Redistribution of wealth: Celebrity and the new philanthropy

The launch of the Fortune Forum tonight heralds a new style of fundraising, imported from America, and aimed at a new generation of super-rich donors. Guy Adams reports
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The Independent Online

Bill Clinton has agreed to speak. Michael Douglas will present a "special award", and Sir Richard Branson and Lakshmi Mittal are bringing along tables of guests. After dinner, Yusuf Islam, the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens, will give his first major live performance for more than 28 years.

Tonight, London's A-list will be on a red carpet near Tower Bridge. The likes of the actress Catherine Zeta-Jones and the ballerina Darcey Bussell will rub shoulders with the supermodel Lily Cole and the television presenter Trinny Woodall.

Champagne will be guzzled by the bucketload, and six-figure sums bid for "once-in-a-lifetime" auction lots. On paper, it promises to be the biggest charity bash since, well, since the last one.

The launch of the Fortune Forum may herald something more important, though. Behind the velvet ropes, organisers want Mr Clinton to help transform the face of British philanthropy.

For their £1,000-a-head, 500 guests are buying into a new era of US-style fundraising where, to borrow from tonight's line-up, Deepak Chopra lectures on how "spirituality can heal the divisions of the world", and Dave Stewart "sings for spiritual awareness".

Renu Mehta, the socialite and former fashion designer who organised the bash, said: "We are hoping to completely change the culture of giving in Britain, by stimulating philanthropic habits you'd normally only expect to see across the Atlantic. There are billions of pounds in untapped charity money wasted in the UK. We need to provide a system that helps people to give, and will get our levels into line with what you'd call the bigger nations. If it works, we will create a new generation of British philanthropists."

The Fortune Forum will be a not-for-profit organisation that works as a sort of club for the super-wealthy. It will allow them to exchange ideas at a series of high-profile events, addressed by speakers of the calibre of Clinton. The idea then is to inspire them to collaborate on large-scale philanthropic projects.

All of which will be quite a challenge. But Ms Mehta, 36, insists that (with Clinton's help) she can be equal to it. The Fortune Forum was inspired by the likes of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. According to the mission statement on its website, it will help "influential people come together and address issues of global poverty, climate change and deadly diseases".

In less than 12 months, the organisation has become one of the most talked-about charitable groups in Britain. Board members include Lady Getty, various Rothschilds, Viscount Chelsea, and Zac Goldsmith, who, recent marital difficulties permitting, will deliver a speech on climate change. Tickets for the event - at Old Billingsgate Market, one of London's most fashionable venues - start at £1,000-a-head, though swankier sponsorship deals cost from £25,000 to £75,000.

If you're prepared to be a "major donor" (think a five-figure cheque to the organisers), then you and a partner can meet and greet Mr Clinton, trouble him for an autograph, and even pose for a joint photo.

It may sound a bit vulgar. Naff even. But the Fortune Forum's launch party will raise money for four worthy beneficiaries: the British Red Cross, African Renaissance, Water Aid and Alliance for the New Humanity, an "anti-materialisation" organisation co-founded by Chopra and the pop singer Ricky Martin.

Ms Mehta comes from a similarly eclectic background. A self-styled Essex princess, she works closely with her father, Vijay, a wealthy textiles importer turned peace activist, who now sits on CND's national executive.

Described in print as a "reformed" socialite, who spent her twenties working as a professional model and fashion designer at the family firm, Sphere, Ms Mehta has also been compared to a Miss World contestant. But she is also a formidable operator, and used her bulging address book to snare Clinton. Brad Pitt and George Clooney are also recent acquaintances.

"I actually know someone who knows Clinton personally, so I got them to help with the introduction, and to make sure he read my letter. After that, I flew out to New York at the end of last year to meet him. He confirmed 100 days ago. Getting the launch together has been all about passion and determination. I can be very persuasive. The other key was taking a decision to concentrate on working with celebrity activists, rather than simple celebrities."

"With Clinton, for instance you'll notice that his Clinton Global Initiative is doing in the US a very similar thing to us over here. The same is true of Michael Douglas. He's a UN ambassador for peace, so I approached him in that capacity."

Vijay Mehta lends intellectual credibility to the project and wrote "The Fortune Forum Code for a Sustainable Future", a sort of manifesto that will underpin the group's future activities. "All the things we are trying to achieve have people who are concerned enough to help with," he said. "One of the most important things for us to do is to get their ideas together, so they can come up with a concerted action plan. It all makes common sense, which is a big reason why Mr Clinton and other big names are on board."

