From Portugal to the desert sands of Rajasthan

in News · 21-05-2011 00:00:00 · 0 Comments
From Portugal to the desert sands of Rajasthan

In an exclusive interview with The Portugal News, renowned Irish actor and Algarve resident Daragh O'Malley, probably best known as the ever faithful, but fearsome Patrick Harper in the Sharpe TV series, speaks about his career and the reasons that led to the foundation of an international children's charity.

"The Sharpe series, which I started filming with Sean Bean in 1992 has been running for 17 years, been shown in 120 countries worldwide, except in France, and has been translated into many languages, most recently Hindi," said Daragh.
Looking back on the history of the hugely popular television series, Daragh O'Malley names just a few stars who started their careers on Sharpe.
"Daniel Craig started with us, as did Elizabeth Hurley, who filmed with us in the Ukraine," he said, adding others including Paul Bethany, Emily Mortimer and also the late Peter Postlethwaite.
"It is an amazing series and to this day, I don't know where its popularity has come from, but we have a number of famous fans including the Princes William and Harry, as well as former US Vice President Dick Cheney," said Daragh, adding: "He is a huge fan, and can even quote lines from the series."
With a wry smile, Daragh explains that the series' appeal has also spread to the gay community.
"The main characters [Sharpe and Harper] are gay icons, seen to some as a male love story, but Sean [Bean] doesn't like to hear that!"
"From Portugal onto the bar stools and battlefields of the Crimea to the seething desert sands of western Rajasthan," Sharpe took Daragh and the team from Portugal where they originally started filming near Cascais to Yalta in Ukraine.
"We filmed in the Crimea for five years, but decided the winters were too severe and it became too tough, so we moved to Turkey for two years, then filmed in London's East End, in Bradford," he said.
The final destination for Sharpe was the "seething desert of Rajasthan" in north western India.
For Daragh, arriving in India to film and seeing the poverty and how children suffered and were used as economic assets was very upsetting.
"Children from the age of four are put to work in the cotton and silk fields and paid the equivalent of four pounds sterling a month for working 16 hours a day, seven days a week," he said, adding: "They have no education and where we were filming there was a literacy rate of less than two percent."
Daragh's emotions come to the surface as he remembers the children he saw in India and reels off a series of statistics; "Only one in four girls see their 13th birthday. There isn't much use for girls."
"People nowadays think of poverty in India as the scenes from `Slumdog Millionaire' but the reality is that what is shown in the film is like 10 on the poverty scale whereas the children living in rural India are on 0," he said.
The second year the team went back to film in India in 2008, Daragh decided to investigate the surrounding towns and villages in his spare time.
"I saw schools that doubled up as cow sheds, the children had been moved out and the cows moved in," he said, adding that teachers also often don't attend class as they double as local government officials and have other duties to perform.
On one particular day, a number of actors and camera crew were sitting around a lake between filming takes and saw a group of children swimming in raw sewage.
"All of us went silent, which is rare for actors, but it was then that we knew something had to be done," said Daragh, adding that it was then that the Sharpe's Children Foundation - Actors Taking Action began.
The charity, which is the first one started by a television show, had its official launch on 21 October 2010 in the Duke of Wellington's Drawing Room at Apsley House.
"The Duke is 94 and a fan of Sharpe. He told me that he only agreed to let us use his drawing room because he liked the way his ancestors are depicted in the series."
As a new charity, Sharpe's Children Foundation, which Daragh hopes will be a lasting legacy to Sharpe in the countries in which it was filmed, is still finding its way, but has clear aims and goals to fight child poverty through education.
"Readers of the 37 million Sharpe books that have been sold and television viewers will understand that we are trying to fight child poverty with education, which we feel is the only lethal weapon in this war."
The foundation's first goal is to open a Sharpe Shelter, an early learning education centre in India.
"Our first shelter is to open in Kotra, South of Udaipur with more than 200 children drawn from the streets and 30 of the poorest villages in the world, where the average family income is 234 pounds sterling per year, mostly from children's wages," he said.
This flagship shelter will make 220 first generation learners, meaning none of their ancestors were literate, but the biggest challenge will be the project's sustainability.
"The main obstacle will be keeping these children at school, as there is a tendency for families and even non-family members to grab them and put them to work to earn money instead," said Daragh, which is why the Sharpe voucher system has been devised to compensated families in vouchers equivalent to the amount a child would earn if they are kept in school.
To get the ball rolling, members of the Sharpe's Children Foundation have had meetings with the village elders and showed them an example of someone who went to school and has been successful to demonstrate the power of education.
"They are all very excited by the project and we aim for the shelter to also be used as a community centre for the whole village."
The charity's medium term goal is to open more Sharpe Shelters in India, the Ukraine and Turkey, although the model can be repeated all over the world, including in Portugal. These shelters will introduce children to vocational skills such as computing and carpentry as well as dance, drama and art and will have sports facilities.
"We hope to open between five and 12 Sharpe Shelters in India as well as upgrading orphanages in the Ukraine and providing them with a five year commitment of support" said Daragh, adding that in Turkey for example, the shelters will include accommodation, food and a laundry, where youngsters from the streets can take refuge, get their hair cut and clothes washed.
"If you asked me two years ago, the last thing I ever thought I would do is start a charity," said Daragh, who since working in India, which he describes as a "life changing experience" has done extensive research into child poverty.
In 2000, every world superpower, including India signed the United Nation's Millennium Development Goal to achieve Universal Primary Education (UPE) by 2015, but according to Daragh, nothing has happened yet in India.
"At the time readers are reading this article, across the developing world today, 42,000 children will die of poverty," he said, adding: "India is not a poor country. It has a lot of wealth and twice as much gold stored than Fort Knox."
He considers the problem to be down to a lack of political will from the government to look after its own people as well as media silence on the issue.
"We want to show the world what can be done with very little," said Daragh, adding that the annual cost of running a Sharpe shelter has been calculated at around 75,000 pounds sterling.
To fund their goals, the Sharpe's Children Foundation are in talks with multinationals to support their shelter model, although they are also open to donations and help from members of the public and fundraising groups.
Between 23 and 25 September, a column made up of Infantry, Artillery and Cavalry from the armies of Wellington and Napolean will march 50 miles of `The Ridgeway', `Chiltern Way' and `Thames Path', spanning Wiltshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire countryside in the UK, in just three days to raise funds and awareness for the charity.
"This will be the biggest ever march against child poverty in Europe with Napoleonic re-enactors and volunteers," said Daragh adding: "Nobody knows the exact figures, but it is estimated that there are between 250 million and 300 million children living on the streets across the world."
For more information about how you can help the Sharpe's Children Foundation, visit
their website at: Alternatively, for more information about the march taking place in the UK in September, visit:
Eloise Walton


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