Florence, February 2017

Celebrity Fight Night at the Colosseum

with Andrea Bocelli and Elton John

Stefano Gabbrielli interviews Andrea Bocelli

The Celebrity Fight Night is an event that was first held more than twenty years ago in the United States to raise funds for the "Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center" at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix. The plan was to sell a fabulous evening to a highly select group of guests where sports and entertainment celebrities got together at a magnificent gala dinner that was followed by an auction which, over the years, has brought in 130 million dollars.
Four years ago Andrea Bocelli stepped onto the field with his foundation, to work for that goal and also to raise money for the humanitarian and educational projects that ABF organizes and supports - especially in Haiti.
The original gala evening has "grown" to offer the guests five days of full immersion in the Italy's beauty: three times in Florence and this year in Rome. Cultural tours, culinary experiences, dinners in beautiful and little-known places, and short trips to Rome and Venice before culminating in Palazzo Vecchio's Salone dei Cinquecento. The red carpet in Piazza della Signoria was the walkway for world famous celebrities who were welcomed by Andrea, Veronica and the mayor of Florence. George and Amal Clooney, Sharon Stone, Nicolas Cage, Sofia Loren, John Legend, Lionel Richie, Queen Rania of Jordan, Laura Pausini, Raul Bova and many others.

While working on the Rome event to be held in September of this year, I took the time to ask Andrea Bocelli a few questions, and I can't say that I wasn't thrilled.

What prompted you to accept the challenge of such a complex event as this and fit it into your already tight agenda?

It all began with a special encounter: one day I met Jimmy Walker in the elevator of a New York hotel. My relationship with "Celebrity Fight Night" grew in pace with the cordial friendship I developed with its founder, Walker, and with the great Muhammad Ali. For a few years I contributed to this historic philanthropic foundation's events by attending or by auctioning special evenings at my home in Tuscany...Then in 2013, in Phoenix, let's call it a "unanimous feeling" during a friendly conversation, led to the idea of an Italian "Celebrity Fight Night". During the following months, thanks to Veronica's valuable and tireless work, we contacted many of our dearest friends and many people sensitive to the subject of solidarity. Well, the response to support the cause was as immediate as it was generous.

You have friends and fans all over the world, you are what they call an international star, but last year you didn't hesitate about opening the house at Lajatico, where you were born, to allow your guests to enjoy an exciting day in the real atmosphere of an Italian home and the places where you spent your childhood among the horses you love so much. How did your family react to this celebrity invasion?

They are used to it in a way. Every summer for over a decade now, Lajatico becomes a sort of Woodstock for belcanto: we set up an outdoor theater Teatro del Silenzio that draws an audience of fifteen thousand for the annual event, so that these hills are admired and frequented by many famous artists, from Plácido Domingo to José Carreras, from Lang Lang to Laura Pausini, to Sarah Brightman... We have had some very famous people in the audience too - from Steve Jobs to Sharon Stone - who have all come because they want to hear good music and admire the landscape.

After three years in Florence, now Rome - our capital - that is so accustomed to international events - is now showing us that it is capable of being extraordinarily welcoming. Is the "myth" of Rome still alive, even so many years after "Roman Holiday"?

All of Italy is beautiful, from Palermo to Bolzano. Naturally, I have special feelings for Tuscany, the region where I was born and raised. But after three years, we believed it right and "physiological" to create a little break. And it seemed natural to have the Eternal City as the new throbbing heart of the Celebrity Fight Night. Rome is an infinity of marvels, it is the capital of Christianity for the world, it is an immense outdoor museum where you breathe millennia of history... The extraordinary spell it exerts makes it one of the most desirable destinations for travelers from all continents.

Three years ago, Sofia Loren wanted to celebrate her eightieth birthday during the event, last year it was Elisabetta Canalis, this year another famous guest will come to Rome for a birthday celebration. Is this becoming a tradition?

They were both wonderful coincidences that we will remember fondly. How can anyone forget the great Donna Sofia that evening in our home at Forte dei Marmi! She was sitting at the same table as little Virginia: Ms. Loren immediately made friends with my daughter and even let her browse through her purse. It was touching to experience this great celebrity's kindness: surrounded by attention and honors, she sat there enchanted playing with my daughter! As for Elisabetta Canalis, she is one of our dear friends and she agreed to attend the final evening of the last edition in Palazzo Corsini. Thanks to the extraordinary energy she emanated on the stage, the guests were fired up and they will always remember that magical evening we spent together. And, for Elisabetta the evening ended with a cake, candles and "Happy Birthday" sung by yours truly and friends. And yes, I can confirm that in 2017 we will celebrate the birthday of another famous guest - or maybe even two - but we can't reveal any names yet.

Your wife Veronica, your sons Amos and Matteo and even little Virginia are very much present throughout the event. All of you are always smiling, you don't show any fatigue and you convey a sense of family and serenity that we feel even by working with you. Is there ever any rebellion during these five hectic days?

It is a tour de force, so a little fatigue can set in, and we bear that in mind. But nothing can diminish our family's serenity. But that's because we love each other, because we have the gift of faith, because we are surrounded by so many friends. And because during the "Celebrity Fight Night", we have the pleasure and the honor of doing something concrete for others, once again lining up on the side of the good and making our little contribution in an attempt to give our children a better world.

Andrea, thank you for once again having given me the opportunity to work for you and with you.

Translated by Julia Hanna Weiss

foto enic

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