However they were snared, charity experts expect that the scores of prominent supporters of tonight's event - yesterday, the fashion designer Ozwald Boateng joined their ranks - are part of the next big movement for the super rich. The social philosopher Charles Handy recently published a book on modern giving entitled The New Philanthropists, which identified an explosion in the number of high-net-worth individuals setting up charitable organisations.

"We are certainly seeing a new kind of philanthropic movement in Britain, and one which is based around a sort of social enterprise," he said. "It's staggering how many bodies have been founded in the past five years."

"What I would say, though, is that it does differ slightly from the US. Over there, with the exception of Gates, givers are mostly about what I'd call status philanthropy, where they donate to domestic organisations like schools or hospitals or art galleries. Their name goes with a donation. So they might have a wing of the place named after them. In the UK, it's not necessarily the same. We say, after all, that anonymous altruism is the best form of altruism.

"But people are definitely giving more. It's one of the consequences of affluence in society: some individuals have more money than they need, and in the UK having big yachts or houses does not go down too well. We feel guilty about having too much, so people are starting to see what they can do."

On the red carpet at Old Billingsgate tonight, they may not be left wondering for too long. Asked if the guests needed to bring anything with them, Renu Mehta said that all they needed were the "three Cs".

The expression, she later explained, stood for "compassion, commitment, and a chequebook".


Annabel's club launched a series of fundraisers to bring "Hoping, Hope and Optimism for Palestinians in the Next Generation".


Kate Moss, Rupert Everett, Jemima Khan, Zac Goldsmith

Keeping them entertained

Primal Scream

Auction lots

Sir Phillip Green paid £60,000 to "snog" Kate Moss. Then he gave the auction lot away, to Jemima Khan.

An answerphone message from Little Britain's David Walliams and Matt Lucas fetched £7,000.

Money raised



The children's charity, Absolute Return for Kids, holds a lavish gala dinner and auction in May.


Bob Geldof, Jemima Khan, Neil Tennant, more than 1,000 City executives, Donna Air.

Keeping them entertained

Elton John

Auction lots

Yoga session with Sting, £70,000;

Private jet to the French Riviera and tennis with Sir Elton, £100,000;

Guitar lesson with Chris Martin and dinner with Gwyneth Paltrow, £140,000

Money raised

£18.4m this year, a new world record


The charity's last annual Dream Auction was held at the Royal Albert Hall in July


Sir Michael Caine, Gordon Ramsay, Jerry Hall, Patsy Kensit

Keeping them entertained

Heather Small, Earth Wind and Fire and, say the organisers, "the wonderful AllStars band"

Auction lots

A racehorse

A year's motor racing

A Bugatti Veyron supercar

Money raised



The 7th annual White Tie and Tiara Ball, held at Sir Elton's home in Old Windsor, has become a summer staple.


Among others... Kylie, Rod Stewart, the Duchess of York, Kate Moss, James Blunt.

Keeping them entertained

This year, a re-united Take That managed to stretch their greatest hits to fill a half hour

Auction lots

£100,000 for dinner with Richard Gere

£500,000 for Sir Elton and Tim Rice to record a one-off CD in your honour

Money raised

£5m, in one hour's bidding.


Althorp House hosted a banquet in aid of the leukaemia charity.


Madonna, Elle Macpherson, Lindsay Lohan, Axl Rose, and various oligarchs.

Keeping them entertained

Black Eyed Peas, and the Russian cavalry.

Auction lots

A flight in a MiG jet, photoshoot with Mario Testino, Tracey Emin art.

Money raised



The Queen Bees of British celebrity held a "full length and fabulous" World Cup party for the NSPCC at their Hertfordshire mansion.


A full complement of England footballers and WAGs. And, through a friend of a friend, David Cameron.

Keeping them entertained

Sir Elton got Take That. Posh and Becks bagged Robbie Williams and James Brown

Auction lots

Wayne Rooney bid £150,000 for a weekend in the Hamptons and a recording session with P Diddy. Better value was the £60,000 spent on a dinner cooked by no less a chef than Ozzy Osbourne.

Money raised



Christie's hosted the 10th annual celebrity auction earlier this year.


Tracey Emin, George Michael's art dealer and partner Kenny Goss, Lord Brockett.

Keeping them entertained

The sound of gavel on block was enough entertainment at this bash.

Auction lots

£10,000 for a night out with George and Kenny,

£19,000 for the last signed work by Lord Lichfield, £5,500 for a walk-on part in the television drama Nip/Tuck.

Money raised