The Duchess of York (aka Sarah Ferguson) still knows how to be the life of the party. The flame-haired British royal and tabloid favorite charmed a black-tie crowd of more than 400 at the Virtuosi of Houston Gala Concert and Dinner at the Royal Sonesta Hotel. She graciously posed for photos with just about everyone and engaged in hugs and long conversations with a wide range of Houstonians, from youngsters to senior citizens.
And during a live auction, when bidding became fierce for a trip to England that included tea with the duchess and a tour of Buckingham Palace, she jumped up and offered to do it twice if both of the remaining bidders would pay $45,000 each — and they did.
The duchess, who also spoke fiercely about her charity, Children in Crisis, and its support of the Bethlehem Arab Society for Rehabilition surgery hospital in Palestine, was asked to attend by Clive Christian and his daughter, Victoria, who are supporters of Virtuosi, the Houston-based organization that supports chamber and jazz music education and performances for youngsters between the ages of 11 and 18. The British duo are best known for creating an exclusive line of fragrances, including the world's most expensive perfume.
Clive Christian said the evening was particularly special to him because "It's the first time as a father that I have received an award with my daughter."
In tribute to the British presence, the gala was dubbed "Celebrating the United Kingdom," with such appetizers as fish and chips, Welsh rarebit, and Scottish salmon, and a main course of Beef Wellington, prepared by the hotel catering team. The Virtuosi orchestra played "God Save The Queen" as well as the U.S. national anthem, and their program included a mix of tunes popularized by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, The Moody Blues and The Who, as well as Eric Coates' "London Suite" and Gustav Holst's "The Planets."
Also honored, in addition to the duchess and the Christians, were philanthropists Margaret Alkek Willams and Monzer Hourani, The British International School of Houston principal Andrew Derry, and Crispin Ward, the senior lecturer of orchestral studies at the University of Chichester and principal conductor of the British Chamber Orchestra.
The gala, chaired by Donna and Tony Vallone and Staci and Dr. Quang Henderson, raised nearly $400,000 for Virtuosi of Houston, a record for the organization.
Seen in the crowd were gala advisory chairmen Dr. Meherwan and Zarine Boyce, emcees Dominique Sachse and Peter Remington, British Consul-General Karen Bell and Adrian Bell, Jim Daniel, Ken Christie, Nick Florescu, Dr. Yvonne and Rufus Cormier, Dr. Kelli Cohen Fein and Martin Fein, Marie Bosarge, Dr. Alan Bentz and Sallymoon Benz, Chris and Divya Brown, Shirley and Jim Dannenbaum, Diane Lokey Farb, Elina Htun, Stacy and Jason Johnson, Dr. Sippi and Ajay Khurana, Laurie and Tracy Krohn, Dr. Franklin and Cindi Rose, Helen and James Shaffer, and Mark and Katherine Yzaguirre.