How I sold off my wife, and other charity auction tales

Our columnist Martin Edwards recounts the time he auctioned his wife at a charity event

Martin Edwards
Martin Edwards

Whenever I organise a charity auction, something hideous happens.

At one such event for Save the Children, we were struggling to acquire enough good lots. In an act of nobility that I have regretted ever since, I offered one of my most prized possessions: a biography of Muhammad Ali in which, after queuing for hours, I had obtained the legendary boxer's autograph. It might not mean much to you, but to me it was priceless.

Giving is supposed to make you feel good, or so we tell people. Well, my gift made me feel really bad.

As I watched my lot go to the good cause for more money than I could afford, mixed feelings hardly begins to describe it. As the football manager Terry Venables once said when he sold Paul Gascoigne, it was like seeing my mother-in-law drive over a cliff in my new car.

Things went from bad to worse at another auction. On this occasion, we had acquired some superb lots, including fashion sketches by Giorgio Armani, a prayer signed by Mother Teresa and one of John McEnroe's tennis rackets.

Introducing the auction to the black-tie audience, I announced triumphantly that we had some fashion sketches by Giorgio Armani, a prayer from John McEnroe and Mother Teresa's tennis racket.

But I hit a new low at a third auction when I sold off my wife. I was fundraising director at the Highland Hospice at the time, presiding over a glitzy evening auction that was going extremely well. As the proceeds passed £120,000, a female colleague suggested that I put my wife up for sale. Her teammates scolded her. I thought it was a marvellous idea.

Curiously, our chief executive, despite being a big cheese in the world of ethics committees, didn't object. The money was too tempting, and my wife had, after all, once beaten her compatriot Catherine Zeta-Jones in a Welsh beauty contest.

"An evening with Vicki Edwards" was duly announced and she gamely clambered up on stage, to be gawped at by most of the assembled men and glared at by some of their wives. She was even joined by another glamorous young woman, and imaginations ran riot as they offered themselves together as a pair.

Any intentions I might have had of sparing my wife's blushes by winning the bid were utterly destroyed in the first few seconds of feverish bidding. The eventual sale price was more than £5,000.

Please don't write in: I know it was sexist, but it was also consensual, light-hearted and successful. I was proud of her (and still am, though I don't say it often enough).

I wondered if, like Thomas Hardy's eponymous Mayor of Casterbridge, selling my wife would lead to my eventual doom.

Gallantly, however, the winner never did take up his prize. Or at least, I never heard that he did.

Martin Edwards is chief executive of the children's hospice Julia's House

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