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Stars pay tribute to Lord Attenborough at NFTS Gala

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Stars pay tribute to Lord Attenborough at NFTS Gala

NFTS Fund for young film-makers launched in Lord Attenborough’s name

Hollywood Director Steven Spielberg, actors Sir Ben Kingsley and Sir Michael Caine and Chelsea Vice Captain Frank Lampard are among the stars who paid tribute to one of Britain’s greatest actors and film Directors Lord (Richard) Attenborough at a National Film and Television School (NFTS) Gala held in his honour, last night (Tuesday June 11).

The ‘Entirely Up To You, Darling’ Gala, named after his famous catchphrase, launched the new Lord Attenborough NFTS Charitable Fund, which aims to raise £1m over two years to enable talented young people to achieve their ambition as successful filmmakers through world class educational experiences. Lord Attenborough has been a long-standing supporter of the NFTS over the past 41 years and remains its only President.

Lord Attenborough actyed in or directed over 70 films including the Oscar-winning Gandhi, Cry Freedom, Chaplin, Oh! What a Lovely War, A Bridge Too Far, Shadowlands, Brighton Rock, I’m Alright Jack, 10 Rillington Place and Jurassic Park.

Hosted by Stephen Fry, at Old Billingsgate, with honoured guests Sir Michael and Lady Caine, guests from the world of film and television were welcomed to the Gala by Lord Attenborough’s son the theatre director Michael Attenborough before speeches from Lord Puttnam and video link messages from Hollywood Director Steven Spielberg, actor Sir Ben Kingsley, Chelsea Vice Captain Frank Lampard and former Prime Minister (1990-97) Sir John Major.

Sir John Major said Lord Attenborough had played a pivotal role in securing National Lottery funding for the UK film industry, which was struggling in the 1990s. He recalled a conversation the two of them had had when Lord Attenborough drew the Prime Minister’s attention to terminology that inadvertently excluded film production from the new National Lottery Bill. The correction was made and the UK film industry has since benefitted from between £4.5 - £5billion of funding, helping to finance many films that may never have been produced otherwise such as The Kings Speech, The Woman in Black, St Trinians, Gosford Park, Street Dance and Bend It Like Beckham. 

Sir John said it was right to honour Lord Attenborough: “Over the last 70 years, Dickie has devoted himself to the British film industry, and it should always be remembered that it was his personal intervention, at exactly the right moment, that ensured that something which might not have happened, did happen. The result has been of tremendous benefit to the whole industry. There are many reasons it is right to honour Dickie on Tuesday evening, but his foresight and crucial intervention over the terms of the national lottery must certainly rank among one of the most important – and will be a lasting legacy to a truly great man.”

Steven Spielberg, who directed Richard Attenborough in the blockbuster film Jurassic Park (1992) said: “He’s made some of the best movies of all time – he made Gandhi! – and has made such a contribution to society, to cinema and to everyone whose hearts he has touched with his words, works, his leadership and that divine inspiration that radiates from that wonderful smile. He’s one of my favourite people on the planet.”

Sir Ben Kingsley said he was given the lead role in the film Gandhi by Lord Attenborough before he’d even had a screen test. Serendipitously, he’d been reading a biography of Gandhi when he received a call to meet Lord Attenborough and they discovered a shared admiration for the leader of the Indian independence movement.

The film went on to win eight Academy Awards including Best Director for Lord Attenborough and Best Actor for Sir Ben Kingsley. Sir Ben Kingsley said: “Richard’s many gifts – his affection, his extraordinary empathy, his love of fellow human beings – was enhanced during his life as an actor and this empathy and deep knowledge of the process of acting shows itself in the film Gandhi. He is one of the lords of life in my experience…Anyone who is in his sphere of influence is deeply enriched as a human being.”

Oscar-winning film producer and NFTS Gala Chair Lord Puttnam, who has been a life-long friend of Lord Attenborough’s said: “It has been an honour to celebrate the immense contribution made by a man who has helped shape our film and TV industries – in fact our entire cultural landscape both in front and behind the camera as well as in the House of Lords where he campaigned for the Arts to be accessible to everyone. Who hasn’t laughed at I’m Alright Jack, been gripped by Pinkie Brown in Brighton Rock, felt moved by Oh! What a Lovely War, wept over Shadowlands or been swept up by Gandhi and Cry Freedom? All of this Dickie has given us and much more besides.”

Oscar-winning composer and NFTS alumnus Dario Marianelli entertained the guests with a skilful blend of music from Lord Attenborough’s films. A live auction was conducted by Nick Bonham with donated items, including a pair of glasses worn by Sir Ben Kingsley in the film Gandhi and many film items from Lord Attenborough’s own collection; costumes worn by Daniel Craig and Naomie Harris in the James Bond film Skyfall; a painting by Scottish artist John Bellany and a portrait of Lord Attenborough by artist Bryan Organ.

Chelsea Vice Captain Frank Lampard thanked Lord Attenborough, who is Life President of Chelsea Football Club, saying: He has been a massive inspiration to the players past and present not just as a supporter but also as a board member – and not just through the recent good times but the tough times as well…When you’re in the room with him you are aware that you’re in the room with greatness. He’s an absolute English gentleman of the highest order. It’s great to hear that he’s still inspiring young people to follow in his footsteps to become film-makers.”

The Hon Michael Attenborough said: “It was thanks to a Leverhulme scholarship to RADA at the age of 17, that my father was able to go on to enjoy a career that included acting in, producing and directing more than 70 Oscar and BAFTA winning films, so he is delighted that this new fund in his name will help young film-makers, from all backgrounds, reach their full creative potential."

Explaining that Lord Attenborough was unable to attend, Michael Attenborough read a message from his father saying: “I really am deeply honoured by the National Film and Television I started in movies at the age of 19, and now in my 90th year I am truly proud to be still able to contribute to this magnificent art form of ours...This Fund will will enable the coming generation of filmmakers to dazzle us with their flair, skill and imagination; thus ensuring that the Film Industry remains at the very centre of British Culture, which is rightly the envy of the world.”

NFTS Director Nik Powell said: “We are deeply grateful to Lord Attenborough for the leadership he has provided and his tireless fundraising. This new Fund will ensure we can continue to deliver world class educational experiences to the best current and future film-makers.”

View the celebrity interviews on the NFTS’s Screening Room here

The ‘Entirely Up To You, DarlingNFTS Gala was made possible thanks to the generous sponsorship of Virgin Atlantic and Ingenious. The drinks reception was sponsored by Vektor Vodka.