The star-studded benefit dinner and live auction, hosted by Chris Rock under a big tent on the north lawn of the United Nations, made for an unusual – and, to some inside the UN, uneasy – blend of diplomacy, fashion and commercial promotion.
Organisers said the proceeds would be collected by the Gucci Foundation, a registered charity, and split among Raising Malawi, an advocacy group that operates under The Kabbalah Centre International, and the US Fund for Unicef, which supports the United Nations Children’s Fund.
Gucci, which paid the costs, pegged the event to the opening of its Manhattan flagship store on 5th Avenue, but was not given permission to use the UN logo in its advertising.
“I’ve earned a reputation for many things: Pushing the envelope, for being a provocateur, for never taking no for an answer. For endlessly reinventing myself, for being a cult member, a kidnapper. For being ambitious, outrageous and irreverent. And for never settling for second best,” Madonna told the dinner guests.
“But I don’t just want you to write me a cheque. I’m more interested in your heart. I want to take you on that journey with me tonight. I want you to feel as inspired as I do right now,” she said. “Yes, I want to raise Malawi. But if I can do that – if we can do that – then the sky’s the limit.”
Madonna has tried to help Malawi orphans since she and her husband, Guy Ritchie, began raising a Malawian boy they want to adopt. Rights groups questioned her actions since she took him from an orphanage in 2006 when he was a year old.
According to Unicef, HIV/Aidsaffects almost one million people in Malawi, including 83000 children, and half of the country’s 1m orphans have lost one or both parents to Aids.
“Malawi faces four urgent challenges: Food security, education, disease control and infrastructure,” said Jeffrey Sachs, director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University.
A red carpet reception drew stars such as Drew Barrymore, Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher, Amy Adams, Brooke Shields, Salma Hayek, Djimon Hounsou, Dita von Teese and Unicef ambassadors Tea Leoni and Lucy Liu; followed by a cocktail party with the likes of real estate magnate Donald Trump and media mogul Barry Diller.
Celebrities paid between R20000 and R75000 each to dine on grappa-cured salmon, wild striped bass, tart of goat cheese, foraged mushrooms, truffled mashed potatoes and sticky toffee pudding with creme fraiche.
Madonna played videos of Malawi and introduced children from the country. Rihanna, Timbaland and Alicia Keys played music afterwards.
“It was an extraordinary evening. The whole evening was quite moving,” Tom Cruise told reporters. His wife, Katie Holmes, agreed.
Cruise called the United Nations “an absolute necessity” because of the staff who dedicate their lives to building peace.
Cruise bid R750000 for a sports package that included the privilege of hanging out at baseball’s Yankee Stadium with Alex Rodriguez and a private hour playing soccer with David Beckham, but lost out to a bidder who ponied up R2.6m.
A trip to Paris with a tour of a vineyard and lunch with Hayek and her husband, French industrialist Francois-Henri Pinault, went for R900500. The priciest auction item was a R4.5m winning bid to tour with Madonna and take a dance class with her and Gwyneth Paltrow.
Security was tight and few reporters were allowed inside the dinner. Though it is a UN agency, Unicef’s operations are overseen by an independent board that doesn’t answer to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who had skipped town by the time the celebrities arrived.
The UN chief wanted to distance himself from the event due to questions about the commercialism and unfamiliarity with Raising Malawi, according to UN officials.
Ban was travelling to Chicago for two days of meetings. The US Fund for Unicef said on Wednesday there is “no formal relationship between Raising Malawi and Unicef”.
Alicia Barcena Ibarra, Ban’s undersecretary general for administration and management, said her office “should have investigated more fully” before it approved Unicef’s request to hold the event.
Ban told reporters on Tuesday he was confident there would be no problems. “I understand that the main purpose of this event will raise funds for a humanitarian purpose, and I am sure that the proceeds will go to the purpose of this event,” he said. — Sapa-AP