Movie stars may shine at Cannes but, last night, it was the celebrities of genetic research who shimmered aboard Paul Allen's private yacht. Allen's 414 ft. vessel was once the largest in the world but now has been surpassed by 10 enterprising minds of even greater progress. Yet it floated among the others in the Cannes harbor as the statue of liberty does Manhattan: Incomparable.Before heading to the yacht, a brief ceremony for Dr. James D. Watson was held at the Office of the Mayor of Cannes, Bernard Brochand. Watson, Nobel Laureate and former director ofthe Cold Spring Harbor Lab on Long Island, was given a medal by the mayor for his accomplishments and to recognize the lab's efforts in the fight against genetic disease. Following the ceremony, guests were invited to join the mayor for cocktails and hors d'oeuvres in the great hall. Among the nearly 75 guests, Sir Richard Branson made a dramatic appearance. French public relations guru Yanou Collart mingled with Prince Lorenzo de' Medici, Prince Edward de Ligne and his statuesque and luminescent fiancée Isabella Orsini, as well as Mexican Artist/Sculptor Victor Manuel Contreras.
Following the ceremony, many of the guests made their way to the pier across from the Palace de Festival where they boarded a Hinkley launch, which carried them to the yacht. Security was extremely tight, but I was lucky to get myself on the list a few hours earlier.
The crisp air paired well with the champagne that greeted us upon our arrival. Within minutes, a gracious David, one of the many ship hands, offered us a tour accented in Scottish. The 45 minute expedition began at the Captain's deck and ended 4 floors below in the cavernous aqua garage, home to the launch boats currently underway and the piece de resistance. Allen's own fully functioning Yellow Submarine. The submarine can be equipped with an undersea photographic vehicle that documents deep-sea life, many of which have never been seen before, let alone displayed on a giant screen in a continuing montage, as we were privy to.
Amid the halls and rooms lay a mausoleum of paintings and sculptures that could compete with the world's finest museums. Works included two of Andy Warhol's original Moon Men, multi-colored glass guitars by Dale Chihuly, many authentic film posters, models of notable boats and ships, Titanic memorabilia, artifacts from the Shackleton expedition and a number of priceless artifacts including an ancient Olympic discus and two fully intact fossils. Alongside these pieces of culture were a number of strategically placed toys including a ping-pong table, a fooseball table, two exercise rooms, a steam room and sauna, an illuminated underwater viewing room, a state-of-the-art recording studio (with Hammond organ), two helicopters, many flat screen televisions, and a projection screen theater with stadium couch seating. The only notable exception was the lack of a billiards table. Sadly, pictures were discouraged, but I managed to capture a few on my phone.
From conception to completion, construction took 5 years, but the result is perfection in every meticulous detail. This is likely due to Allen's nautical proficiency, which the crew often praised.
After the tour, we made our way to the upper deck where we stood atop a glass-covered pool and enjoyed top-shelf boissons and a buffet worthy of royalty. From the lighting and decor to the quality and jovial nature of his staff, the atmosphere of the evening was a tribute to Mr. Allen's character, imagination and consideration as a host extraordinaire and the good nature of the cause we were there to support.
The crowd compiled a number of notables from the social, economic and entertainment worlds. A handful of billionaires, the great grandson of Charles Darwin; Stephen Keynes and his daughter, Liz, Monica Bacardi, and a former Miss Universe with Hermann Buhlbecker, the "Chocolate Emperor of Germany", were all in attendance. A number of high-profile celebs, including Billy Joel, Elton John, Taylor Swift, Bill Clinton, Quentin Tarantino, Brad Pitt, and Angelina Jolie were extended invitations but could not attend due to other commitments. Annie Lennox was a rude, last minute no-show (but was reportedly a snore at the amfAR event).
Current President of the Cold Spring Harbor Lab and Abe Lincoln look alike Dr. Bruce Stillman kicked off the evening's speakers. He thanked the crowd for their attendance and restated our raison d'être: to raise awareness and funding for genetic research at Cold Spring Harbor and around the globe, to honor Dr. James D. Watson and also to celebrate the 200th Birthday of Charles Darwin, father of the theory of evolution (coincidentally, Charles Darwin and Abe Lincoln share the same February 12, 1809 birthday). He also thanked the event organizers, giving special attention to Cathy Soref, Long Island philanthropic cheerleader and social networking connoisseur. "If it weren't for Cathy's efforts, none of us would be here right now," said Dr. Stillman.Dr. Watson followed Dr. Stillman. He highlighted the progress that has been made in genetic research at Cold Spring Harbor and around the globe in recent decades. "I have two personal heroes. Roger Federer and Charles Darwin," Watson claimed. While admittedly his tennis game will never take him to the pro tour, Watson, like Darwin, is one of few people alive today who will be remembered 500 years from now.
Organizer Cathy Soref said, "If we can take a bit of Watson's ultimate celebrity and convert it into greater pop celebrity, than we have truly accomplished our mission to communicate 'science is cool.' We need to pair scientists with celebrities as a virus is attached to a gene to deliver it to the right place."
Today, festivals and award shows such as Cannes, the Grammys and the Oscars, are hot topics in the public discourse, while academic credits go largely unnoticed by large sections of the population. But, if things go as Mrs. Soref hopes, one day the celebrities of music, television and film will mingle on the red carpet with those of science, literature and economics.According to Mrs. Soref, Jerry Lewis, amongst the most famed celebrities in France, has stated that he would be proud to assist Dr. Watson in his efforts to eradicate neurological disorders. "I would be proud to be the first recipient of the Double Helix Award Europe," claimed Lewis about the award presentation that will debut next year at Cannes, following the 4th annual Double Helix Award presentation held in NYC, where Mohammad Ali was the first honoree.
When asked about the next step towards reaching their goal Mrs. Soref said, "Soon we will announce a world-wide internet bidding war for the most unusual auction item: To draw attention to the significance of Dr. Watson's international call to launch a "moon-shot type" initiative to solve the genetic causes of mental illness."
With amfAr's more visible presence at the festival this year, Vanity Fair's absence and the support of influential people like Paul Allen and Yanou Collart, perhaps we are seeing the first signs that Mrs. Soref's dream is not far from becoming reality.