Airing on British TV after King Charles III’s annual speech, Stephen Fry will address the rise of antisemitism in the UK following the 7 October attacks. Elsewhere, the British actor and broadcaster has been praised for his message about people struggling during the holidays.
On Christmas Day, it is tradition for the British monarch to deliver a speech to the nation.
This year, King Charles III will give his annual Christmas speech on the BBC, a 10-minute message that will be the King’s second, having been delivered by Queen Elizabeth II since 1957 prior to 2022.
While many will tune in, there’s another speech we can’t wait for this year.
Indeed, British actor, writer, broadcaster and all-round national treasure Stephen Fry is set to deliver an Alternative Christmas Message for UK broadcaster Channel 4, in which he will address the rising tide of antisemitism across the world.
The speech has already been released, and Fry, who is an atheist and a humanist, urges those listening to call out antisemitism as they would any other form of racism. He goes on to cite Metropolitan Police statistics of an 1350% increase in reported incidents of antisemitism in London since 7 October, the date of the Hamas attacks in Israel.
Here is Fry’s full message, which will be broadcast today (25 December) on Channel 4 at 17:10 GMT:
Merry Christmas! As a child I was almost unbearably excited by stockings, games, chocolates and presents. To this day the aroma of mince pies triggers me into gulping fits of sentimental ecstasy.
But as I grew out of childhood, realising I was gay, I saw a long, lonely line of Christmases ahead of me. Exclusion, exile, and disgrace had been and surely always would be the fate of the homosexual. But look! In my short lifetime (well I think of it as short) Britain has moved towards an understanding and acceptance of gay love.
Alright, it’s not perfect of course, but what an improvement over the grim culture in which I grew up.
One truth about myself however, that I never thought for one single second would ever be an issue about which I had any cause to worry in this country, was that I’m a Jew. Yes, you heard me correctly, I am a Jew. That may surprise some people. It surprises me really. I don’t think of myself as especially Jewish. Indeed sometimes people rather embarrassingly refer to me as ‘quintessentially English’ whatever that means. I suppose it’s because I love cricket and Shakespeare and the Archers on radio 4 and my vocal chords appear to be made of tweed. But if you take a swab of my spittle – as I did with one of those genetic services – up comes 52% Ashkenazy Jew. More than half, which was a bit of a surprise. My mother’s Jewish family came over from Central Europe in the 1930s, but my father died without knowing that he was a fraction Jewish. Maybe you are a fraction Jewish too without knowing it. Does it matter? I mean, I don’t really “identify as Jewish” any more than I “identify as English” or British.
Then again, I know, because I’ve been warned, that I’ve been on lists of British Jews that some ultra-right wing newspapers and sites have published over the years. And I’m frankly damned if I’ll let antisemites be the ones who define me, and take ownership of the word Jew, injecting it with their own spiteful venom.
So I accept and claim the identity with pride, I am Stephen Fry, and I am a Jew. The great Irish thinker and writer Conor Cruise O’Brien once said that “antisemitism is a light sleeper”. Well, it seems to have woken up of late. The horrendous events of October the 7th and the Israeli response, seem to have stirred up this ancient hatred. It’s agonising to see all the violence and destruction that’s unfolding, and the terrible loss of life on both sides brings me an overwhelming sadness and heartache. But whatever our opinions on what is happening, there can be no excuse for the behaviour of some of our citizens.
Since October the 7th there have been 50 separate reported incidents of antisemitism every single day in London alone, an increase of 1350% according to the Metropolitan Police. Shop windows smashed, Stars of David and swastikas daubed on walls of Jewish properties, synagogues, and cemeteries. Jewish schools have been forced to close. There is real fear stalking the Jewish neighbourhoods of Britain. Jewish people here are becoming fearful of showing themselves. In Britain, in 2023.
My Jewish grandparents loved Britain, believing that Jews were more welcome here than in most countries. I am glad they aren’t alive now to read newspaper stories that would have reminded them of the 1930s Europe that they left. They believed Britishness meant being fair and decent, but what can be more unfair or indecent than race hatred, whether antisemitism, Islamophobia, or any kind?
So what is my message this Christmas: the simple truth that we are all brothers and sisters? It’s naive, but it’s as good a message as any other. At this time in the face of the greatest rise in anti-Jewish racism since records began, Jews should stand upright and proud in who they are. And so should you, whatever your genetic makeup.
Standing upright means speaking up and calling out venomous slurs and hateful abuse wherever you encounter them. Knowing and loving this country as I do, I don’t believe that most Britons are ok living in a society that judges hatreds of Jews to be the one acceptable form of racism. So speak up, stand with us, be proud to be Jewish or Jew-ish – or, if not Jewish at all, proud to have us as much a part of this great nation as any other minority, as any of you.
And so this mad quintessential queer English Jew wishes you – whatever your race or creed, however you identify yourself – all peace, joy, and a very merry Xmas, formerly known as Twittermas. And now let’s all exhale that great sigh that Jews have sighed for thousands of years. Oy.
Elsewhere, Fry, who is the the president of UK mental health charity Mind, has also been praised for his Christmas speech about mental health and people struggling with loneliness at Christmas.
In the week leading up to Christmas, Fry shared his own Christmas message for Mind, in which he detailed his own experiences with loneliness during the festive period.
“Christmas again,” he said. “I do love Christmas, I do. I’m not a Scrooge or a grump or a Grinch. But there have been Christmasses… where sometimes I’ve been, not necessarily alone, goodness knows loneliness at Christmas can be a sad thing.”
“If you are struggling, goodness knows that’s understandable… I hope there’ll be something or someone somewhere who will be able to help you and feel a bit better, so that the smile will be perhaps the eyes as well,” he said.
Check it out here:
Merry Christmas, and look after one another.