Gorbachev celebrates 80th with glitzy London party

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A host of stars from the world of politics, music and film gathered to celebrate former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's 80th birthday at a charity gala event in London on Wednesday.

International statesmen and Russian oligarchs converged at the Royal Albert Hall for the party celebrating his achievements, hosted by Hollywood stars Kevin Spacey and Sharon Stone.

On arriving at the 5,000-capacity concert venue, Gorbachev told BBC television he was looking forward to "the whole evening".

"Many people will be here, many of my friends will be here, that is the most important thing for me," the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize winner said.

It was even rumoured that he himself would sing at the exclusive bash, entitled "Mikhail Gorbachev -- The Man Who Changed The World".

Ticket prices reached up to £100,000 ($160,000, 115,000 euros) for a private box at the historic Victorian venue.

The event is aimed at raising millions of dollars for cancer charities, including The Raisa Foundation, named in honour of the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize winner's late wife.

Hollywood action hero and ex-California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Israeli President Shimon Peres, former British prime minister John Major and Earl Charles Spencer, brother of Diana, princess of Wales, were all to attend.

The eclectic guest list also includes England football manager Fabio Capello, plus actresses Goldie Hawn and Milla Jovovich.

Gorbachev's perestroika and glasnost reforms of the 1980s altered the course of history by burying the Soviet Union and liberating eastern Europe.

Host Spacey drew comparisons between Gorbachev's era and the uprisings sweeping across the Arab world and the former Soviet state of Belarus.

"If you look at our world now, all of the things that are happening in Egypt, Belarus, Iran and Libya, people are fighting for the very kind of freedoms and access and ability to cross borders that Mikhail Gorbachev did so many years ago and I've never really felt like he got his due," he said.

"I suspect that you could draw a direct line to Mikhail Gorbachev and say that's where a lot of this began."

Gorbachev met British Prime Minister David Cameron at Downing Street before heading to the Royal Albert Hall.

German rockers The Scorpions were to play their global hit "Wind of Change", which captured the spirit of the times as the communist bloc fell apart.

Other performers were to include Shirley Bassey, Paul Anka, Bryan Ferry, Melanie C, the London Symphony Orchestra, and a host of Russian musicians ranging from rock to classical music.

Organisers told The Times newspaper the event would cost between £2 million and £3 million to stage.

Russian tycoon and press baron Alexander Lebedev, who is holding a fundraiser of his own for Gorbachev's charities in June, told The Times he had refused to underwrite the gala due to concerns over its costs.

"They said they wanted to raise £9 million and out of that £4 million will go to cover the costs and then they stopped. I said I'm not participating."

Gorbachev turned 80 on March 2, marking the occasion by advising Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin against running for a third term as president and warning about the dangers of Arab-style social revolt.

© 2011 AFP

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