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Why I'm just like Santa Claus - I love to give generously to others


Giving is good: When Julie Burchill made a mint by selling up to a developer, she used the cash to help others

Giving is good: When Julie Burchill made a mint by selling up to a developer, she used the cash to help others

Festive fun: Father Christmas

Festive fun: Father Christmas

Getty Images/iStockphoto


Giving is good: When Julie Burchill made a mint by selling up to a developer, she used the cash to help others

Hearing the glad tidings that Christmas is a time for giving invariably irritates me. It's ALWAYS a time for giving for me - I will happily buy anything from fags to cars for mates the whole year round. Even at my most Scrooge-like, I spend like a sailor on shore leave. This is because the older I get, the more I believe that people can be divided into two types - the generous and the stingy.

If someone is ready and willing to put their hand in their pocket for the benefit of others, chances are I'll like them. If they're only prepared to do it in pursuit of their own pleasure, there's probably more chance of me seeking out Sandi Toksvig and Dawn French to form a girl group with, than wanting to be their friend.

In my experience, tight people also tend to be less amusing and less adventurous - less fun all round - than the generous, so for once I'm left thinking, 'What's in this for me?'

Of course we spendthrifts are not saints. Yes, we're in it partly for the cheap thrills - the giver's glow, as scientists call the lighting up of that part of the brain which rewards the giving of time and/or money for the benefit of others and slips us a hit of dopamine, oxytocin, endorphins and all that stuff usually accessed horizontally.

When whoever said it was better to give than to receive did so, they weren't being prissy and self-denying, but rather sassy and self-knowing; this glow is why ceaseless psychologists have found that those who give money away are happier than those who use it to acquire possessions, and why those who talk the most about the joy of - shudder! - retail therapy often seem the most hollow and hopeless of our acquaintances.

But my cheap thrills can be someone else's difference between eating and not eating - making giving the exact opposite of virtue signalling, which is all about saying something righteous and doing zero to back it up.

I've always been generous. There's a school of thought that says generosity is often inherited, and my working-class parents lavished their only child with all the attention and toys my friends often went without.

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Thanks to my excessive extravagance, I spent my early adult life always in the red, then a decade back I sold my house in Brighton to a property developer for a huge profit - and it was like giving a family-size tin of Quality Street to a stoner. I parted with a quarter of a million in the first year alone, shelling out for friends, strangers and charities with promiscuous glee.

It started when I paid for a dog called Stella to be released from quarantine in Iran to be reunited with her pining young owner after I saw their tale of woe in a local newspaper, peaked when I intervened to fast-track my best friend's aggressive cancer into the private healthcare system, thus saving her months of waiting and worry, and ended up two years ago with me having to be bailed out by a really rich mate because I'd gone through the entire lot (Of course, I paid back my friend and regained my financial equilibrium - or I certainly wouldn't be boasting here about my inability to keep it in my pocket).

By then my brain was lit up like a Trump rally on the Fourth of July, and even now giving remains the only thing I've been truly addicted to, to the point of sacrificing my extraordinarily excessive 20-year cocaine habit in order to maintain it when I realised I could do one but not both if I wanted to swerve joining my homeless homies any time soon.

The usual suspects have suggested that it appeals to the ceaseless vista of my vanity to be seen as a dark angel of open-handedness dispensing tenners (if I'm not carrying anything bigger, as I'd rather go to the ATM than give coins to a beggar - how disrespectful) like a jumped-up Johnny Appleseed. They've said snarky stuff like, 'Ooo, you're only THROWING MONEY at the unfortunate, rather than Giving Of Yourself!' But I've had volunteer jobs for more than a decade, currently putting in around eight hours a week at one, so that won't wash.

It would be a fair criticism to point out, however, that in this, as in most areas of life, I find it hard to know when to stop. Apart from the bailout, I've also had my credit cards physically removed from me and kept till I sobered up by a mate who was understandably concerned that I was apparently withdrawing money and giving it away infinitely one drunken day, and this year in Barcelona I had to be physically removed from a pavement cafe by my husband because what started out as alms to the passing poor become a free-for-all resembling somewhat the finale of The Day Of The Locust (Even the café's owner was queueing up).

If there are no beggars around, I'll invent them in order to satisfy my own dubious desire to be made use of. I recently received a mouthful of finest excuse-my-French in Paris from a rather scruffy man I refused to believe wasn't a tramp and repeatedly tried to donate to. I've even had real beggars chase me down the street pointing out that I've given them too much - the ultimate accolade for my kind.

Off the street, I'm the best tipper I've ever met - excellent for good service, and even better for bad, as I always feel sorry for people who are rubbish at their jobs. And while I've never actually given anyone the shirt off my back, I once gave the waitress the skirt off my hips when I overheard her envying it to a friend.

This isn't to say that I am self-denying - rather, I balance out extreme self-indulgence with the same amount of self-sacrifice. The Christmas after I came into possession of my ill-gotten gains, I was shocked to find myself buying one each of every fragrance of Diptyque candle at my local Space NK, just because I could. Coming out of my fugue state as I saw the harsh reality of setting fire to thousands of pounds pop up on the credit card machine, I said without thinking to the lovely young man who was serving me, 'Excuse me, but what's your favourite charity?' He looked surprised. 'It's called Whizz-Kidz - my little brother can't walk and they've helped him so much.' Writing an equivalent cheque for the astonished young salesperson completely cancelled out any subsequent self-loathing which might have marred the festive season, leaving him in tears and me on a cloud of seasonal self-love.

In the end, as much as being the right thing to do morally, I love to give so much because it's such a good look. Giving something away - especially money - makes people look tough and optimistic, whereas holding on to it looks scared and unsexy.

Essentially, stinginess is the halitosis of the soul; if you've got it, get it out, for as a very wise and wealthy man, Andrew Carnegie, once said: "He who dies rich dies shamed."

  • The writer's fee for this article has been donated to Crisis at Christmas (crisis.org.uk)

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