Interview: AURA (2000)

June 17, 2000

The following article by Nadia Mark appeared in the June 2000 issue of Aura magazine...

Trudie Styler, wife of Sting, mother-of-four, actress, producer and environmental activist, is patron of the Tibet Foundation's Peace Garden Appeal. The two-and-a-half acrea garden, which was opened by the Dalai Lama a year ago, is set in the grounds of the Imperial War Museum in London.

What prompted you to get involved?

The chair of the Tibet Foundation, which supports the people of Tibet and of which I'm a member, asked me. As patron of the appeal, I'm chief cook and bottle-washer. I thought it was such an interesting project: a graden in one of London's most depressed areas, a place of beauty where children can play and people find some tranquility. The Imperail War Museum was created in memory of the fallen, but people don't always think of it that way. Having the peace garden is an interesting juxtaposition.

How would you describe the main objectives of the appeal?

The garden was the wish of the Dalai Lama. The appeal was set up to raise funds to create and maintain the garden.

How have you personally managed to raise the appeal's profile?

I am in the fortunate position of being able to access the press, so if I am organising an event to raise funds and awareness, I can get on television, radio or be interviewed for an article about the cause. I don't like to call myself a celebrity because I don't think I am one. But because of Sting's fame I've a certain profile and it can be useful.

Have you persuaded any other celebrities or friends to help?

Yes, by ringing their phones off the hook - well, you just have to be persistent. If we had diminishing returns, I suppose I would stop doing it, but it's not the case.

What have you found to he the best ways to raise money?

Events have been key. In November 1998, we kicked the whole thing off with a very elegant dinner, given by Anouska Hempel at The Hempel Hotel. It was a star-studded evening with people like the Jaggers, Jimmy Nail, Vinnie Jones and Zoe Ball. We had some wonderful classical music played by violinist Vasko Vassilev, concert master at the Royal Opera House and the co-producer of my latest fundraising event at the Royal Opera House, where we hope to raise £150,000. The Floral Hall has kindly been donated to us and the event represents a journey from Tibet to England, celebrating the cultures of the countries en route, with music, drama and dance contributions from world-class performers. So far, those who have kindly responded include Lulu, Richard E Grant and Miranda Richardson. It will undoubtedly be a very special evening.

What have been the highlights of the past year for the appeal?

The opening of the garden last May was a highlight and our most successful event was SHI-WA - which means peace in Tibetan - at Shakespeare's Globe theatre. We were given the Globe and staged an evening of 'war and peace' themes. We had wonderful actors and singers supporting us - James Taylor, Lulu, Paul Scofield, Miranda Richardson and Vanessa Redgrave. The 'Lock, Stock' boys did a piece from 'Romeo and Juliet' with a bravura performance of sophisticated swordplay. Even though it was a freezing night in March, we were sold out and raised £90,000.

How do you spend the money raised?

Initially, it was spent directly on the cost of building and maintaining the garden - digging the foundations and clearing the site. We were given a portion of the Geraldine Harmsworth Park. It was home to a disused, ugly public loo that had to be got rid of and we had to make the soil good. We have planted lots of trees and the centrepiece is a mandala, which symbolises the four elements of earth, air, fire and water. Although in Buddhist tradition a mandala is usually made of sand to symbolise the impermanence of everything, the Dalai Lama, for the first time in Tibetan history, said this mandala could he permanent as a symbol of permanent world peace.

Is it difficult to fundraise without spending money on social events such as lunches and parties?

Ideally you look for a sponsor for any event. In the world of charity, you don't want to spend a single penny putting on a show. God forbid you end up in debt - that would be a nightmare.

Do women tend to he more generous than men?

Most of the titans of the corporate world are men, so the majority of big cheques have been from men. For instance, I am a friend of Ron Perelman, the owner of Revlon. He is the sponsor of an event I organise every year in New York for the Rainforest Foundation and I know he is an extraordinarily generous donor to several good causes. Women, on the other hand, seem to he the ones who actually get things done, so I value very highly women's involvement in charitable work.

What is the most original idea you've seen for raising money?

Turning Vinnie jones into Romeo was a pretty out-there concept. Also, at a Rainforest Foundation event we had Sting, Elton John, Jarnes Taylor and Don Henley in long pink satin gloves when Diana Ross needed some Supremes for the night. That went down very well.

In your experience, would you say that there is an optimum time of the year to raise money?

April to September seems to be the best time. If you think about it psychologically, people are out and about more in the summer months when the days are longer and seem to spend more money.

How do you raise awareness of the charity in general?

The garden has been very successful in raising awareness of the work of the Tibet Foundation. It is my hope that it will be used by schools with young people coming to learn about the situation in Tibet, and older people to sit and reflect. We want it to be a place of peace and harmony. We don't focus enough on relaxation and contemplation.

How do you balance your charity work with family and professional commitments?

Juggling balls! However, I am very lucky because I do have a lot of help with everything. The whole family went to the opening and blessing of the garden when the Dalai Lama came last May. He met Giacomo, my four-year old son, who now has a picture in his bedroom of thetwo of them together. He is very proud of that photograph so His Holiness obviously made a big impression on him.

Without compromising confidentiality, could you tell us about your most unexpected donation?

We get quite a lot of unexpected donations, but recently we received a surprise cheque for £10,000 which was much needed and appreciated.

What advice would you offer to anyone wanting to get involved with a charity?

I think it's very important that people get involved in causes. It's our world and, as Westerners living in a democracy, I believe we have a responsibility to speak up for those who are not free to speak for themselves. Charity is not just about giving money, it's about giving energy.

© Aura magazine



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