In times of crisis the world needs to come together. We are divided by many things, language, race, religion, politics, gender...the list probably goes on but I'm already losing my thread. Anyway, the point is, in the midst of an unprecedented global pandemic the one thing that can unite us all is cress.
Yes cress, that peppery little herb that we normally only ever experience in sandwiches with eggs or during some bizarre growing ritual in primary school (again with eggs, though almost inexplicably, on cotton wool in blown-out shells).
But how can cress unite us?
Easy, by taking part in the world's only online international cress competition, now in its 4th incarnation (the Crystal Skull of the series if you will), you'll be part of an international effort to raise money (stay with me here) for the Association of NHS Charities - NHS Together. Providing support for charities across the NHS, they also support the people on the front line caring for us, our loved ones and even the people we don't really like, at huge personal risk to themselves.
Also, you've literally got nothing else to do other than stand in long queues or pretend to jog around parks that you'd previously only been to with a stack of cans and a disposable barbecue.
Okay great! How does it all work?
Like the previous competitions in 2011, 2013 and 2016 I'll be doing all the heavy lifting here, sending cress to everyone taking part. In the past I've sent seeds all over the world. Gonna level with you straight away - given the current climate I'm not going into a Post Office to do this. There's a letterbox about 20 metres from my front door and that's as far as I'm going. If it can't reach you by second-class post then it's not coming. If you're impacted by that, don't worry, you can still take part and by the time I finish typing this I'm pretty sure I'll have thought of a way how.
Previous entrants will be aware that there are a number of rules that must be strictly adhered to - they will be published on here as we go along.
Children and the elderly have been banned from previous tournaments for reasons that are obvious. I have decided to lift that ban (except in relation to children who, ultimately, lack the strength of character required)
An experienced panel of judges will monitor the competition. Ultimately their decision is final. The stakes are high. Not high enough to merit a prize, but high nonetheless.
This year I've decided to take a step back from judging. While I recognise my own incredible talents, what people are looking for are stars. Real stars. These people are the next level above them. These are the professionals, the experts, the people whose lives have been dedicated to charitable international cress-growing competitions. These are the people we all aspire to be. Each has refused to accept an enormous fee to ensure all the proceeds go to charity*.
Danny has been involved with cress since 2013. Sure he's a writer, actor, presenter and filmmaker, but his real love is cress. He can't get enough of it. In his own words - "My real love is cress, I can't get enough of it."
Minnie, an Academy Award nominated actor, singer, writer and dog owner, has repeatedly tried to grow cress competitively. On every occasion someone has deliberately sabotaged her efforts. There is no other explanation. She has now moved into judging so that people will start taking her seriously. Minnie is definitely not shit at growing everything. No one would suggest that. No way.
Peredur ap Gwynedd
As a boy Perry dreamt of actually growing cress or at the very least being involved in cress growing. His life took him elsewhere, to being a musician, presenter, cyclist and openly Welsh. Through this journey he has never lost touch with cress and happily credits it with saving him from falling into a life of petty crime. He lives in London and has fathered not only a child but recently, a cat.
Joe likes wine. It's not a problem. No one is pointing fingers or judging. He just really likes wine and it's fine. Let's not keep banging on about it. The important thing is that he can take it or leave it and it's FINE STOP GOING ON ABOUT IT. He is also a presenter on a tv show about OH GOD ABOUT WINE AND it's okay because he has other stuff going on in his life where he works SELLING WINE FFS. He loves cress though - "I love cress though" - Joe Fattorini.
Adam is a writer, comedian and incredibly enthusiastic collector of terrifying medical equipment. More importantly, he is an experienced cress judge, having been on the panel in the 2013 and 2016 competitions. This year for the first time he is taking part in the competition as well as supporting it financially and judging it. Some people would suggest that there's an enormous conflict of interest in combining these roles. As Adam points out, "people suggesting that sort of thing tend to disappear very quickly."
Adam regularly holidays in Sicily.
*One of the above demanded and was paid £2000 to go towards "wine for the shoot but it's definitely not a problem".
If you are willing to take part, and are actually going to make the effort, you'll need to supply your name, Twitter handle and an address to send the cress to. I will keep your real name secret (unless you do something really bad and the police ask as I am a massive squealer). The entry form will be online soon.
To be clear, there is no entry fee and you don't have to donate. If you are in a position to, that would be amazing, but obviously a lot of people won't be able to. That's fine, just play along and be nice to each other.
Finally, as in previous years, major international celebrities will be taking part alongside you. Be kind, but obviously do your best to beat them.
I love you.
22nd April 2020
The inaugural cress competition took place in 2011 with 40 wide-eyed innocent competitors growing cress on little bits of cotton wool and taking terrible quality photographs of the results. It was fun, but also frustrating as I discovered for the first time how utterly incapable people were of following the most basic instructions.
In 2013, after I’d vowed never to run the competition again, 238 people took part. It was chaotic and appallingly organised. If I wasn’t drinking fairly heavily at the time I certainly was by the end of it. Despite having 5 top quality judges (and me) something was still wrong with the format. It may have been the large quantity of wine consumed, but in the end, most of the plates of cress looked pretty much the same.
In 2016 Cress returned after several false starts. It ended up raising almost £3000 for BBC Children in Need. It also ruined the careers of a number of previously successful actors, comedians and musicians. It was clear that never again could an international cress competition take place.