Does anyone know Russell Crowe? THE Russell Crowe?

Russell Crowe in Gladiator, Universal Pictures

If you’re not on Twitter, you may have heard terrible things about it. Indeed, it can be a very toxic place, especially UK ‘political’ Twitter, which is a maelstrom of Johnson’s Trumpist pronouncements, amplification by his forgiving fans and robust rebuttals from lovers of truth.

Except every now and then something wonderful happens.

I remember back in December 2016 being desperate to see Juliet Stevenson and Lia Williams in Schiller’s ‘Mary Stuart’ at the Almeida Theatre. The play was getting rave reviews, but tickets were harder to find than a grain of honesty in one of the new American president Donald Trump’s post-truth pronouncements. I don’t know what possessed me, but I tweeted my wish to the two actresses and the theatre: “All I want for Christmas besides peace on earth, etc., is a ticket to Mary Stuart…” To cut a long story short, four days later I was in the theatre with a good friend for a very special Christmas treat.

A little over five years on, it was the turn of another Dorset resident to have great good fortune on Twitter. This time it was BBC Radio Solent’s Dorset Breakfast Show presenter Steve Harris. He tweeted: “Long shot… anyone know any way I can get in touch with Russell Crowe? THE Russell Crowe?!” His tweet went viral. Some of the responses were hilarious. Dorset Community Foundation tweeted:

Several tweeps tagged in Russell Crowe, saying he was a top bloke and Harris should tweet to him directly. Now movie stars often have hundreds of thousands of followers, even millions — Crowe has 2.7 million — so tweeting to them can be a bit random, especially as many of them don’t personally handle their accounts. Those who were following the thread were stunned when, just over half an hour later, there was a response from the man himself. “What’s up Steve?” Crowe tweeted.

Harris made his pitch. He wanted Crowe to record a happy birthday message for an extraordinary woman. A woman called Pip. She’s sailing around the world in the Vendée Globe race, she’s a huge fan and it’s her birthday this weekend…

For anyone who doesn’t know, Pip Hare is a yachtswoman, sailing coach and writer for Yachting World. Originally from East Anglia, she has based her Vendée Globe campaign in Dorset, at Poole, and is one of four Brits competing. You need deep pockets to go ocean racing, and she’s being sponsored by Smartsheet, a US web-based project management software.

The Vendée Globe, the ‘Everest of the Sea’, is a gruelling solo non-stop race that takes place every four years. The latest one started on 8 November 2020. It has not been without drama. Ms Hare discovered cracks in her rudder and had to replace it with a spare near Cape Horn, but she got off comparatively lightly compared to one sailor who experienced hull failure. The boat folded in half and he struggled to release the life raft. He was rescued by three competitors, all of whom received time compensation. One of them, Yannick Bestaven, went on to win the race on 28 January. As of 3 February, 12 yachts had finished already and a further 13 were still racing, among them Ms Hare in her yacht Medallia. She still has 2,000 miles to go…

Back to Harris, and fifteen minutes after tweeting his request, he received a video clip from Crowe. The clip contained an extra special ‘happy birthday message’ for Pip, and because it came via Twitter, it meant we were all witnesses and shared in the warmth of a random act of kindness from one of the acting world’s greats to a complete stranger, who is off battling the elements and doing something extraordinary herself.

Once Crowe’s clip was up, hundreds of other people joined in, sending images, gifs and links to add their birthday wishes. There was also an outpouring from people expressing how lovely the whole situation was. Some were moved to tears. Hours later from the middle of the Atlantic, the wind howling and the skies lowering, Ms Hare was able to record a message from her yacht, to thank Crowe. She’d been on her own for 87 days at that point, so it was a joy to hear from her idol.

It was one of those rare moments on social media that give you a fillip and boost your resilience to carry on and deal with the daily grind. Thank you Steve Harris, Russell Crowe and Pip Hare. Witnessing your interaction was like a lighthouse beaming kindness into the fog of fury that envelops Twitter. You injected some positivity onto my timeline, and into my day. I’m sure thousands feel the same.

Everyone here at West Country Bylines wishes Pip Hare a happy birthday and safe sailing home.