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Unusually, there is no news on the cover of The Independent today. Yet it carries an image that speaks as powerfully of our subject as could any words. Today is World Aids Day and this edition of the paper is edited by Sir Elton John, the musician and activist on Aids issues. The cover is a specially commissioned piece of art by the British painter Gary Hume, designed to evoke the transience of life which the deadly Aids pandemic underscores.

"I chose a rose because it's a beautiful thing, that blooms and then dies," Hume said yesterday. "I went out and bought some coloured pencils called Skin Colours of the World and drew with them on gesso and chalk."

Hume is one of Elton John's favourite artists. He is one of the subjects of a series of articles, dotted through the different sections of the paper, under the rubric "Elton's Heroes". In this and many other ways, the musician's personal imprint is clear throughout the pages which follow. He is outraged by the backdoor attempts of the European Union to push the interests of pharmaceutical companies and enforce a new trade agreement on India, which will make generic anti-retroviral drugs harder to get for poor people in Africa. And he has enlisted the support of big-hitters such as Bill Clinton to help press for change. There are many other reports on the current state of the Aids pandemic – many unexpectedly upbeat about the progress that is being achieved – but this edition also reflects Elton John's wider interests. There are articles on film, food and football, stunning sets of photographs, an essay by Paul Gambaccini on the music industry; contributions long and short from such figures as Stephen Fry, Jamie Oliver and Elizabeth Taylor; and an interview with our guest editor by Jimmy Carr – about his new album, his charity work and the extraordinary story of his revivified friendship with the rock legend Leon Russell. It is, in short, a multi-faceted reflection of a diverse and engaging personality. He, and we, hope you enjoy it.

Exclusive art offer

A limited edition of 100 prints of Gary Hume's front-page image, signed by the artist and Elton John, is available for £1,000. All profits go to the Elton John Aids Foundation. The untitled work, 36cm x 29cm, the same size as our front page, will be a giclée print by Coriander Studios. The printing is being administered on a pro bono basis by Counter Editions. Price includes delivery in the UK. Enquiries: 020 7603 9996, or email fundraising@ejaf.com

Click here to donate to HIV/Aids charity EJAF