14 JANUARY 2015


Over £500,000 was raised for children fighting cancer in Russia at the Gift of Life charity Gala that took place at the Savoy Hotel in London on 13 January 2015.

Now in its fourth year, this annual fundraiser has become a good tradition and a firm fixture on the London’s social calendar. Traditionally organised on 13 January to coincide with the Old Russian calendar New Year’s Eve, the event brings together all those who want to give practical support to seriously ill children in Russia.

This year guests included Stephen Fry, UK celebrities and Gift of Life patrons – actress Justine Waddell and singer Katie Melua, world famous dancers – Sergei Polunin and ROH prima ballerina, Natalia Osipova, renowned Russian TV host Vladimir Pozner, Dame Vivien Duffield, actress Ingeborga Dapkunaite, artist Erik Bulatov and one of the world’s leading surgeons Lord Ari Darzi amongst others.

The event was hosted by the founders of the charity, renowned Russian actresses, Chulpan Khamatova and Dina Korzun.

The Nutcracker-themed evening was staged by an award-winning Russian avant-garde director Maxim Didenko and featured a performance from the world famous ballet star Sergei Polunin directed by a leading choreographer Igor Zelensky.

The main character of the evening was a Russian girl called Rita – at a similar Gala two years ago, money was raised to pay for the medicine that saved her life. Rita has since recovered and came to London to tell her story and to talk about other children needing help right now.

One of the evening’s special guests, Stephen Fry said: “I am proud to support such an inspiring and warm-hearted charity this evening.  Compassion knows no borders and it is wonderful to see how Gift of Life UK brings together so many people from very different backgrounds (within the British and Russian community) with such tremendous hard work and generosity to bring hope to children and their families facing the toughest time in their life.”

Patron of Gift of Life, actress Justine Waddell added: “I am honored to have been asked to be a Patron of Gift of Life. The children Gift of Life help and the difference the charity makes in each child’s fight against cancer is inspirational.  I greatly admire Chulpan Khamatova, Dina Korzun and the Gift of Life team – it is a pleasure to support the charity in any way I can.

Dina Korzun, Actress and Co-Founder of the ‘Podari Zhizn’ and ‘Gift of Life’ Foundations said: ‘Charity Gala marking the Old Style New Year – is a good tradition established by the ‘Gift of Life’, the English branch of our Foundation. This celebration always serves us a reminder of the power of miracles. To the beneficiaries of our Foundation there could be only one true miracle – a recovery from their debilitating illness. While working out the Gala’ programme, our dedicated team always bore in mind the true purpose of this gathering: to assist all those who are currently undergoing difficult treatment. All of us are true believers, believers in our common goal – to help doctors save more children.

This year, the main attraction of our evening was a girl whose name is Rita. Two years ago, at a similar Gala, we collected money to purchase the medicine for her, as she was struggling with the leukaemia. Rita has been treated and recovered. She is full of life. She enjoys photography, continues her studies and travels the world. Last night, when Rita came on stage, she was greeted with the wave of applause – a fitting tribute to her courage and fighting spirit. And we, along with Rita thanked everyone for their help. This story – yet another proof that cancer can be beaten, if there are people ready to help’

Chulpan Khamatova, Actress and Co-founder of the ‘Podari Zhizn’  added: ‘Thanks to the guests who bought tickets to the Gala and took part the auction; thanks to the performers and the rest of the production team, who gave their services for free, the event’s atmosphere was thrilling and captivating. All of us – be it Russians or native Brits – got together with one purpose in mind: to raise money for medicines, which will be then used to treat children suffering from leukaemia and undergoing treatment in Russian clinics. We are grateful to all guests of the evening for their kindness, generosity and faith. We have managed to collect more than £500,000, and this amount will help doctors to save hundreds of children’s lives.”

The event was generously supported in its entirety by its main sponsor Roman Abramovich, Aeroflot, Weatherford and Kaspersky Lab. Thanks to their support, all the money raised at the event will go directly to help the children.

As part of the evening, a live auction saw a number of unique lots sparking bidding wars between the guests. Money can‘t buy experiences, such as a private box at the ROH for Swan Lake with Natalia Osipova, including a chance to meet and have lunch with the world famous prima ballerina, an evening with one of the founders of the charity, actress Chulpan Khamatova, which included tickets to the sold-out premier of her new play and a dinner with the star; a seven night stay at a luxury Velaa private resort in Maldives and a dinner with the renowned Russian TV host, Vladimir Pozner and unique gifts such as a limited edition watch from Jaeger-Lecoultre specially produced for the winners of the Venice Film Festival and donated by the great Russian film director Alexander Sokurov and the regent cut diamond by private jeweller Star Diamonds were particular hits with the Gala guests .

Yet another truly money can’t buy experience came from the English National Opera  –  a walk on part in Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades , including a costume fitting and an opportunity to take part in a rehearsal.

The online auction to coincide with the Gala evening featured other unique lots including a print by one of the seminal Russian artists Erik Bulatov; a private guitar lesson with Katie Melua, a dinner for ten prepared at your own house by an award-winning Russian celebrity chef Alexei Zimin; Wimbledon Ladies singles final tickets and a tennis lesson with the Russian tennis legend Olga Morozova; a trip to Italy to Fendi’s fur atelier in Rome; a glamourous Dior red Evening Pochette; a pink sapphire and peridot necklace made by Virtuti – the Offical jeweller of the Moscow International Film Festival and a spectacular Amethyst ring amongst others

All the lots have been generously donated by friends of the Gift of Life and Podari Zhizn foundations. Thanks to the funds earned, young Russian patients will receive the gift they need most: expensive life-saving medicines.

Gift of Life is a sister organisation of a leading Russian children’s cancer charity Podari Zhizn, which works to help thousands of children with oncological illnesses.  Founded in 2006 by two Russian actresses, Chulpan Khamatova and Dina Korzun, Podari Zhizn provides help and support to over 4,500 young patients in different hospitals across Russia every year. Over the past few years, the charity has also become a major force for change, campaigning for better medical facilities and better access to medicines and treatment for all.

Photographs by Ekaterina Nikitina