LONDON, June 27 – A star-studded cast of artists gathered Friday to celebrate global icon Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday at a giant concert in London in support of his global AIDS campaign.
Queen, Amy Winehouse and Annie Lennox were among the musicians performing at the Hyde Park gig for the former South African president’s 46664 campaign against HIV/AIDS, to be broadcast around the globe.
Precisely 46,664 tickets — after Mandela’s prison number during his 27-year incarceration for trying to topple South Africa’s apartheid regime — went on sale for the three-and-a-half-hour concert compered by US actor Will Smith.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton and US actor Denzel Washington are among those due to attend. The charity gig was due to start at 6:30 pm (1730 GMT).
"We’re particularly honoured that he’ll be celebrating his birthday here in London and that he’s using his birthday to selflessly fund-raise and build further support for his exceptional 46664 charity," said Brown.
"It’s entirely characteristic of a great man."
Mandela made headlines by breaking his silence over the crisis in Zimbabwe, describing it as a "tragic failure of leadership" at a fund-raising dinner in London Wednesday.
Zimbabweans were voting Friday in a presidential poll with President Robert Mugabe as the only candidate. Some campaigners have called on Mandela to elaborate on his comments.
Other performers on the concert bill include Razorlight, Simple Minds, Josh Groban, Joan Baez, Leona Lewis, the Sugababes, Eddy Grant, Jamelia, Zucchero and the Sudanese "war child" rapper Emmanuel Jal.
They are expected to join Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mandela on stage.
A 46664 spokesman said Bono and The Edge from U2, busy making an album, had recorded a version of "Happy Birthday" to be shown on the big screens.
African liberation hero Mandela, who retired from public life nine years ago, is expected to retreat further from the limelight after his birthday celebrations and hand over the reins of his 46664 campaign.
Mandela, who turns 90 on July 18, is now in frail health.
The dinner Wednesday was attended by Brown, former US president Bill Clinton, poverty activist Bob Geldof, a host of film stars plus performers from Friday’s concert.
The bash raised five million pounds (10 million dollars, 6.3 million euros).
"The world remains beset by so much human suffering, poverty and deprivation. It is in your hands to make of our world a better one for all, especially the poor, vulnerable and marginalised," Mandela told attendees.
A 46664 spokesman told AFP that Mandela was attending the concert to thank the British people for the giant Free Nelson Mandela Concert at London’s Wembley Stadium in 1988.
Troubled British soul singer Winehouse is tipped to sing "Free Nelson Mandela", an anthem for the anti-apartheid movement which was sung at Wembley.
The 46664 campaign, which has seen four previous multi-artist concerts, aims to raise awareness of the HIV/AIDS epidemic which is rife in sub-Saharan Africa.
South Africa is one of the countries worst-hit by HIV, with 5.41 million people living with the illness. Mandela lost a son to AIDS in January 2005 and has now fighting the pandemic his main cause.
Tickets for "The 46664 Concert Honouring Nelson Mandela at 90" cost 65 pounds (128 dollars, 82 euros) each. The concert was to be streamed live on the 46664.com website.