Esther Rantzen’s loneliness after husband’s death gave her idea for The Silver Line elderly helpline

Hampstead resident Esther Rantzen has launched The Silver Line

Hampstead resident Esther Rantzen has launched The Silver Line - Credit: Archant

TV presenter and Hampstead resident Esther Rantzen has launched a confidential helpline for lonely pensioners, 27 years after setting up ChildLine.

TV Presenter Esther Rantzen set up The Silver Line in response to her own feelings of loneliness aft

TV Presenter Esther Rantzen set up The Silver Line in response to her own feelings of loneliness after the death of her husband Desmond Wilcox in 2000. Picture: PA Archive/Michael Stephens - Credit: PA Archive/Press Association Images

The That’s Life! star has created The Silver Line, a free 24- hour service for older people, in response to her own feelings of loneliness after her husband Desmond Wilcox died in 2000.

Elderly people can call for a friendly chat, for advice or to report abuse, and Ms Rantzen hopes the service will help tackle isolation among older residents.

She launched the national service on Monday after a year-long trial – almost exactly 27 years since she created ChildLine, the confidential helpline for children.

Ms Rantzen, 73, who lives in a flat in Hampstead, said: “I was prompted by my own experience living alone for the first time, coming home with no-one to make a cup of tea for.

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“A caller said to me that he had also gotten used to making cups of tea for two people, not for one. He said that he hadn’t just lost his wife, he had lost his life.

“Loneliness is to do with loss, whether it’s the loss of a person, children growing up, or your driver’s licence. You start to feel that the busy life that you had been used to is dwindling.”

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Within the first 24 hours of The Silver Line’s national launch, volunteers took more than 3,000 calls.

All calls are confidential but, in cases of abuse or neglect, specially-trained staff will ask permission from the caller to alert outside organisations.

The Silver Line will act in a similar way to ChildLine, established in 1986, offering support to anyone who rings up.

There is no minimum age limit but most callers to The Silver Line are 65 or over.

Ms Rantzen said: “There is a stigma surrounding loneliness. Older people are not asking for help because they have too much pride, just as there is a stigma for children asking for help.

“One woman who phoned in said she felt helpless and a waste of space. When we did a survey [at the launch of The Silver Line trial last year] nine out of 10 people said the best remedy for them was a chat on the phone.”

Ms Rantzen has asked potential callers to be patient if they cannot get through to a volunteer immediately as there is currently an immense pressure on phone lines.

The Silver Line has already signed up 3,000 volunteers to help take calls since the launch but the charity is still looking for people to get involved, or to donate.

You can phone The Silver Line confidentially free of charge from a landline on 0800 4 70 80 90. Donate to the charity by texting “Silver” followed by the amount you wish to donate to 70500.

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