Sarah Sands: Only one man can reduce film stars to babbling schoolgirls

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The Independent Online

Here we are in the middle of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and the parties have never been better. The guest lists look a little topsy-turvy; the most photographed lovelies at the Tatler party were David Hockney and the "reclusive" socialite Lucian Freud. At the Financial Times party in Kensington Palace Gardens, Alistair Darling mingled with female performers dressed as flamingos on pink stilts.

At a fashion-sponsored party for Richard Prince at the Serpentine Gallery, Cherie Blair pitched up alongside Lily Cole and Claudia Schiffer. I am told that Cherie was most animated in her conversation with the celebrity photographer Richard Young whom she might once have feared and spurned.

Meanwhile, the party premier league reached the finals with the Elton John White Tie & Tiara Ball and a festival of Nelson Mandela. Confusingly, the same guests seemed to appear at both parties at the same time. There is a Valhalla of stardom where those with power and money and fame and beauty are anointed by the blessed hand of Nelson Mandela. Bill Clinton is in a state of continual baptism. All human sins are forgiven, except apparently those of air rage. Amy Winehouse is granted entry to sing for Mandela even as her lungs collapse under the weight of self abuse. But poor old Naomi Campbell is blocked because of her shrewish tongue and bad attitude. Perhaps Nelson Mandela cannot entirely exorcise the memory of Winnie.

Nelson Mandela is the celebrities' celebrity. If you have been as famous for as long as Robert De Niro, to whom can you defer? Only to Nelson Mandela.

It is funny to see Hollywood's grandest, babbling like schoolgirls before a 90-year-old man who has never made a film. Yet Mandela is a wonder of the world and everyone wants to be photographed alongside him. Nelson Mandela has been revered for many years, but extreme old age makes him God-like. So long as he retains his modesty he can do no wrong.

If he was late in denouncing Robert Mugabe, it was only the peace-loving nature of a man who had already proved himself in battle.

Some people at the Telegraph were aggrieved that the late Bill Deedes – journalism's answer to Mandela, a saint among rogues – did not stand up to the unpopular new regime. I am not suggesting that the Telegraph is a journalistic Zimbabwe. The allusion is to do with age and sweet nature.

You might think Mandela had nothing to lose by speaking out earlier about Zimbabwe. Or you might argue that, just as the Archbishop of Canterbury bestrides the fissures in the Anglican church, so Mandela is the only person who can hold humanity together.

There is a rather younger man of charismatic goodness and a stomach for a fight touring the world. But the Dalai Lama, 72, demands too much of his supporters. He threatens trade and the new political axis. He ends up encumbered by political hotheads such as Sharon Stone claiming that China brought the earthquake on itself.

Former President Clinton, fresh from the dirtiest election campaign since Lyndon Johnson's in 1964, attributes Mandela's unique power to his lack of anger and bitterness. In the wars of ideas and weapons, we can all agree on the lovability of Nelson Mandela. I look forward to his centenary celebrations.

Sarah Sands is editor in chief of British 'Reader's Digest'