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Sir Lenny Henry 'emotional' ahead of final appearance as Comic Relief host

Sir Lenny Henry wearing a red nose
The comedian has helped raise more than £1.5bn

Sir Lenny Henry says preparing to present his final Comic Relief is "very emotional", and he's "incredibly proud" of what its fundraising has achieved.

The comedian co-founded the charity 39 years ago, and Friday's Red Nose Day broadcast will be his last as host.

"I think it needs new blood, and I'm definitely old blood. So it's time for change," Sir Lenny, 65, told BBC News.

His co-hosts on this year's show, on BBC One from 19:00 GMT, include Maya Jama, David Tennant and Davina McCall.

They will be joined by Romesh Ranganathan, Joel Dommett, Rosie Ramsey and Paddy McGuinness.

"This is a good time to part ways and to allow a new generation to take the baton and move the whole thing on a bit," Sir Lenny explained.

Friday's highlights will include a spoof movie adaptation of The Traitors, in which Vigil and Gentleman Jack star Suranne Jones will play host Claudia Winkleman.

Suranne Jones as Claudia Winkleman in The Traitors: The Movie for Comic Relief
Suranne Jones does a faithful impression of Claudia Winkleman in The Traitors: The Movie

Bridgerton star Jonathan Bailey will star as winner Harry, with David Walliams playing fellow contestant Paul and Asim Chaudhry as Jaz.

Steve Coogan's Alan Partridge, darts sensation Luke Littler, financial expert Martin Lewis, pop group McFly and the Gladiators will also put in appearances during the three-hour show.

The cast of BBC mockumentary W1A will return in a sketch to attempt to choose Sir Lenny's replacement.

W1A cast with Sir Lenny Henry in Comic Relief sketch
The W1A cast have been entrusted with appointing Sir Lenny's successor

And the result will be revealed of a public vote run by The One Show to choose the comedy legend's greatest ever Red Nose Day moment.

The top three are his 1986 performance as Romeo opposite boxer Frank Bruno's Juliet; a 2016 sketch as Luther's brother with Idris Elba; and a 1991 duet with pop singer Tom Jones.

"I loved working with Tom Jones, who kept saying, 'If you want to hit a high note, you've got to clench'," Sir Lenny recalled. "And I did, and by God we hit some high notes."

Planning this year's event has left Sir Lenny "churned up with memories", he said.

"McFly are doing a medley of all the greatest Comic Relief songs, including The Stonk" - comedy duo's Hale and Pace's 1991 novelty fundraising song - "which I think shouldn't be in there."

Lenny Henry wearing his red nose in 1991
Lenny Henry wearing his red nose in 1991

Comic Relief has raised more than £1.5bn over the years, with the money helping to tackle poverty, provide food, healthcare and safe shelter for people in the UK and around the world.

"The money that people have sent in repeatedly, every single time, has helped over 100 million people. That's a lot of people," Sir Lenny said. "And there aren't many organisations that can say that."

He added: "If you've helped to do that, thank you. And it's not about numbers any more. It's about what you feel you can give because we know that there's a struggle going on at the moment. People are having hard times."

Sir Lenny, David Tennant and Alesha Dixon in 2022
Sir Lenny, David Tennant and Alesha Dixon were among the hosts in 2022

Sir Lenny will remain involved in the future as life president of Comic Relief.

"I think I'll be incredibly proud because it's been a large part of my life and to see a new generation of people taking it forwards - we've got Maya Jama, David Tennant, Romesh Ranganathan - there's such a huge amount of people coming up.

"It'll be fantastic to leave knowing that there's - I'm getting emotional now - a new group of people taking over and treating it the way we did."