Saturday 24 August 2019

Google gathers celebrities and billionaires to party in the name of environmental action

Luxury: The camp at the Verdura Resort attracted celebrities including Katy Perry
Luxury: The camp at the Verdura Resort attracted celebrities including Katy Perry
Katy Perry

Guy Kelly

Think of it like a real-life 'Jason and the Argonauts'; an earthly 'Avengers Assemble'; the greatest meeting of minds, skills and superpowers our planet might ever have seen.

Last week, at a resort on the sun-drenched coast of Sicily, Google convened some of the world's most brilliant thinkers for its annual, three-day, top- secret summer symposium of ideas. On the agenda were the most pressing issues facing humanity: "Online privacy, politics (and) human rights," one source revealed, "and, of course, the environment."

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The itinerary included a dinner overseen by celebrity chef Ritu Dalmia at Selinunte Archaeological Park, at which guests were entertained by Coldplay. Later, speeches were reportedly given by Naomi Campbell and the Duke of Sussex - the latter of which was conducted "barefoot".

The great and good came from far and wide - although most came from California. They travelled by any means necessary too, though principally by private jet or superyacht, because that was likely easiest. Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg were reportedly in attendance, alongside Google executives; billionaire philanthropists such as Bill Gates and David Geffen; Christine Lagarde, about to become president of the European Central Bank; and no fewer than 200 celebrities.

Hollywood actor George Clooney was among them. So were Bradley Cooper and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Katy Perry and Orlando Bloom stopped by. Harry Styles came with Diane von Furstenberg, and even Tom Cruise popped in - but he is never one to miss a secretive gathering of people with great teeth.

In fact, just about anybody could have been there.

The Italian media, knowing non-disclosure agreements and social media bans would make claims impossible to verify, had a field day plucking VIP names from thin air, including the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (whose attendance was firmly denied by representatives). Now in its seventh year, past 'Google Camps' have seen Malala Yousafzai, Lakshmi Mittal and Sir Elton John join discussions. Prince Harry also visited in 2017.

This year, guests were put up in the exclusive, at least £700-per-night Verdura Resort, which boasts two 18-hole golf courses, a tennis academy, and one mile of private coastline.

Mornings involve serious meetings, where the likes of Johnny Depp and Thierry Henry can solve global human rights issues with Stella McCartney and Nick Jonas.

Evenings are for fun; Spanish singer Rosalia, fresh from Glastonbury, was one of this year's musical acts.

The finer details remain unclear. Google Camp is so clandestine that it has been compared to the Bilderberg meetings of global business leaders, politicians and diplomats. Others have nicknamed it 'Davos-by-the-sea' for its opulent gathering of the world's most influential people. And the irony of the world's wealthiest people holding a conference about climate change after arriving in, reportedly, 114 private jets, a fleet of superyachts and private cars, was not lost on commentators. Perhaps Prince Harry went shoeless to decrease his footprint.

The rough idea of the camp - that rich people are willing to meet and discuss how best to direct their wealth for the good of the planet - is, at its core, laudable. And using the lure of celebrities to convince billionaires to attend an otherwise dull series of networking sessions is a tactic as old as the hills. But equally true is that they could all have met from home using Hangouts, Google's video chat software.

Still, tonight, as you tuck your children into bed and watch their eyes well up with fear about the future of our planet, you can lean in and whisper: "There's no need to cry, darling, it's all going to be OK. Bradley Cooper, Legolas and that woman who invented the wrap dress had brunch."

© Daily Telegraph, London

Irish Independent

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