The global credit crunch may be forcing ordinary families to tighten their belts but philanthropy among Britain's super-rich, it seems, is in rude health.
More than 1,100 people paid £10,000 each for a ticket to a charity dinner in London on Thursday night which featured Stevie Wonder performing his first major UK performance in more than a decade.
Organisers of the Absolute Return for Kids (Ark) charity dinner had raised £28m at last year's event, but scaled down their initial target this year to £15m because of fears that financial pressures might limit the willingness of guests to delve deeply into their wallets.
But in the event, guests at the dinner held at the Royal Naval College in Greenwich dug deep and raised £25m for the charity run by Arpad "Arki" Busson, one of Britain's leading philanthropists. The success prompted Tony Blair – the event's after-dinner speaker – to quip that he was clearly not the only person to have become richer in the past year.
According to some of those who attended, most of the guests were determined not to let the current credit crunch get in the way of raising money for charity. "We thought that given the current climate £15m would be a good result so we're absolutely delighted with the final figure," said Lesley Smith who works at Ark and attended the dinner. "Much of the talk last night centred on how, during times of economic difficulty, it is of paramount importance that philanthropy is not curtailed."
Guests sipped champagne on the Thames before tucking into a menu by the top chef Tom Aikens, which included such culinary curiosities as "poached Shetland ray wings on a cushion of Kent apple tapioca" and "Truffle ice cream with hazelnut pana cotta and chocolate gnocchi".
The most expensive lot to be snapped up by affluent bidders on Thursday was a heart-shaped Damien Hirst painting titled All Things Must Pass, which was sold for £900,000. Another bid that generated acute interest was a cameo for a child alongside Uma Thurman in her forthcoming film Eloise in Paris which went for £450,000. A Fiat Cinquecento customised by the artist Tracey Emin, meanwhile, fetched £200,000.
Other winning bids in the auction included £350,000 for a weekend cliff-top shooting party at Mulgrave Castle in North Yorkshire and £200,000 for a tour by private jet of the Chateau Cheval Blanc and Chateau d'Yquem vineyards in France. The man behind the dinner, Mr Busson, is a French multimillionaire financier who has lived in the UK for the past 10 years and counts some of world's glitziest and richest people among his best friends. "We are keepers of the world's wealth," he told guests before the dinner began. "It's our responsibility to come together and give to our common humanity."
A former beau of the Australian supermodel Elle Macpherson, with whom he has two children, Mr Busson is currently dating Thurman and counts Madonna and Jemima Khan among his closest friends.
Announcing an initiative to train head teachers in India, Mr Busson said that he had been taken aback by the amount of money raised.
"I am thrilled by the overwhelming generosity of our guests, particularly given the more difficult financial and economic environment," he said. "These donations will transform the lives of tens of thousands of children in India, South Africa, eastern Europe and the UK."
Ark intends to hold a similar dinner in America later this year, the first time the charity has attempted to raise funds outside the United Kingdom.
The generous donations came as a report released yesterday showed that despite the current global economic uncertainty, corporate philanthropy has also increased in the past 12 months with the average large multi-national corporation giving £1.4m more than in 2006.
An annual survey of corporate giving by the American-based Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy found that 66 per cent of companies they surveyed increased their charity giving even though 56 per cent reported smaller profit margins.