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Signed football. Do I hear Dh310,000?

Ramola Talwar Badam

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DUBAI // Elvis Presley, Cristiano Ronaldo and Muammar Qaddafi were all key figures in raising funds for a special-needs centre at a star-studded Dubai auction this week.

Signed snapshots and memorabilia of all three men went under the hammer for charity on Monday night. Also among the items at auction was a striking photograph taken by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, the Crown Price of Dubai.

Sheikh Hamdan's picture of two horses bolting out of a stable was snapped up in minutes. It gained the highest bid of Dh380,000 at The Stars' Auction, organised by the Rashid Paediatric Therapy Centre in Madinat Jumeirah.

"Some names are loved by people here and these are immediately picked up," said Mehiar Arabi, the auctioneer with the Pioneer Auctions. "Many times just the name generates money. Also people were bidding for not just the item but also the cause."

Funds from the auction will be used to expand the Rashid centre.

Emiratis, expatriate businessmen and women, and Arab celebrities alike reached deep into their pockets for the cause.

The Lebanese pop star, Haifa Wehbe, successfully bid for the football with which Spain won the 2010 World Cup. Crammed with 23 players' signatures, the white ball rimmed with gold sold for Dh310,000.

Wehbe repeatedly raised her paddle for the Real Madrid striker Ronaldo's lime-green signed boot. It was hers for Dh41,000.

"I truly believe that stars must not just sign autographs but also sign cheques for a cause," Wehbe said.

The audience cheered and whistled when the spotlight was turned on the singer. "Stars should contribute not just once but many times a year," she said. "These children need our attention."

Spirited bidding for Elvis Presley's autographed picture helped raise a further Dh36,000.

But it took some good-natured coaxing from the auctioneer to push through the sale of a signed photograph of Muammar Qaddafi, even at a knock-down price. There was little interest when two beaming models carried a montage of Qaddafi's pictures onto the stage.

With no takers at the asking price of Dh42,000, Mr Arabi lowered it to Dh26,000.

Still, there were no takers, but he did not stop.

"Nobody giving me even 1,000 [dirhams], then how about 500?" Mr Arabi urged.

When he spotted the Emirati singer Abdullah Balkhair in the audience, he focused his attention on the performer, who had spoofed the former Libyan leader during Ramadan programmes on television last year.

"Come on Abdullah Balkhair, what about giving me 500? 1000? Zenga, zenga, " he exhorted, as the crowd clapped. Balkhair nodded at Dh27,000.

The word zenga is Arabic for alleyways. It was used by Qaddafi in a fist-pounding televised speech in February of last year, where he vowed to fight rebels across Libya.

"I acted like Qaddafi, I wore his clothes, people remember this link with him," said Balkhair, a traditional singer whose parody received more than 83,000 hits on YouTube.

"I had not planned to buy anything, this is by default. But I'm happy, it's OK, it is all for charity."

Several items went unsold, including a white glove signed by the boxers Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, and a "with love" note signed by Princess Diana.

Of the 40 items on the block, star cast-offs were the fastest sellers, including Wehbe's diamond-studded bracelet, the oversized sunglasses of the Egyptian actress Nabila Obaid, and a pink hat belonging to the Arab star Safiya Al Umari.

"It's not the items that drew people, it was the cause," said Faisal Al Matrook, a Bahraini businessman and Dubai resident who spent about Dh100,000 on signed messages of leaders, including those of the former South African president, Nelson Mandela, and the former US president, John F Kennedy.

"This cannot be measured simply in how much money was committed because the commitment of time in these causes is the greatest gift."

The total raised was not immediately available. The three-hour programme was interspersed with lively dance performances by children from the centre.

"People came here not for a cinema festival or a shopping festival, but to do something for these children," said the Rashid centre's director, Mariam Othman.

"Fans always like to copy the stars, and with this they will be more aware of special children."

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