Public Diplomacy and Global Communication 2014c

Just A Flirt Or Long-term Commitment

The United Nations has recognized the potential of celebrities to raise funds and attract global media attention a long time ago. It „has enlisted the volunteer services and support of prominent personalities from the worlds of art, music, film, sport and literature to highlight key issues and to draw attention to its activities.“[1] Its official engagement with celebrities began when Danny Kaye was appointed as the institutions first goodwill ambassador in 195. What needs to be highlighted about the early goodwill ambassadors such as Kaye, Peter Ustinov and later Hepburn is their loyalty and commitment to the UN agency they were affiliated with “they saw it as their role to promote UNICEF’s activities.” [2] Portraying ‘good international citizens’, in the early days of celebrities’ relationships with organizations of the UN, their role was limited to promoting certain issues or causes in an apolitical manner.

Possibly the most glamorous goodwill ambassador of all was Audrey Hepburn. She was the epitome of the ‘good international citizen’ and her engagement with UNICEF left footsteps that are hard to fill. Current and future goodwill ambassadors should take her as a role model, not only because of her tireless work-ethic and unquestionable loyalty to UNICEF, but foremost because of her pure intentions. She had a strong credibility, strengthened by the fact that she had been a recipient of help from the UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration during the end of the Second World War. Hepburn was effortlessly glamorous and her simple attire while travelling to projects emphasized her authenticity.

Along with an increase in celebrity engagement in the 80s and 90s came a transformation of the relationship between the UN and the celebrities it worked with. Moving away from an apolitical role as ‘international good citizens’, goodwill ambassadors such as Liv Ullman started to be more political conscious. Whilst political engagement underpins the sincere intentions of celebrities fighting for a certain cause, political work outside of the UN and its affiliated organizations can be controversial and is not always in the UN’s favour. Richard Gere, who has previously represented the UN in various matters, for example fell out with the UN over the non-recognition of Tibet and went as far as accusing the UNHRC of being manipulated by the Chinese. It is apparent that Gere’s actions were harmful to the UN’s image, shading a bed light on the relationship of the UN with its goodwill ambassadors. While goodwill ambassadors don’t necessarily need to limit themselves to be apolitical ‘good international citizens’, they should consider carefully if they want to take on the responsibility of being a goodwill ambassador and if they do they should be sure that their political stance is not in contradiction with that of the UN. They should only take on the role of good will ambassador if they can guarantee their loyalty to the UN.

Some might argue that Angelina Jolie is today what Audrey Hepburn was in the 1980s. However, while both of them have shown serious commitment to a specialized Un agency as well as a capacity for compassion, two very distinct approaches to the role as goodwill ambassador can be identified. Audrey Hepburn’s activities as a celebrity diplomat started when she was no longer developing movies. She always separated her personal life from her public appearances and kept the focus on the main issue during the numerous interviews she gave. Roger Moore pointed out: “ they only wanted to talk about movies but she would not let them… she kept on the issues that were facing children then and which still face children today.” [3] Angelina in contradiction is devoting time to humanitarian causes while at the same time having an active career. Additionally her personal and public life are intervened, as can bee observed by the fact she shares her humanitarian work with her husband Brad Pitt. The Brangalina phenomenon is a real media magnet. These differences between the work of Audrey and Angelina can be traced back to the fact that most celebrities now engage in diplomacy when their fame is at its peak, enhancing their power to attract attention and influence important global players. Another aspect is the fact that Audrey Hepburn always stayed impartial she “combined a concern with access to decision makers with persistence in vocalizing issues to wider publics”, but never took a side. [4] This illustrates the possibility to be an influential celebrity diplomat, without taking a political stance and getting caught in controversies such as Richard Gere did.

It is hard to measure the impact of celebrities to the UN’s work. It is true that they have a great potential for fundraising and attract large amounts of media attraction, however a symposium of the university of Southern California came to the conclusion that “in policy terms, it remains unclear whether the un’s celebrity diplomats are effective in helping the UN achieve its objectives in promoting the world body’s goals in peace building, disarmament, human rights, environmental protection and human development.”. [5] Additionally it is also questionable whether the media attraction raised by celebrities does actually have an impact. It is supposed to raise awareness for the issues among the general public, rather than the elites who are actually able to influence policy. Additionally it is questionable whether it is successful in actually raising awareness over the long term, rather than causing instant popularity for a cause that is forgotten as soon as the media-hustle around the celebrities’ engagement diminishes.

While the long term commitment to a relationship with the un of stars such as Hepburn, Jolie and has proven as a powerful tool of promoting the UN’s values, some of the rather short and casual relationships have proven problematic. In Sarah Fergusons case financial collapse caused her break up with the UN, while in Geri Halliwell’s case it was the inability to perform the tasks she had committed to. [6] The later seemed to have a strong commitment at first “ am famous, and I am damn well going to use my fame positively. If I save one persons life just by awareness, I’m going to damn well do it.”[7], however it quickly became evident that her relationship with the un was just a short fling rather than a long-term commitment. The un has seemed to have learned from past mistakes, realizing that fame alone does not alone decide whether one is suited for the role as goodwill ambassador. In 2005 the manager of the goodwill ambassador program declared “we don’t name anyone anymore without a period of engagement.”[8] This is a step in the right direction, getting to know the candidates well is vital in order to decid

[1] (Accessed 10.4.2014)

[2] Wheeler, Mark (2013): Celebrity politics. Polity Press p.145-6

[3] Cooper, Andrew Fenton (2008): Celebrity diplomacy. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers. p. 20

[4] Cooper, Andrew Fenton (2008): Celebrity diplomacy. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers. p.19

[5] The Public Diplomacy Role of Celebrity Diplomats.” Center for Public Diplomacy Workshop, University of Southern California, April 21, 2009. in (Accessed 8.4.2015)

[6] Wheeler, Mark (2013): Celebrity politicsPolity Press p.159

[7] Cooper, Andrew Fenton (2008): Celebrity diplomacy. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers. p.29

[8] Cooper, Andrew Fenton (2008): Celebrity diplomacy. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers. p.30


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One thought on “Just A Flirt Or Long-term Commitment

  1. A very interesting post on how the media sees the UN’s humanitary contributors. Although, in my opinion I see Ms Audrey Hepburn’s decision of starting her humanitarian services a year before she retires from acting in 1989, slightly irrelevant in contrast with Ms Jolie services for example.

    Ms Hepburn, despite her dedication aside UN, took the opportunity of been surrounded by the media to promote herself through humanitarians causes with UNICEF. she stated “People in these places don’t know Audrey Hepburn, but they recognise the name UNICEF. When they see UNICEF their faces light up, because they know that something is happening. In the Sudan, for example, they call a water pump UNICEF.” [1]. So, in my point of view, she is promoting herself AS WELL AS helping people yes, otherwise why would the Sudanese know who is Ms Hepburn? Unnecessary if your cause was helping.

    In the other hand, Angelina Jolie, found out through her acting career (by filming in 2001 in Cambodia) that equality and a decent life still a need in several places, and carries on her humanitarian services and acting at the same time for almost 15 years now. Whether Ms Hepburn has found her ‘true love for helping’ too soon before she died.

    Thus, I do not strongly agree with the UN’s view of judging capable celebrities of joining them or not. Nowadays, with the power of social networking, communications and the Net, the celebrities commitment towards the public, humanitarian needs, spreads far faster comparing with the 80’s, and if it will bring any sum of money, or any sort of external help, I see of an extremely importance having stars as ambassadors, even if being for a short or long term commitment.

    [1] “Audrey Hepburn’s UNICEF Field Missions”. Retrieved 22 December 2013.


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