Friday 24 October 2014

Stars to the rescue as last Titanic survivor struggles to stay afloat

Alison O'Riordan Exclusive

Published 10/05/2009 | 00:00

After a moving appeal by photographer Don Mullan in the Sunday Independent a number of Hollywood stars have come to the aid of the last survivor of the Titanic.

The director and cast of the 1997 blockbuster film have made a "considerable donation" to secure the financial future of 98-year-old Millvina Dean who has had to resort to selling her autograph to pay her nursing home bills.

The stars of the film on the 1912 tragedy which grossed over $1bn were deeply touched to hear of the last survivor's plight.

Millvina Dean, the youngest passenger, who was just nine weeks old when carried onto the Titanic at Southampton, survived and is now living in Southampton, England. She needs money for her care.

After Irish author and photographer, Don Mullan, publicly challenged the Hollywood stars to match him, dollar for dollar, representatives of Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio -- who was obviously touched by Millvina's plight -- contacted the Sunday Independent and asked to be put in touch with him.

Now Director James Cameron and actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet have contributed to a $30,000 fund which will ensure Millvina is financially secure for the rest of her days.

"An old woman, still trying to survive, this time from drowning under the weight of meeting her nursing home expenses, simply wasn't right, especially given the enormous sums of money the story of Titanic had generated in the recent past. There were people out there who could, and I felt, morally should, help her. To fail Millvina Dean, the last tangible living link to the Titanic, would make a mockery of the world's expressed concern for the tragedy," argued Mr Mullan.

It all began two years ago when Mr Mullan began working on a project to take photographs around the world on his Nokia mobile phone. One of his images is a close-up of Millvina Dean's hands as she signs an autograph for a memorabilia collector.

As part of Mullan's mobile telephone exhibition entitled A Thousand Reasons for Living, he has produced 100 limited-edition copies of the photograph titled Still Surviving and is selling them at €500 each. The edition is entirely sponsored by Nokia so all proceeds are going to The Millvina Fund, to help Ms Dean pay her nursing home bills.

"I figured that if the edition sold out, it would secure Millvina for a full year. My plan, however, was to double the impact and thereby secure her for two years. I decided, therefore, at the opening of the exhibition, to publicly challenge James Cameron, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, 20th Century Fox, and Celine Dion, to match me dollar for dollar,'' said Mullan.

To date, Mullan has sold 30 copies of his photograph, each of which will be signed by Millvina Dean. Now he has pledges from Hollywood stars from the movie but he is still determined to secure the support of singer Celine Dion and 20th Century Fox.

Mullan's challenge was first carried by the Sunday Independent and resulted in worldwide coverage from which the newspaper was contacted by the management of Leonardo DiCaprio. Mullan was also aided by Dublin businessman, Paul Coghlan, a friend of the famous fashion designer, Ben de Lisi, who, at Coghlan's request, brought the plight of Millvina Dean to Kate Winslet's attention.

Because of this initiative it is hoped that this very special survivor will no longer have to worry about her final days on earth.

The Millvina Fund, established by the Belfast, UK and International Titanic Societies, will be publicly launched tomorrow at a press conference in the Titanic Quarter in Belfast. For those who might wish to make a donation, the details are as follows:

Name: The Millvina Fund. Bank: National Westminster Bank Ltd, 446 Warrington Road, Culcheth, Warrington, WA3 5QS, United Kingdom. Sort Code: 01-02-46. Account Number: 24075922.

Anyone interested in contributing to The Millvina Fund by purchasing one of Don Mullan's limited edition photographs should contact Aoife Byrne at the following email address: aoife.byrne@nokia.ie

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