Christmas Appeal: And last year's winners were...

The Independent's charity auction gets more popular each year. But what is it like for those whose bids come up trumps? Ed Caesar talks to five of last year's winners
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The Independent Online

A Day at the Paper & Beadle's About JEFF CAPLAN

Jeff Caplan, who owns a market research company in Cheshire, loves newspapers. Specifically, he loves The Independent. In fact, he loves us so much that he bid, and won, two lots in the 2004 auction, at a cost of over £2,000: a day at the paper, and a quiz with The Dark Lord of TV Pranks, Jeremy Beadle.

Mr Caplan's day at the paper was extraordinary. Accompanied by our executive editor, John Mullin, he attended morning conference and then watched as a huge news story unfurled - Cardinal Ratzinger was to become Pope Benedict XVI.

"It was amazing to see what had been on the cards in morning conference, and what happened when the Pope was announced," recalls Mr Caplan. "When the decision was made, the way that people changed everything without losing much hair was amazing.

"I stood behind Leonard Doyle [the foreign editor] when he realised that one of his correspondents had not been able to file his copy. Simon [Kelner - editor-in-chief] and John said they needed him to do 700 words and I watched as they just flowed out effortlessly. At the end of my day I felt I should have been a journalist, but at the ripe old age of 48 I'm probably a bit old."

No one was too old to enjoy the other bit of Caplan-sponsored fun - the quiz with Jeremy Beadle, above. "We had sent out a letter to 100 friends saying we were celebrating our 27th wedding anniversary," Mr Caplan says. "When I announced our quizmaster for the evening would be Jeremy Beadle, there was muted applause at first because no one could believe it."

He continues: "He was an absolute star - and completely hilarious. He got everybody, from every generation, up and dancing. He entertained us all for over four hours.

"It wasn't just a quiz, it was a really fun evening. It was the best-value contribution to charity I have ever made."

Self Interest CHRIS CARTER

Chris Carter, a city financier who had recently moved to the Welsh borders, won the privilege of having his relationship with his local geography dissected by the author and columnist Will Self.

For the knock-down price of £751, Mr Carter spent one day in mid-April rambling with Self - a writer who will never use one word where two really long words will do - and saw his experience plucked wantonly for Self's Saturday PsychoGeography column.

"I certainly felt I had a bit of a bargain," says Mr Carter. "Will was very flexible and absolutely charming. And he was very systematic and thorough in terms of delving into my background. As you would expect, he was able to articulate what I wanted to say better than I could say it myself.

"It helped that we were both north London boys made good. While I had gone into the City and Will had gone into the arts, we had something in common in that respect. So, although we were walking around in the country it felt like we had a lot of background to share and a lot of interests in common."

Self, for his part, was more than happy to do his bit for charity. "Chris was a very nice man who had made a lot of money in the City," reflects the philologist. "He seemed to be interested in recreating a primordial vision of England. And he was good enough for me to screw a whole piece out of him."

Or, as Self's ensuing PsychoGeography would have it: "Chris had a conception of both Englishness and the bucolic that was at once straightforward and oddly oblique."

It would be fair to say, however, that Mr Carter's response to Self's ruminations on Englishness and the bucolic was straightforward - he loved it.

A Night Out with Pandora PHILIP LESTER

Philip Lester, a freelance stylist, won't forget the night of his "fantastic" auction prize in a hurry. His friend, Jeremy Owenson, had paid £444 for him to spend a night on the town with the editor of Pandora, Guy Adams, and Mr Lester was keen to make the most of it.

"We had a lot of fun," recalls Adams. "We started the evening at the Goring hotel in Belgravia. It was attended by an eclectic crowd - everyone from Tory grandees to celebrities like actor Robert Powell. A smattering of minor royalty and several noteworthy toffs also attended."

"And the Hamiltons were there," adds Mr Lester, "being dreadful as usual. I was really interested to see what Guy does for a living. You could see that people were quite worried when he was around. But I think they respected him too, because he doesn't write complete rubbish."

The highlight of Mr Lester's evening came when Baroness Thatcher made an appearance. "She turned up really late," he recalls. "I looked up and saw she was standing right next to me with a huge glass of whisky in her hand. She was in great form. I asked her about the election and she said she didn't really want to talk about politics."

This manful effort to provide Adams and The Independent with a scoop was gleefully recorded in the 4 March edition of Pandora. Mr Lester couldn't have been happier. "It was great to have a mention in the paper, and I got my photograph taken with [Thatcher] too," he says with pride. "I sent it off to her and she signed it, which was wonderful."

