making people laugh and around that same time he started doing stand-up comedy. “I liked the job because I was doing something good … I’ve always loved what Red Cross do.” Dave also volunteered for us when he was younger and his twin brother went on to work for the International Committee of the Red Cross for 20 years.

16. Bette Davis

When WWII broke out in 1938, knitters everywhere took up their needles to create everything from bandages to gloves and jumpers. Everyone from beginners to Hollywood stars got involved. Legendary Hollywood actress Bette Davis famously knitted jumpers for Red Cross in between takes on the 1942 movie ‘In This Our Life’.

17. Jackie Chan

Actor, director and stuntman Jackie Chan helped deliver relief packages and aid to people with disabilities in Kathmandu after a major earthquake hit Nepal in 2015.  “When I was a young schoolboy at The Beijing Opera Academy, I was very poor and yearned for some of the most basic things in life,” he said. “My fellow students were in similar need and it was at this time that a representative from the Red Cross arrived, bringing us supplies. My classmates and I were so grateful and touched and I vowed to always remember this generosity.”

18. Dame Edna Everage

Comedian Dame Edna Everage, aka Barry Humphries, helped promote one of our big button day fundraisers in the 1970s. For decades our volunteers would, once a year or so, sell Red Cross buttons and badges outside train stations and other public spots to raise funds. The buttons came in all sorts of designs – from kangaroos to love hearts.  Button days ran from 1914 to the 1990s.

19. Cary Grant

The stories go that Hollywood legend Cary Grant was a very generous guy. And before and during WWII Grant gave $200,000 to British Red Cross. He also gave an equal amount to the American Red Cross. It’s said that Grant tended to downplay his generosity and when asked about it he said: “There’s nothing to generosity… if you can afford it.”

20. Heidi Klum

Supermodel Heidi Klum has worked with Red Cross for more than a decade and is another member of American Red Cross’ Celebrity Cabinet. Her work with Red Cross included supporting communities when Hurricane Sandy hit the US.  Klum hosted fundraisers for the relief efforts and helped deliver goods to families affected by the storm. She was presented with Red Cross’ Crystal Cross Award in honour of her volunteer work.

21. Indira Gandhi

In her student days Indira Gandhi, who went on to become India’s only ever female Prime Minister, joined Red Cross as a volunteer while she was studying in London during WWII. At the start of The Blitz in 1940-41, during Nazi Germany’s aerial bombing of Britain, she spent several weeks driving an ambulance and tending to air-raid victims.

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