Not for the cachet, just the cash

The celebrities' star may be waning here, but it is shining brightly in America and France, reports David Lister
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The Independent Online
Last weekend President Clinton stayed at Steven Spielberg's Hollywood home and came away with $2m.

Certainly, President Clinton was keen as any previous Labour leader over here to bask in the reflected glory of film stars, and he made sure to have himself photographed jogging with Spielberg's wife, the actress Kate Capshaw.

But the real purpose of his visit was a fund-raising dinner at Spielberg's house. Eighty people came, paying $50,000 a head, a lavish budget even by Spielberg's standards.

America has a long tradition of celebrities wearing their political allegiances on their sleeves. For more than 50 years, Bob Hope has espoused the Republican cause in his act and lampooned prominent Democrats ("George Wallace had a fire in his library

The crucial difference between America and Britain, though, is that American presidents and presidential candidates are clear what they want from their celebrity supporters. It is not image enhancement or an appeal to the youth vote. It is, quite simply, money. And Hollywood has it.

France breeds a peculiarly pragmatic luvvie. There is far less of an ideological attachment to a political creed than in Britain, and defections are commonplace. Actors and artists will often form alliances with the candidate they consider most likely to win, or indeed with one they just happen to like.

As here, politicians use the artistic community for both fund-raising and image enhancement. But the left in France tends to take a far broader view of the word "artist". Its list of luvvies includes architects, philosophers, even university vice-chancellors. It is a confusion, which rarely happens in Britain, between luvvie and intellectual. But then, in France intellectuals are deemed to have sex appeal - again a confusion that rarely occurs in Britain.

The Eighties saw President Mitterrand and his culture minister, Jack Lang, frequently surrounded by artists, writers, musicians and poets. Indeed, Mitterrand began his presidency with a grand march on the Left Bank accompanied by Gabriel Garca Mrquez to the strains of Beethoven conducted by Daniel Barenboim. He is bowing out of his presidency with a book of memoirs written jointly by one of his close circle, the Nobel prize-winning writer Elie Wiesel.

Some of Mitterrand's luvvies, though, have deserted his less charismatic successor as socialist candidate, Lionel Jospin, to join the Gaullist Jacques Chirac, including the president's own nephew, the film producer and television personality Frederic Mitterrand. Chirac this week unveiled a "glamour" list of 80 celebrity supporters, including the musicians Mstislav Rostropovitch and Stephane Grappelli, and a star who certainly once would have been the greatest catch of all - Brigitte Bardot.