Sarah Ferguson, Natalie Imbruglia, Madeleine Stowe, Susan Sarandon, Ben Stiller and Caroline Stanbury
PLUS read a royal wedding update from the Duchess of York
IT WAS ASSUMED, once the announcement the Dubai International Film Festival would become a biennial event came in, this December would be relatively quiet across our fair city. Of course there would be the usual festivities what with National Day and all, though perhaps a dearth of the celebrity talent to which we have become accustomed. We'll be the first to admit, after Friday evening's Artists for Peace and Justice (APJ) 'Brilliant is Beautiful' gala, we couldn't have been further from what transpired. Taking place at the Grand Millennium Hotel, Business Bay, the function comprised a star-filled charity auction raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for the foundation's causes, which include education initiatives in Peru, Uganda, Haiti and India and the Iqra Fund that provides access to quality education for children, especially girls, in the most remote regions of Pakistan by partnering with tribal communities.
The line-up very much resembled a Hollywood award show (consequently, trophies for philanthropic ventures were handed out through the night), although the well-known names were in attendance to shine a more intense light on APJ's vital work. Featuring none other than the society's co-chairs Ben Stiller and Susan Sarandon, Sarah Ferguson Duchess of York, Madeleine Stowe and Caroline Stanbury - while singers Natalie Imbruglia and Layla Kardan gave performances - the calibre and number of famous faces was impressive.
"It's great to see so many people getting together in order to give young people a chance," Sarah Ferguson told us before making her red carpet entrance. Resplendent in a Dubai-designed Dina Melwani gown, the royal was invited to receive an honorary award for helping disadvantaged young people around the world with her foundation, Children in Crisis, which recently merged with Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone project, Street Child.
"121 million children do not go to school globally. This is unacceptable. It's just not on.
"I like to come here to learn from APJ and perhaps use their organisation to help me in the Congo or all the other places I work."
Dubai Cares partnered with APJ for the debut of 'Brilliant is Beautiful' in the UAE, a set-up with which the Duchess is familiar and could be forming a closer association soon.
"I think Dubai Cares is one of the best-run organisations that I know," Ferguson said. "You know if you donate to Dubai Cares it goes to where the need is. I'm very excited about working with them in the future. I will be doing a lot with Tariq (Al Gurg, Chief Executive Officer at Dubai Cares). After the merger I can be more free to help Dubai Cares. I like Dubai, I think it's great!"
Susan Sarandon is arguably as well known for her political leanings as the countless screen roles we have all enjoyed. Starring in some of our favourite movies including The Rocky Horror Picture Show, an Oscar-winning turn in Dead Man Walking and, of course, Thelma and Louise, has given the actor a public platform upon which she has the ability to bring issues to the public consciousness.
"[Imparting] as many stories as you can tell gives people the opportunity to identify with someone they think they don't have anything in common with," she said on fame being used to make a difference. "It's where entertainment, documentaries and film can [have the most impact]."
Can it be detrimental to a performer's career?
"I understand when people don't want to take the chance on some things. Any time you step out into the ring someone's going to slam you. I feel it doesn't really bother me unless you're in the ring with me. Then I'll listen to your criticism. If you're just Tweeting away from a safe place, I can't really pay attention."
Sarandon is a well-documented critic of the current US President, who is know for making many of his declarations through social media. It was, however, while discussing the meeting of like-minded patrons charity functions can facilitate where he was directly mentioned. Speaking about stereotypes and what perception she believed America had of the Middle East, Sarandon replied: "I think anybody in the United States; we are very wary of anything in the Arab world thanks to our President!"
The actor did though qualify that many are aware this is a well-worn vote-grabbing tactic.
"There has been a lot of demonising of 'the other'. With anybody you don't know anything about, it is a very easy political tool to whip people in the United States into a frenzy of fear to profit. The more bridges that can be built, the more you can humanise it. I don't know when immigration and refugees started to be a bad thing because the United States was built with refugees."
Royal wedding update: 'Jack is an incredible human'
During our exchange the Duchess of York, keen to share the ebullient memories of her daughter Princess Eugenie's summer wedding to Jack Brooksbank, let us in on a few insights about the day and how the couple's married life is progressing.
"I did wear green for Ireland, for my mum. The handbag I had was my mother's handbag in 1986. She wore it for my wedding. When I opened the handbag there was the green [ceremony] admission card from 1986! It was extraordinary. I took it to mean that mum had said 'hello'.
"Jack is an incredible human being. I also have a dog called Jack. So when the Duke comes in and shouts at Jack for sitting on the chair, poor Jack the son-in-law gets a bit worried!"
Quick Qs with Caroline
Dubai-based socialite and reality television star Caroline Stanbury, who has helmed London editions of 'Brilliant is Beautiful', brought the event to Dubai.
How do events like this help APJ's goals?
We are all here because we believe in a common cause. Bringing these kind of celebrities that have flown halfway round the world for something, which they're not being paid for, tells us this is a cause worth backing. We have all been on the ground. We know 100 per cent where the money goes.
Aside from this gala, how can people help?
We have open donations. You can sponsor a child through school, you can purchase brick houses for people, you can sponsor healthcare...there's so much.
What improvements do you see during your visits to the various projects?
In Haiti, where there were tin shacks there are now stone-covered, weatherproof houses. We have built the largest school in Haiti at the moment. We actually sponsor 22,000 children through school right now because it has been going for many years.