In March I was asked by Wildaid to take photos at the Tiger Gala, a black-tie charity fundraiser hosted by Wildaid, Born Free and the Environmental Investigation Agency, three charities working together to highlight the shocking truth about the desperate plight of the wild tiger, and to help raise funds for conservation efforts.
Photographing people, some well-known, all dolled up in their black-tie best, there to enjoy great entertainment and give generously to a touching cause… I was excited about this assignment.
The venue was the beautiful Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Knightsbridge. A grand place. The crystal chandeliers in the upper foyer and ballroom were far taller than me (although, as my also-taller-than-me little brother would say, that’s not so difficult..).
Upstairs, preparations had begun for the guests to mingle with every comfort. This included drinks of course.
Champagne and, fittingly, beer provided by Tiger beer.
Then the guests began arriving..
Will Travers, the CEO of Born Free, and his mother Virginia McKenna, one of the founders of the charity and a long-time campaigner for the causes it supports, greeted Alistair McGowan & Ronni Ancona, who were in turn joined by Bill Oddie…
…who seemed to be enjoying himself rather a lot.
Then, Joanna Lumley arrived. This may be a good time to mention my small obsession with her. I adore her. (For an example of why, watch this: Joanna Lumley in the Land of the Northern Lights) Every minor celebrity who had arrived so far had turned out to be rather… normal I suppose. I recognised them, but they were people like any others, who you wouldn’t notice if you didn’t know who they were. I was a little afraid that it would be the same with her.
To my delight I discovered that it was not. She is everything I imagined. The most electric, vibrant, truly delightful woman I could hope for her to be.
She gave her full, undivided attention to every person who approached her, even those who timidly touched her arm to ask if they could have their photo taken with her. Every person who mentioned her to me that night suffixed her name with, “Joanna Lumley…isn’t she divine?” or “..isn’t she stunning?” to which I would agree. And she wore a dress I covet greatly.
But enough of my hero-worship.
Dinner was called and the guests retired to the ballroom for their gourmet meal and the promised entertainment. Once they were comfortably seated, the night was opened with a blessing by two Buddhist monks.
This was the first time I got to challenge my new 85mm 1.8, and I love it! It was perfect for an event like this. Fast enough for low light (except when someone decided that “mood lighting” meant pretty much pitch black) and long enough to capture candid shots without intruding on conversations or blocking the audience’s view, but wide enough to be able to capture the environment. It’s definitely one of my cannot-be-without lenses now.
Downstairs the final touches were added to elaborate dance costumes…
…and when the guests had finished their meals, the dancers came up to perform.
A Balinese dancer performed a traditional tiger dance…
…followed by two Katak dancers who twirled and whirled on the stage…
…before being joined by a group of traditional drummers.
And here I have to insert a gratuitous, “Excuse me, over here..!!” shot:
On the left is Donal McIntyre, whose undercover shows used to scare and enthral me as a youngster, before he became too famous to go undercover himself. He was actually the host of the night, but didn’t hang around on stage long enough for me to capture many shots of him speaking. On the right is his very lovely wife who was ever so friendly and chatted a while with me. And in the centre is the one and only Jimmy Choo.
And back to the event.
Joanna Lumley stepped onto the stage after the dancers had finished, and loosened both heart and purse strings with a few rousing words about the cause that had brought everyone there…
…before handing over to the much-venerated Nicholas Parsons, who was to host the grand auction in aid of the Wild Tiger.
There was a wonderful variety of options to bid on, from beautiful tiger-themed art, to days learning how to make chocolates, and a journey on the real-life Orient Express.
And with the end of the auction came the end of the event, and the end of my night.
Like Cinderella, I crept home as the clock struck midnight.. although as far as I remember she didn’t have to get the train home from Euston alongside fellow late-night travellers with sleepy, bobbing heads, in a carriage which echoed with the soft sound of snoring.