02.01.05 THE WEST AUSTRALIAN
Bevan Eakins charts the tidal wave of compassion which unleashed Sting's tsunami benefit concert at Leeuwin.
Three days after the Indian Ocean tsunami had claimed 290,000 lives in South-East Asia and Sri Lanka, international rock star Sting and his family were enjoying a Christmas break on a ski slope somewhere in Europe.
Sting's tour manager of 15 years, William Francis, telephoned the former front man for Police and said a request had come from Margaret River to hold a tsunami benefit concert. Would he do it?
"Yes," was the unequivocal reply.
The rock star's Sacred Love Tour had started in October 2003 and covered hundreds of dates before coming to a temporary halt in London shortly before Christmas last year.
An Asian leg started in Singapore on January 10 and was due to wind up with two dates at the Leeuwin Estate winery on February 12 and 13, the only shows in Australia.
The two Margaret River shows had been sold out for months while a Sri Lankan date immediately before the Margaret River shows was quickly cancelled after the tsunami.
Initial news reports were slow when the tsunami hit on Boxing Day, a Sunday, but after the first death toll of 5000 doubled on Monday and then started to rise exponentially, it was clear a major disaster was affecting the whole world, including Australia.
Denis and Tricia Horgan and their extended family, including two of four children and four grandchildren, were enjoying the Christmas break at Leeuwin before gearing up in the New Year for the concerts. As the extent of the tragedy unfolded in Asia, a family meeting was convened where it was decided to help with a fund-raising effort. The family knew it would be a massive logistical operation mounted in a very short time frame. Holidays would have to be put on hold. Sting was the key, Tricia was linchpin. She had the email address for William Francis.
But even after the rocker agreed to perform, his Toronto management company had to approve the deal. The company was, after all, paid to protect the interests of its client.
"Everyone was on holidays in Canada, they were hours behind us and we couldn't get any sense out of them," Denis Horgan recalls. "They didn't know us and there was a confused sense of reality."
However, Sting had already announced the concert would proceed and at 5am Perth time on New Year's Eve, Toronto finally gave the go-ahead.
A key to the deal was Horgan agreeing to underwrite the concert to the tune of $US500,000 ($640,0000). The money was earmarked for UNICEF, the children's fund for which Sting's wife, Trudie Styler, is a roving ambassador.
At this point, in a long interview with The West Australian, Tricia and Denis Horgan paused. They wanted to make it clear that despite the largesse and despite the publicity the concert would draw for Leeuwin, they had only agreed to the article as a thank-you for everybody who contributed.
"There is no grandstanding," Denis Horgan says. "We decided to do this as a family and only if all the proceeds would go to charity. We gained nothing financially."
Chris Codrington, a leading public relations consultant who has been involved with Leeuwin since the first concert in 1985, has no doubt about the Horgans' motives. "They weren't doing it for the kudos," he says. "They were quite clearly committed and genuine."
However, even with Sting's approval, the Horgan lawyer was still unconvinced, warning that there were "serious hurdles" to overcome. But the Horgan entourage of about 20 was growing with staff sacrificing holidays to make it happen. It was Friday and New Year's Eve in Australia, and a bureaucracy that was in closing down mode had to be motivated.
The Leeuwin team hit the emails and the telephones - at the heart of it was the winery chairman, Denis. "I discovered I was married to a camel trader," Tricia jokes.
"There was huge support for the concept," Denis says. "There was a great spirit of co-operation within the bureaucracy. Personal assistants gave me bosses' telephone numbers that wouldn't normally be given out."
Fortunately, the Horgans have a registered charity, the Leeuwin Estate Charitable Foundation. "If we didn't have that, I doubt it could have been done," Denis says.
Under the State Government's Charitable Collections Act, planning requests have to be lodged 14 days before the event and approved by an advisory committee. But given the time frame, it was impossible for Leeuwin to lodge its papers before the committee met and a special green light was granted so the concert could proceed on February 10.
The Australian Taxation Office had to rule on the tax deductibility of the ticket sales, which would prove vital when some big companies started to put together package deals for the concert.
Astonishingly, while the paperwork was far from finished, by close of business on New Year's Eve these bureaucracies had agreed that the concert could go ahead.
The next challenge was to sell the concert, with general admission tickets at $150 each, up on the $135 asking price for the two original concerts, which were the fastest selling in the history of Leeuwin.
"The only way to do it was to email the people who had missed out," Tricia says.
"That wasn't how we normally marketed and we sent out 3000 emails. It was an enormous amount of work. Usually people want six or eight tickets but his time everyone only wanted two. But they sold very, very quickly."
Then the corporates came in. First cab off the rank was Australian Holdings Group, the country's biggest automotive dealer, when chairman Vern Wheatley, an old friend of Denis, agreed to a package of 70 people. Then John Dow, of Newmont, put together another package of 70 people from Kalgoorlie mining companies, who were flown to Perth by National Jet Charters.
Together, these two packages were worth $400,000. But the offers of help, and money, didn't stop there.
Luxury cruising vessel True North donated its maiden voyage to the effort, and Channel 7 and Austereo booked out the ship to the tune of $150,000. Mustard Catering donated hundreds of picnic hampers at cost; Blue Duck's Kim Gamble provided the coffee and staff to serve; accommodation was provided at a discount by the Margaret River tourism office . . . even the staff worked for free or at much reduced rates.
"There were so many people who really helped it's easy to leave someone out," Tricia says. A local fisherman donated 100 crayfish, Paul Rigby designed special benefit posters and a local woodworker chucked in a $6000 table.
But the contribution of the State Government cannot be overlooked. On January 7, it announced it would match the money raised dollar-for-dollar. This was done with little fanfare considering a State election was coming.
When Sting and Trudie Styler gave a press conference at Perth Airport on February 8, it was held in front of a simple backdrop of the city skyline with the words Perth, WA - there was no Leeuwin Estate, no sign of AHG, no State Government logos.
Geoff Gallop met Sting on the afternoon of the benefit concert but both the singer and the Premier agreed it would be closed to the press. There were no photo ops as Dr Gallop simply thanked the star and the workers before disappearing on the campaign trail.
"Sting was nothing if not generous," Tricia says.
"He was more than delightful to deal with and would sign anything and do anything as long as it was for the charity."
© The West Australian by Bevan Eakins