“I play here every Thursday, so this is perfect,” joked Chris Martin when he took the stage for a surprise performance inside Beverly Hills’ Beverly Wilshire hotel at An Unforgettable Evening, the Women’s Cancer Research Fund’s 13th annual fundraising dinner. “Normally, it's bingo, so this is a step up for me.”
Seconds before, the event’s organizers had announced that the night’s first musical guest had suddenly dropped out, a ruse, of course, to build excitement, and it worked. Jaws dropped as the Coldplay singer sat at the piano and played a series of touching tributes. First, to George Michael with a stripped-down version of Wham!’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” followed by Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne” and David Bowie’s “Life On Mars?”
“Can you stop filming?” he requested with a smile after the first number. “I'm going to play while you have dinner. This is not YouTube-able what's about to happen. Please stop filming, for real, for real. I'm just going to do my thing."
Most obliged, as they dined on the main course of seared chicken breast and veggies, and began chatting away, while Martin played, casually, filling the room with background music.
Tom Hanks, WCRF’s Honorary Chair, along with wife Rita Wilson, walked from table to table with an empty, dollar-stuffed wine glass in hand. Tip money for Martin, he explained.
“The tip jar for Chris Martin raised $70,000, most of which paid for with selfies by me,” Hanks later joked, before introducing the night’s second act, Jason Derulo, who got everyone on their feet with “Talk Dirty” and “Want To Want Me," a request by Wilson, who danced her way to the front of the crowd.
The charity event brought out Sacha Baron Cohen and Isla Fisher, who introduced a video highlighting the launch of the partnership between WCRF, the leading force on cancer prevention research, and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, the world’s largest private funder of breast cancer research, founded by the late Evelyn H. Lauder in 1993. Sponsored by Saks Fifth Avenue, together, the organizations raised close to $2 million on Thursday night.
Soon, the video was cut short—technical difficulties it seemed. It was replayed, but yet again, it froze. Suddenly, Hanks stood up, attempting to lure the crown in a sing-along.
“One more time...all together now,” he shouted to a room of laughs. “I just want to say cancer research is the most important work that can be done...Tig Notaro everybody,” he concluded, introducing the night’s emcee back onto the stage.
"It's nice to see Tom come out of his shell finally," joked Notaro, the comedian and breast cancer survivor who famously chronicled her diagnosis and double mastectomy in the documentary, Tig.
On the red carpet, Notaro had said she was looking forward to seeing if she could actually make people laugh, since “these kinds of events can get kind of awkward.” She had nothing to fear, however, her dry humor was a hit.
“Before my surgery, I had really small boobs,” she said in her opener to laughs. “Guys, I had cancer,” she shamed the audience, bringing more laughs.
Before long, Elizabeth Hurley, who flew in from England, took the microphone to present Judy and Leonard Lauder, widower of Evelyn H. Lauder and a giant among philanthropists, the Nat King Cole Award, while Hanks and Wilson introduced Tom Ford, who received the Courage Award for helping to raise over $70 million in cancer research funds.
“I always carry something red in my left pocket,” shared Ford earlier, revealing a small, red square from his blue velvet tuxedo jacket, his own creation of course.
A good luck charm?
“Yes, it is a bit of a good luck charm, especially when I have to get up in front of a bunch of people, so I don’t trip, fall, screw up my speech,” he said.
The designer and Nocturnal Animals director rarely shows himself so vulnerable, but in this moment, he was humbled, and it showed.
“To be honest, I’m quite self-conscious to be honored, especially accepting an award for courage, because the people who really deserve that award are the people who fight this disease every day, the people who suffer from the disease and the people on the forefront of research, taking care of those who are going through this terrible thing in their life,” he said.
“We’ve been together 30 years,” he said of partner Richard Buckley. “After three years, Richard was diagnosed with stage four cancer. Twenty-seven years later, because of great medical care and attention, he is here alive and well. And like all of us, I think we all know friends and family who have suffered and dealt with cancer. It’s an important cause to continue to fight.”
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