After a hard day's night, Pandora and his charge repaired to Mayfair's Met Bar, where they were able to relax in a Tory-free environment until 4am.

I'll have what she's having DOREEN MCINERNEY

The former restaurateur and lifelong foodie from Dublin loved her first dinner with Tracey MacLeod so much, she bid for exactly the same thing a year later. In 2004, the two Macs visited Tom Aikens' restaurant in London, and in 2005, they took a table at Ferran Adria's gastronomic Valhalla, El Bulli, near Barcelona.

"We went to El Bulli. It was amazing," says Ms McInerney, mistily. "It was an absolute fluke that we got a table. This was the holy grail. It was even better than I could have expected. Tracey and I sat opposite each other and just said 'Wow!'"

Their meal, as one would expect from Adria, was extraordinary. Tracey MacLeod recalls eating about 14 dishes before the bread rolls turned up and she realised they were just beginning. When the "main" dishes did start to arrive, The Independent critic was taken with such experimental fare as "the 'foie gras soil', an unattractive looking assortment of different-coloured powders and grains which exploded in a fireworks display of taste and textures, from sweet to nutty, via a rubble of freeze-dried foie gras".

"It was the high point of my eating career," says MacLeod. "And it's thanks to Doreen that I had the chance to do that. I feel that we can't really cap El Bulli, though - it's the most exciting restaurant in the world - so maybe this year someone less gastronomically sophisticated will bid and I won't have to be quite so on my mettle."

Whether Ms McInerney is able - as she hopes to - make it three years on the bounce, both prizewinner and prize will treasure the memories from El Bulli.

"For four hours we were blissfully happy," read MacLeod's Independent Magazine review. "An emotion which was echoed around a room full of diners notably more casually dressed than is customary in three-star Michelin establishments... the meal was a roller-coaster ride, encompassing humour, surprise, expectation, nostalgia, trust, inspiration and happiness."

Next stop the Fat Duck?

Bouquets of Barbed Wine & Hix'll Fix It KATHRYN ROSS

The Surrey teacher was another generous double-winner with a taste for the finer things in life. She won both wine tasting with The Independent's resident oenophile, Anthony Rose, and a meal cooked by the celebrity chef and Indy columnist, Mark Hix. Mrs Ross's intention was to give both prizes to her husband, Finlay, but in the end, they enjoyed them together.

First up was a visit to a tasting of Spanish wines at the Billingsgate Centre. "Being a trade fair, most of the participants taste and spit, but Kathryn wasn't having any of that spitting," recalls Anthony Rose. "To my amazement, she accompanied Finlay and me on an exhaustive round of tastings without, at least to my knowledge, spitting out once. I only wish I had that sort of stamina!"

But the Rosses were able to take more than a sore head away from their day with Rose. "We were having dinner with Mark Hix about 10 days later," recalls the iron-livered teacher. "And we really didn't know what to have. Anthony couldn't have been more helpful. He suggested a couple of specific wines, one of which we went for: a La Garenne 1er Cru 2001 Chateau de Puligny."

The epicurean adventures continued chez Ross, when Mark Hix arrived to cook for a dinner party of eight. The evening had been a subject of discussion and negotiation for weeks, as menus were suggested and amended until the perfect combination was hit upon: a starter of white asparagus with serrano ham, followed by wild sea trout, and culminating in panacotta with raspberries. "Mark arrived at 6.30pm, and my guests were turning up at 8pm," says Mrs Ross. "He started to cook immediately, and was very easy with us. If we wanted to chat, he chatted. If we didn't, he didn't. He brought all the food into us, and took everything away just at the right time. After a perfect meal he came in and had a drink with us. He just knew instinctively when to be there and when to be in the background. It was a lovely evening."

...and this year's lots

LOT 1: A DAY AT THE PAPER

Join us for a day. (Current bid: £1,005).

LOT 2: MEET THE BOSS

Lunch with our Editor-in-Chief at the Ivy restaurant. (£2,500).

LOT 3: THREE SQUARE MEALS

Simon Calder, travel editor, buys meals in Paris, Lille and Brussels. (£1,500).

LOT 4: YASMIN TEA

A curry in Southall with Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. (£1,200).

LOT 5: SELF INTEREST

Join Will Self for a walk in your neighbourhood for his column. (£1,000).

