Chime For Change: It takes more than bling to change the world

For Gucci and others, the priority seems to be self-aggrandisement and brand enhancement

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The Independent Online

Some questions to answer before you read on.

What was the superstar Beyoncé doing this Saturday night at Twickenham Stadium? What was she wearing? Which other big names appeared on that stage ? And finally, what is Chime for Change? My guess is that  most readers will have little to say on the last question, but will know the other answers because gorgeous images of the event are everywhere online, on television and most front pages.

Beyoncé sure wowed them in a short, tight, leather bodysuit! That perfect, biteable bum! Her man Jay-Z was there too, being famous; Ellie Golding and Jennifer Lopez appeared, and miscellaneous others from that strange, strange land inhabited by famed idols and Svengalis. They strutted and sang. Madonna beamed in on film, mouthing this and that about female power. Organisers claim that a billion people worldwide watched the high-voltage concert.

Apparently the day was chosen to honour the fearless, indomitable British suffragette, Emily Davison, who was crushed to death by a racehorse 100 years ago. Blasphemous, some may think, to link her sacrifices with this collection of compulsive show-offs. But the organisers, brainwashed by their own puffery, will be oblivious to criticism. Behind the glittering shindig lurked a benevolent cause, Chime for Change, described in the press release as “a global campaign for girls and women’s empowerment founded by Gucci”. Yes, seriously, folks. Those who have it all always need more and more affirmation that they are invaluably precious and vital to human life – and animal life too, probably. Charities are thought to be ultra-chic, the must-have accessory, even more enviable than cute kids or pets cradled in perfectly toned arms.

In March, I was invited to the press launch of this new venture by reps of the PR company, Freud Communications. It was in a bijou hotel in Soho; good coffee and nice breakfast bits were served, fashionistas and PR maidens swirled and networked in tight skirts and stilettos. Key backer, impresario Harvey Goldsmith, was present, unsmiling, perhaps because rich and successful people don’t need to smile. Salma Hayek told us earnestly why it was so important to help oppressed females. As if we didn’t know.

And then came the real stuff, well worth our time. We were shown The Dream Catcher, a short film made by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, an Emmy- and Oscar-winning Pakistani filmmaker. It was about Humaira, a young, smalltown Pakistani woman who, with her mother’s support, defied her family and community, fought off violent objectors , got educated and now runs a co-ed school. My cynicism was beginning to recede when the lights came on and we were informed that only an approved clutch of lifestyle journos would be allowed to ask questions. The rest of us had to leave. We did and were cross. It seemed clear then that for Gucci and co, the priority was self-aggrandizement and brand enhancement.

Good people back this charity – Sarah Brown, Desmond Tutu, for instance. The managing editor is Mariane Pearl, the widow of Daniel who was butchered by jihadis in Pakistan. They mean well and will, I hope, achieve their goals – health, education and justice for all females. However, even if I put aside the ethics of using glamorous and rich icons for a charity trying to change the lives of those with nothing and no rights, some niggling qualms remain. The people behind Chime for Change must know there are many other campaigns already working effectively with women and children. Oprah Winfrey has a list of them on a website. Why then this unseemly fanfare? Co-operation with existing charities, such as, say, Women to Women International, would be a wiser and better use of resources. But then that would mean surrendering marketable kudos and missing out on celebrity sainthood.

Now, of course, famous men and women can to do real good. Richard Curtis, Angelina Jolie, Lenny Henry, the Beckhams, for example, are involved with projects that are sustainable and manifestly not narcissistic. But too many others are in the game for themselves and that is worse than not doing anything at all. And too many US and UK charities unthinkingly bring in celebs to raise their game or profile. I’ve been to dozens of balls and dinners in Park Lane hotels where money is being raised for this cause or that. Food and wine flows, diamonds glitter and you wonder how much money is really going to end up in that orphanage in India or school in Uganda and how much of the evening is really about the flush of feeling virtuous and winning admiration.

In 2011, the journalist and experienced charity trustee Peter Stanford bravely confronted the chimera. The “fabled benefits of celebrity support,” he wrote, were rarely delivered and led only to disappointment. He is absolutely right. But also, like me, he is out of synch with the times when Gucci, in all seriousness, is believed to be chiming the bells for change and a godsend for wretched girls and women around the globe.