Now I know what it feels like to be famous. (And frankly, it was great.)
CAMFED (The Campaign for Female Education), the Cambridge-based charity that sends girls to school in Africa, held a fundraising evening on Wednesday at Marlborough House on Pall Mall. Allison Pearson, best selling author, brilliant journalist and CAMFED patron, gave a rousing speech to the assembled throng of super-successful women. The key to success is education, she said, and if you educate one girl, you educate an entire village.
So how did I make the cut for this event? I did say the room was filled with “super-successful women.” I first learned about CAMFED from Allison in early December, about a week after I learned I had a spot in the London Marathon. I wanted to find a charity that didn’t have any official London Marathon charity spots, and one that could benefit from my luck. In December, when Allison said the three magic words: girls, education and Africa, and I realized I had found my charity.
Now after months of badgering my friends, family and strangers about CAMFED, I’m thrilled to announce that I was able to raise more than £4,000 (nearly $8,000) to send African girls to school. Now if someone asks me, “What have you done to make the world a better place?” I have an answer.
Even though I found myself in the rare but glorious position of being perfectly dressed for the occasion—especially with my new red L.K. Bennett shoes—I still found myself wandering around the party in Younger Sister mode, i.e. skulking about around the outer fringes of the party, hoping no one would notice me.
Marlborough House is a next-door neighbour to St. James Palace, and just down the street from Buckingham Palace. It’s a quintessentially British royal residence: with huge murals, marble floors, sweeping staircases and drafty windows. Apparently, the royal pet cemetery is on the grounds of Marlborough House. “Where the ground is stiff with corgis,” said Allison Pearson.
CAMFED is a small, but incredibly effective, organization. Ann Cotton, its founder, began the charity with a bake sale. She had visited Zimbabwe, saw that girls needed money to fund their education, returned home to have the bake sale and sent the money back to Zimbabwe. Through those simple actions, CAMFED was born. Now, more than 10 years later, thousands of African girls have been educated through CAMFED’s efforts.
Once I called CAMFED and told them what I wanted to run the marathon for them, they were very supportive and helpful. Kirstin Gaymer, who ran the marathon last year, also gave me some survival tips. Finally, on Wednesday, I got to meet most of staff. Apparently, the staff, most of whom I didn’t know, also became fans of this online journal. “You’re Maureen Stapleton!” they would say, as if they had met someone important. One woman said, “It’s so great to finally meet you!! I love your blog!” Someone else told me, “You are our celebrity.”
Even Anthony Lane, ANTHONY LANE!, found me wandering around in Younger Sister Mode and said, “You’re the woman who ran the marathon. Well done!” [Anthony Lane, for those among you who are not New Yorker readers, is the movie critic at that magazine. He is a brilliant writer, and if he has a byline in that week’s issue, I tend to read him first.] Sadly, later on in the evening I think I blew my movie-loving credentials with him, when he enthusiastically asked me, “Have you seen ‘The Lady Eve’?” and I had to say no. I wanted to respond, “But I saw the four-hour long ‘La Belle Noiseuse’ and liked it! The last movie we saw was the documentary, ‘My Architect’! The next movie I’m going to watch is the Italian film, ‘Io Non Ho Paura [I’m not scared].’ I’ve spent my life talking about the career of Oscar winner Maureen Stapleton! I have movie-loving credentials! Really, I do!!”
But I digress. The amazing evening ended with me in a cab home (I missed the last train to Greenwich), taking yet another opportunity to talk about the marathon. “I ran this route when I did the marathon in April,” I told the driver. “You did?” he asked, looking back at me to get another look. “Well done!” I couldn’t help but add, “I also raised more than £4,000 to send girls to school in Africa.”
I can’t decide which accomplishment I’m prouder of.