Night of a thousand stars – and £600,000 for Labour
In its time Wembley Stadium has played host to many a lost cause. On Thursday night, as Labour's great and good gathered for their annual fundraising dinner and auction, they must have hoped they were not presiding over another.
Cocooned from the harsh realities of a grim political backdrop, Gordon Brown welcomed much needed moral and, more important, financial support from Labour's sporting and showbiz glitterati as the cash-strapped party seized the chance to raise funds.
The dinner and celebrity auction overlooking the new Wembley turf raised more than £600,000 as guests paid £1,000 a head for a seat. Alastair Campbell, who spent nearly a decade as Tony Blair's voice on earth, wielded the gavel in a double act with the garrulous former sports minister Dick Caborn. The two men traded jokes on stage with the pop guru Pete Waterman as they urged guests to bid for a day in the studio with the man who helped propel Kylie Minogue to pop stardom.
Mr Campbell brought out the ebullient boss of the Bid TV auction channel, Andy Hodgson, in an attempt to drive up the prices. A specially commissioned drawing by the sculptor Antony Gormley – marked "For Labour" – topped the bidding at £55,000.
The chance of playing tennis with Mr Blair went under the hammer for £20,000 to a mystery bidder, before Frank Warren phoned in with another £20,000 offer and the former prime minister agreed to a second match with the boxing promoter.
The prospect of tea with Nancy Dell'Olio, former girlfriend of Sven Goran Eriksson, excited the crowd after she sashayed onto the podium in a gold-belted dress adorned with a grey chiffon scarf. The date sold for more than £9,000.
In a video played to the diners, Mr Campbell said: "All you have to do is give a lot of money to the Labour Party. Then nice Mr Brown can stop Mr Shallow from the nasty Tory party getting back into power."
Guests included the former EastEnders actress Michelle Collins, the Sunderland FC chairman, Niall Quinn, and the former England footballers Viv Anderson and Peter Reid .
The Prime Minister flattered his guests with a speech praising British sporting greats and boasting of England's bid for the 2018 World Cup.
Summoned to dinner upstairs, guests were greeted by the ITV football commentator Clive Tyldesley, acting as master of ceremonies, who cracked jokes about John Prescott waiting for the bread rolls to arrive. Between courses, he chatted on stage with the Portsmouth defender Sol Campbell, the Paralympic gold-medallist Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson and England's World Cup-winning goalkeeper, Gordon Banks, joking about his famous save against Brazil in the 1970 World Cup. Asked if he would like to have played today, Banks quipped: "I would have taken the money."
As the night wore on, the Bees Gees legend Robin Gibb turned from guest to entertainer, filling the dancefloor with hits such as "Staying Alive", "How Deep is Your Love" and "Jive Talkin'". The soul diva Beverley Knight also made an appearance to serenade the faithful.
Onlookers were aghast as Mr Prescott dominated the dancefloor, while Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, left onlookers reeling with his disco moves.
As the party ended Ed Balls, the Children's Secretary, was still dancing as he walked out of the entrance with his wife, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Yvette Cooper.
Yesterday weary Labour officials, alert to the need to avoid any hint of scandal, started the long job of making sure bidders were entitled to hand their money to the cash-strapped party.
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