Celeste Barber on $51m bushfire fundraiser: 'It broke my heart that it didn't fix everything' – ABC News

Celeste Barber on $51m bushfire fundraiser: 'It broke my heart that it didn't fix everything'
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Australia was ravaged by extreme bushfires during the summer of 2019-20 . 
Described as apocalyptic, multiple fires were burning across the country in what became known as the Black Summer.
Comedian Celeste Barber had watched on in horror. Her mother-in-law was in trouble and she wanted to help in any way she could, so she encouraged her followers to donate to the Rural Fire Service (RFS) and Brigades Donation Fund — and managed to raise a record-breaking $51 million.
But there was a catch — the millions of dollars raised excluded causes that many donors expected their money would go toward, such as the Australian Red Cross and animal welfare group WIRES.
It came down to the deed governing the New South Wales RFS trust, which permits donations to only be spent on equipment, training and administration costs.
Barber told 7.30 people's generosity was "unbelievable", and it broke her heart their money could not go to the people who needed it most.
"There was so much riding on it," she said.
"It broke my heart. It broke my heart that it didn't fix everything. Just everyone and everything."
In December 2019, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was criticised for going on holiday to Hawaii as the bushfire crisis worsened
And as Barber's fundraiser drew global attention and broke records, she said she felt the pressure. 
"That's not my skill set — I'm a comedian and an actor, and my mother-in-law was in trouble, and I was like, 'I'll see if I can help,'" she said.
"The pressure on me during that time as a public figure — I think because the person who could have been doing it and should have been doing it was holidaying — it was kind of crazy.
"I didn't want to do any press. I wasn't interested in it. I didn't really want to be the face of any of it, because who cares about me? It doesn't matter.
"I just did the best I could, and I honestly wish I could have done more."
Even though the bushfire donations did not go towards victims and other charities, they are still having a huge impact on improving rural fire stations and brigades across NSW.
The money is funding much-needed upgrades and providing high-tech equipment to ensure firies are better prepared for the next bushfire season.
The money has also financed the creation of a "benevolent fund" that will assist injured firefighters and the families of those killed in the line of duty.
Barber now has more than 8 million followers on Instagram. And raising over $50 million for the bushfire relief appeal is testament to the reach she has, both here in Australia and overseas.
Her social media posts poking fun at celebrities and influencers initially began as a way to build her profile as a comedian and actor.
"I got sick of seeing so many heavily curated, heavily filtered and altered images passed off as 'every day'," she said.
"I remember looking at these [filtered] images, thinking, 'This isn't good. This isn't OK that it's being passed off as normal.'
"The main purpose why I did this was just to make people laugh, that was it.
"I wanted to cut through and I wanted to be seen.
"I wanted to show people that I am funny, and there was a platform there that would get me hopefully international eyes as well. So that was a big driving force."
Her initial goal was to reach 1.2 million followers on Instagram.
"I wanted that two, that point two, because I thought then I've really hit a million," she said.
"So 8 million, it's pretty great."
But now she has "made it", Barber says she is sent all kinds of weird things that people want her to promote, including vibrators. 
"I have been sent seven vibrators from seven different companies in a two-month period," she said. 
"I don't know what people think I am about, but here we are.
"What has happened in the world where people think that I'm someone to send a vibrator to?" 
Barber said she found it annoying when people suggested she was an overnight success, saying she was a professional who had worked hard to get where she was, doing everything from training as an actor to performing in theatre and starring on shows such as All Saints. 
"It's because of Instagram, really, [that people say things] like, 'Where's this woman come from?'" she said. 
"I use all the stuff that I've learnt through my career to keep it going on a social media platform, but I think it works."
Discussing failure, Barber said she had learnt to be kinder to herself when things did not go as planned.
"I realised that moments of … failure, I need to pull them apart from doubting myself, because I find that they go hand in hand way too easily," she said. 
"So if I do something that isn't amazing, or have a big failure, I have to stop myself from going, 'See, you're not that good.'
"You don't need to … be down on yourself. You just have to keep going.
"The second I'm on stage … if something doesn't hit, it's like you've been hit by a truck.
"So you feel it instantly, and you have to keep going. You just go, 'Oh, good to know, I won't do that next time,' and you keep moving."
With Australia beginning to open up after COVID-19 lockdowns, Barber has announced she has a new show called Fine, Thanks, which she will take on tour in May next year.
"I didn't realise how much I missed it," she said. 
"It's awesome being able to travel around and jump around on stage and scream at people in a loving way, as opposed to screaming at my family in lockdown in a not so loving way.
"I've absolutely missed that interaction."
Barber said the show will cover many topics, but one that could not be avoided was the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I have been staring at a wall for the better part of two years … so I've got a lot of thoughts on different paint colours," she said.
"It's just been a really crazy time. I still like to poke fun at influencers-slash-anti-vaxxers now. I don't know how that became a cross-career.
"It used to be singer-dancer-actor, now it's influencer-anti-vaxxer. People need to remember their skill sets.
"So I talk a little bit about that. I also have a very attractive husband who's still sticking around, which is nice to poke fun at."
Barber also highlights the importance of laugher, especially during these hard times.
"There's that personal thing of how amazing you feel after having a really good belly laugh. Then I think it's a good equaliser," she said.
"That's a really important thing to remember, especially in social media. That can be so divisive. That laughter, it's good to use that tool to help people laugh."
Watch Celeste Barber's interview on 7.30 tonight on ABC TV and iview
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