Madonna and Clinton at record-breaking charity dinner

International children's charity Absolute Return for Kids has staged what is believed to be the most successful gala dinner in British history, raising £26.6m at a star-studded event at Marlborough House in London.

1,200 guests, mostly from the financial sector, paid up to £100,000 per table for the chance to rub shoulders with celebrities such as Bill Clinton, Prince and Madonna. There was a raffle of a limited-edition diamond necklace and an auction of lots such as dinner with Mikhail Gorbachev and a day on set with James Bond actor Daniel Craig. Six hedge funds pledged £8m pledged in matched contributions.

A similar dinner last year raised £18.5m, around 80 per cent of the charity's annual income. ARK has raised £57m since it was founded five years ago by senior figures from the financial services industry.

Managing director Paul Bernstein said the key to ARK's success was close monitoring of its projects. "There is a perception among some people that they don't get feedback on their donations," he said. "Everyone who gives to ARK gets feedback reports on request, including customised information if they donate to particular projects."

He said another important factor was that ARK offered competitors in the financial sector the chance to pool resources. "They really appreciate the chance to work collaboratively with similarly-minded people," he said.

ARK chairman and co-founder Arpad Busson announced at the dinner that ARK will spend around £4m on a training and mentoring programme for HIV/AIDS workers in Mozambique, in partnership with the Clinton Foundation.

He said the dinner was "a fantastic success in achieving what matters to us most: transforming children's lives." The money raised would be used to expand ARK's educational work in the UK and abroad, including funding city academies.

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