HE very best of New York society, adorned in lovely gowns, filled the elegant Grand Ballroom of The Plaza to celebrate British excellence in the company of two Yorks – Michael York, one of the finest actors of the Mother Country, and Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York.
The awards gala was organized by the Walpole Committee which, as chairman Jeremy Franks explained, was started eight years ago by eight British companies “who decided that we should not be so humble, but go out and promote British products.”
Now there are 30 companies involved, plus 11 cultural institutions. The dinner raised $200,000 which will benefit two organizations engaged in fighting cancer: Ovarian Cancer Research Fund and the G&P Foundation for Cancer Research.
Among the many guests were Kim Cattrall of HBO’s Sex and the City, model James King and rapper Chris Rock.
Three Brits and one American were honored at the dinner. The Duchess of York bestowed the first annual Walpole Committee Liz Tilberis Humanitarian Award upon songwriter Denise Rich.
The gesture was highly appropriate. Tilberis was editor of Harper’s Bazaar when she succumbed to cancer in April 1999. With eyes clouded, Rich accepted the award, saying, “My mother died of lung cancer, my sister died of breast cancer, and my daughter Gabrielle died of Hodgkin’s Disease.” That’s why Rich, a successful songwriter, got involved in founding the G&P Foundation for Cancer Research.
“Denise makes magic,” the Duchess said. “Like Tinker Bell, she spreads magic pixie dust.”
Fox News correspondent Robyn Carter asked the Duchess how she manages to cope following the loss of her mother, the enormous debts and weight problem.
“You just pick yourself up off the carpet and go on,” the Duchess replied. “I’m now a correspondent for The Today Show on NBC, I work for Weight Watchers and I sell Wedgwood teacups.”
Looking ever so elegant and trim, the Duchess left to catch a flight to Milwaukee for a Weight Watchers appearance.
When it came to Michael Dale’s turn to receive an award, the president of Jaguar Cars North America quipped, “I’ve been sitting here apprehensively, and I was right to sit here apprehensively.”
Michael York, in presenting an award to Sir Howard Stringer, chairman and CEO of Sony Corporation of America, told how they both attended Oxford University.
“It’s odd,” York said, “that Howard came from a classical education to conquer the world of television – veni, video, vinci – he came, he saw, he conquered.”
“I was born in Wales, served in Vietnam, and work for a Japanese company,” Stringer said. “There’s a saying that in Wales we like music, the English like the noise it makes.”
Scottish comedian Billy Connelly had his own observations of his homeland: “Being British is difficult. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. We seem to be duty bound to put kilts on. I don’t see Americans putting on Davey Crockett hats.”
Leave it to Dame Judi Dench, the Academy Award winning actress, to put it all in perspective: “When I came to America with the Old Vic in 1958, we were in Dallas. The very first night I went to Neiman Marcus. There in the window was a Jaguar sports car balanced on four Wedgwood cups.”