January 27, 2005
My dear Jason,
I woke up this morning to read a report saying that after making his formal remarks last night, Mr. Blair put on a polo shirt and a pair of jeans and sat around his hotel suite drinking beer with a few reporters from the Wall Street Journal. He used the occasion to take another whack at explaining President Bush’s foreign-policy vision, as part of a wide-ranging interview that appeared on the front page of the Wall Street Journal Europe. “I am shocked, occasionally, at how some people view [the U.S.] today,” Prime Minister Blair told the editors.
By midday it was clear that Prime Minister Blair’s remarks had made a powerful impact on the forum members. Even certified Bush bashers like Sun’s chief researcher John Gage “loved” Tony Blair’s remarks.
There was, of course, another big reason the WEFers weren’t banging on America. Folks are too busy going gaga over the celebrities, including three of the biggest stars to have ever walked a red carpet: Sharon Stone, Richard Gere, and Angelina Jolie. True glamour has finally shined its light on Davos.
As I was hunkered down in the press lounge, I noticed this little Irish dude with sunglasses and hair slicked back who rushed by me with a blond babe trailing behind him. He had a leather jacket with fur sticking up around the neck, and his chest was all puffed up, and I started thinking, Hey, that guy walks like a rock star. Actually, the guy was a rock star: Bono. And if that wasn’t enough, I looked up again and saw Lionel Richie. What is Lionel Richie doing here?
The beautiful people were here to use their star power for social change, of course. Angelina Jolie, who was called the “sexiest woman alive” on the cover of Esquire magazine, is all about drawing attention to humanitarian crises in Chad, Sudan, and Sierra Leone. Bono cares about poverty in Africa too, and Sharon Stone and Mr. Gere are all about raising money for the runaway AIDS epidemic. It was all so bright and glittery that I was truly at a loss as to what it all meant.
Thankfully, I ran into one of my Davos cronies, the other rock star in the house, Peter Gabriel, and asked him to sort it out. “I actually have a theory about that,” Peter said, to my relief. “The role of celebrities is just like that of the Greek gods. When Margaret Thatcher was no longer our prime minister—and it is not like I agreed with any of her policies—I kind of missed her. But it was not about the Nanny State, it was about the Mommy State.” Peter was getting a little Freudian for my taste by this point, but I encouraged him to go on. “Celebrities, Greek gods, Margaret Thatcher—they are like our parents. They protect us from having to look into oblivion. It is like having a golden roof over our heads. We look up to them so we don’t have to face reality. It is a way to hide from our real fears.”
Well, I could agree that Angelina Jolie was a Greek goddess. My business partner Vassil Mladjov and I watched her walk back and forth for interview after interview, always calm, collected, and stunning to look at. Even my wife, Nicole, chided me by phone from across the world; she said I should go up to Jolie, drop a few names, and try to get a snapshot. I am sorry to say I let us all down. It took all the courage I had just to take a photo of her on one of her many jaunts down to the press room. Later, I enjoyed hearing from Google CEO Eric Schmidt what it was actually like to sit next to the star of Tomb Raider. “She has this amazing, rather large forehead,” he started. (Only a true geek would start out by marveling at a big forehead.) “And she has these lips that are almost surreal,” said Eric. “God surely broke the mold, because there is no one like her,” Eric concluded, and everyone listening nodded and giggled.
From my seat, Ms. Jolie looks like the real deal. After all, she did adopt a Cambodian orphan, she donates one-third of her income to charity, and she wins praise from United Nations officials for her hard work. Eavesdropping on her interviews, I heard her say, “Celebrities have the responsibility to know exactly what they are talking about and to be in it for the long run.”
But Sharon Stone wasn’t about to let Ms. Jolie steal all the headlines. Two hours after my chat with Peter Gabriel, in the midst of an earnest debate on “funding the war on poverty” in a packed Congress Hall, Sharon Stone suddenly rose to her feet and pledged $10,000 to combat malaria in Tanzania, to the delight of the Tanzanian president, Benjamin Mkapa, who was one of the speakers. Stone then asked if others in the audience would care to help the cause. In the end, Ms. Stone’s antics raised over $1 million from 30 people.
By the evening, I was hanging with my Davos posse—Michael Dell, Accel Partners’ Joe Schoendorf, Hasbro’s Alan Hassenfeld, and novelist Paulo Coelho, the author of The Alchemist—at German media mogul Hubert Burda’s party. Old Hubert holds his soirée at the Belvedere Hotel, and this year it was right next to the Forbes party. And I have to say Hubert kicked the American publisher’s butt in both attendance and fun.
For the tech crowd, the big gossip in Davos was the meltdown of Hewlett-Packard’s top dog, Carly Fiorina. Three successive bad articles in the Wall Street Journal and a trashing on the cover of Fortune made her dance like Michael Jackson. “I think the Fortune article was well done,” Michael Dell told me. “But she is tough, so I don’t think she is going down.” I asked Michael if he thought that the HP-Compaq merger had been a failure. “I stand by my original position,” he said. “The HP-Compaq merger was the best thing that ever happened to Dell.” [At the request of HP’s board, Fiorina resigned shortly after returning from Davos.]
As the end of the evening was upon us, I tucked myself into bed to rest up for the next full day.
Your affectionate uncle, TP