New Year Honours: Esther Rantzen made a Dame

Esther Rantzen has established telephone helplines for both children in distress and isolated older people
Esther Rantzen has established telephone helplines for both children in distress and isolated older people

Television presenter and campaigner Esther Rantzen said that her “greatest wish” is that her husband had lived to see her become a Dame.

She will receive the honour for services to children and older people, having established telephone helplines for both children in distress or danger and older people experiencing isolation.

She was married to documentary maker Desmond Wilcox for 30 years. He died in 2000, and she set up The Silver Line, a helpline for older people, after writing an article about her own experiences of loneliness.

Dame Esther, 74, said: “I am thrilled that this honour recognises the contribution made by ChildLine and The Silver Line in transforming lives, and I am delighted that the talented teams at both charities have also been recognised for their inspirational work and devotion to the most vulnerable children and older people in our society.

“I feel completely committed to the work of both charities and it is a wonderful honour to receive in my 75th year. My greatest wish is that Desmond could be here to share this news – he would have been so excited.”

Earlier this year she spoke about the impact of loneliness on older people, saying that it erodes self-esteem and confidence and can often follow the loss of a partner.

She said: ‘’I know about that because I wrote about my own loneliness and I have come to the conclusion that loneliness, which absolutely is not the same as isolation, is in my view associated with loss.’’

A broadcaster best known for presenting BBC series That’s Life!, she set up ChildLine in 1986 to provide support to children and young people experiencing neglect and abuse, and the service has helped more than three million children.

In 2006 ChildLine became part of the NSPCC, and in 2009 it launched a website which received 2.4 million visits in 2012-13.

Dame Esther received a CBE in 2006 for services to young people in recognition of the work of the charity.

Mark Wood, chairman of the NSPCC, said that Dame Esther “thoroughly deserves” the honour. “I have worked closely with Esther for the last decade. Her diligence in supporting our most vulnerable children is inspiring to us all. This recognition is richly deserved.

“Over 25 years ago Esther had the vision, insight and drive to set up ChildLine, a universal 24-hour confidential helpline for children across the UK with nowhere else to turn.

“She has worked tirelessly to ensure that it remains an essential service which has counselled over three million children, inspiring its volunteers constantly to provide life-changing and life-saving advice to young people.”

She is now president of The Silver Line, the charity she founded last November to provide companionship and information to older people. It has since received more than 300,000 calls.

The charity received 1,800 calls on Christmas Day and Boxing Day this year, many of which were from people who would not normally have anyone to talk to at Christmas.

Sophie Andrews, chief executive of The Silver Line, said: “There are not many people who have established one national charity in their lifetime and continued to support and lead it for almost 30 years but our president, Dame Esther Rantzen, has inspired and founded two.

“At The Silver Line we are so proud of all she has achieved and we are delighted that she has been awarded this much-deserved honour. It recognises her tireless work on behalf of the most vulnerable youngest and oldest citizens of our country who have no one else to protect and help them.”