Elton John and Billie Jean King bring WTT Smash Hits to Washington, raising $500,000 for AIDS-related charities.
By Margaret Howell
By the end of the 18th annual WTT Smash Hits tennis competition Monday evening at American University‘s Bender Arena, it was game, set and match for “Captain Fantastic” Sir Elton John and his co-host Billie Jean King.
Sir Elton brought his merry band of tennis legends to Washington for the first time ever for the World Team Tennis competition, serving up a healthy dose of competition for a good cause, and raising $500,000 in one evening for the Elton John AIDS Foundation and the Washington AIDS Partnership.
After a press conference and VIP reception sponsored by Washington Life, there was a silent and live auction which raised money for the two AIDS charities, which split the proceeds 50-50.
Some of the players, like Billie Jean King, forked over personal possessions for Sir Elton’s beloved charity. King donated two of her personally-owned Center Court seats at next July’s 2011 Wimbledon Championship finals, fetching the highest winning bid of the night: $64,000.
The evening was marked by a casual ambiance. Guests paying $500 for VIP tickets mingled amongst the tennis legends while nibbling on salmon skewers and sipping pomegranate cocktails. They bid on silent auction items ranging from the obscure to the marvelous.
Once Sir Elton filed into the WL-sponsored reception with tennis giants Andre Agassi, Stefanie Graf, Anna Kournikova, Martina Navratilova and others in tow, the players transformed into passionate evangelists, prodding the crowd into bidding up items.
At one point, Agassi offered a kiss from his wife Graf to accompany the highest bid on a watch which was up for auction. The watch commanded $16,000.
The kiss: priceless.
Other treasures, like Sir Elton’s autographed piano stool fetched an impressive $21,000, while a hitting session with Graf and Agassi commanded $50,000. Other auction items that went up for grabs included a French Open package and a 2011 Super Bowl package.
In total, the auction brought in $267,000, according to WTT spokesperson Rosie Crews.
The tennis match was played by two teams captained by Billie Jean and Sir Elton. At the start of the tournament, Navratilova and Elton faced off with husband-and-wife team Agassi and Graf, followed by 34 games of singles, doubles and mixed doubles which provided yokes all evening.
In the end, Team Billie Jean King defeated Team Elton John 19-15
Since it was founded in 1992, WTT’s Smash Hits has raked in $10 million for various AIDS charities.
“I set up this charity so I could help people,” Sir Elton remarked at a news conference which preceded the event. “We have to step up to the plate and do as much as we can.”
With the election-year political climate in Washington at a boiling point, he could not resist adding his own strongly-held views on the heat between Republicans and Democrats, and how that friction negatively impacts issues like his AIDS awareness cause.
“It seems to be in America at the moment that people are standing and screaming at each other, and not talking to each other,” he said, sounding baffled and annoyed. “And there’s a lot of spite, whether it’s been politics, sexuality, religion–whatever…I find it really disappointing.”
Elton said he was keenly aware of how the AIDS epidemic has “cast a shadow over the nation’s capital,” with nearly one in 20 DC residents infected with HIV or AIDS — about 20 times the national average. “Obviously Washington has one of the biggest problems in America, so we are glad to be here to spotlight that,” he said.
With a voice that mixed compassion with anxiety, he added, “You know I love this country… But I worry about it at the moment, you know there’s so much spite.”
Elton urged the politicians up the road on Capitol Hill to “put away their swords” and work together, “like they do in England.”
Then he pondered why so many back stabbers fill the Capitol. “They’re saying that Nancy Pelosi’s evil… Well, just why is she evil? Is she evil because she’s a Democrat? Or you know, people slugging Republicans.”
AIDS is not a partisan issue, it’s a human issue, he concluded.
Then peering through his violet-shaded glasses and stressing with unapologetic candor, he said, “That’s the only way humanity can go forward. You have to talk.”
Along with civil discourse, a little charity doesn’t hurt either.
Washington Life’s John Arundel contributed to reporting.
For raw video of the event, please click here.
WTT Smash Hits VIP Reception and Auction with Sir Elton John