LOT 6: HIX'LL FIX IT

Chef Mark Hix will cook for you and up to six friends - if inside the M25. (£750).

LOT 7: THE FASH BASH

Susannah Frankel will take you to a London Fashion Week show. (£2,000).

LOT 8: AUTHORLAND

John Walsh takes you to a book launch and dinner at the Groucho. (£900).

LOT 9: FOR FUTURE FREDDIES

Watch a game at Lord's, then coaching, with Angus Fraser. (£705).

LOT 10: BOUQUETS OF BARBED WINE

Anthony Rose will take you to a tasting and give you a case of wine. (£750).

LOT 11: MAKE-UP MAKEOVER

Let Susie Rushton transform you with a hair and beauty makeover. (£250).

LOT 12: I'LL HAVE WHAT SHE'S HAVING

Join Tracey MacLeod to write a restaurant review. (£1,600).

LOT 13: RAMBLING TALES

Ramble and lunch in the Yorkshire Dales with Janet Street-Porter. (£1,000).

LOT 14: HOW DOES YOUR GARDEN GROW?

Anna Pavord's expert advice. (£1,500).

LOT 15: HELLO SAILOR

Sailing with Emma Richards. (£750).

LOT 16: AXE HEROICS

We 'll get tickets for a gig, take you backstage then publish your review. (£700).

LOT 17: TOP GEAR

Enjoy a ride in a brand new and chauffeur-driven Bentley. (£130).

LOT 18: TURN UP THE VOLUME

Alex James, Blur bassist, shows you round his studio. (£375).

LOT 19: CALL THE 'TOON

Sally Ann Lasson will draw a strip cartoon of you and your partner. (£200).

LOT 20: POISON PEN

A signed print of Ralph Steadman's Remember. (£800).

LOT 21: BEADLE'S ABOUT

Jeremy Beadle will host a quiz party for a minimum of 80. (£450).

LOT 22: LUNCH ON THE HOUSE

Join Andrew Grice, political editor, for lunch and talk at Westminster. (£1,000).

LOT 23: ON THE BALL

Join a sports reporter at a Premiership match and press conference. (£515).

LOT 24: TOUCH DOWN

Watch a Six Nations game at Twickenham in our hospitality box. (£580).

LOT 25: LET'S SEE ACTION

A reporter will cover your sporting event and publish it in the paper. (£210).

LOT 26: SNAPPED

Sports photographer David Ashdown will immortalise your team. (£405).

LOT 27: SERVING AN ACE

Nick Bolletieri, tennis coach, offers a week's scholarship for an under-18 at his Florida camp. Fare not included. (£300).

LOT 28: FAMILY PLOT

David Sandison's family portraits. (£1,000).

LOT 29: STICKY WICKETS

Mark Steel will take you to a top cricket match. (£999).

LOT 30: MAKING FACES

Let Dave Brown, cartoonist, lampoon you or your enemy. (£115).

LOT 31: SAYLE TIME

Lunch with Alexei Sayle, followed by a test drive in a new motor. (£400).

LOT 32: THE ROSS EXPERIENCE

Celebrity interviewer Deborah Ross will grill you and we'll publish it. (£1,500).

LOT 33: MATCH POINT

A family of four can join Graeme Le Saux on the set of Match of the Day 2. (£1,000).

LOT 34: VIN EXTRAORDINAIRE

John Lichfield takes you to the vineyards of Burgund - and lunch. (£555).

LOT 35: PANDORA NIGHT

Join Pandora's editor for a night out in Celeb City. (£355).

LOT 36: AGONY CORNER

Agony aunt Virginia Ironside will mend your heart over dinner. (£200).

LOT 37: HOLD THE FRONT PAGE

We'll create a bespoke front page. (£100).

LOT 38: TRACEY DOES TOWER HILL

Visit Tower of London with Tracey Eminafter a tour of her studio. (£3,500).

LOT 39: UNDERSTANDING THE WAR

Robert Fisk will lecture on Islam and the West to 12 people. (£1,993.17).

LOT 40: COUNTRY LIFE

A weekend for four in one of Brian Viner's Herefordshire cottages. (£675).

LOT 41: KEEP IT GREEN

Julia Stephenson will give you and your home a green makeover. (£460).

Latest bids as at 5.30pm last night

* A Better Place charity auction: bid now!

* A Better Place: Donate now!

* A Better Place: Full appeal links.

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