Rocking the Planet
The Frontman for Climate Change, Al Gore Takes Center Stage

By Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, December 12, 2007

OSLO, Dec. 10

For KT Tunstall, the Scottish folk-rock sensation, it was the eyebrows. "He has great eyebrows -- expressive, arched, well groomed," she said. "And he's really tall. You've got to love a tall man."

For Uma Thurman, whose credentials on the subject of sexy are impeccable, there was no question that "the man's adorable." "Of course he's sexy," she said. "He seems to be flourishing and following his calling. It's just the most enviable thing in the world, like watching a beautiful racehorse run."

Al Gore, sexy man. The thinking girl's thoroughbred.

It has definitely been this guy's year. "It's only taken me 30 years," Gore joked, backstage at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert, where a roomful of actors and singers waited their turn to make small talk with the man who, on this cold Scandinavian night, was clearly The Man.

Gore, 59, picked up his Nobel Peace Prize Monday at a conspicuously formal ceremony befitting the world's most prestigious piece of hardware. Tuesday night the Norwegians loosened their ties and rocked out -- in a Norwegian sort of way, checking to make sure people on either side were clapping along before they put their hands together.

Thurman and Kevin Spacey -- Miss Very Hot and Mr. Way Cool -- hosted a lineup featuring Tunstall, Melissa Etheridge, Annie Lennox, Alicia Keys, Kylie Minogue, Colombian heartthrob Juanes and the ageless Earth, Wind & Fire.

But it was Gore's night. The Nobel Prize was the occasion and the official draw, and the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shared the award. But the former vice president turned climate change celebrity was the connective tissue that turned the evening into a homily -- albeit a celebratory one -- about the dangers of global warming.

"No single individual has done more to create a greater understanding of the perils we face than Albert Gore," Spacey said, to rapturous applause from the 6,000-plus people gathered in the Spektrum in central Oslo. Once known for having a staggering knowledge of policy but the stage presence of a fire hydrant, Gore has clearly become far more at ease in the limelight over the year in which his film, "An Inconvenient Truth," won an Academy Award and his career earned him a Nobel.

In an interview in her hotel suite, Thurman said she's known Gore "for a thousand years" in his political incarnation. She said that since losing the presidency to George W. Bush in 2000, Gore seems "liberated" and "unencumbered."

Etheridge, whose song for Gore's film, "I Need to Wake Up," also won an Academy Award, said she too has seen a remarkable change in Gore, which she said has made him a far more effective campaigner for climate change.

"When I saw the movie I thought: Who is this guy? He used to be so stiff," Etheridge said in an interview. "He is the closest thing we have to a hero right now. Because he is not of Hollywood or from Hollywood, there is a certain respect for what he is saying. I love Brad Pitt, but if he were talking about global warming, you'd say, 'Go home to your lovely wife.' " (She meant, of course, Angelina Jolie, though they're not married.)

The Nobel Prizes have been around since 1901, and the Peace Prize concerts began in 1994. The concert drew an enormous audience in 2001, when Paul McCartney took the stage, and stars like Oprah Winfrey and Tom Cruise, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones have hosted since. Now organizers say the concert is broadcast in 100 countries with an estimated audience of more than 400 million people.

Despite the eager global following, the concert is far less known in the United States. The Nobel laureates are often big names globally, but not household names in America -- such as last year's winner, Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh. And sometimes the causes that earn the honor are not well known in Middle America, such as Yunus's specialty, micro-credit loans in the developing world.

But this year, the winner is a famous American and the cause, climate change, is becoming a dominant topic in politics and daily life across the country. Organizers said this year's concert would be shown in January on Fox's My TV, a network started last year.

"The Nobel is a global award, not a Norwegian award, so we want a global audience," said Odd Arvid Stromstad, the concert's executive producer. "U.S. TV is more commercialized than European TV, and it's harder to get substance on the big channels. I was brought up on TV being an intellectual means of communications, and it's hard to find that on the main channels in the United States."

Geir Lundestad, director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute, said he hoped the increasingly popular concerts are helping to expand the reach of the prizes, and the causes they honor, particularly among the young.

"Alfred Nobel would have been very surprised," he said. "This is a more modern way of spreading the word of the Nobel Peace Prize."

Performers at the concert were invited by the Norwegian Nobel Committee, although Gore was allowed to choose one, and he picked Etheridge. But most of the others interviewed said Gore was a key reason they came. Gore had also asked Tommy Lee Jones, his former roommate at Harvard, to co-host with Thurman. When Jones had to back out for personal reasons, Gore picked up the phone and called Spacey, a longtime friend.

Interviewed before the concert, Spacey said he believed Gore's persistence on climate change after his 2000 defeat shows that "you cannot spend your time and your energy worrying about whether what you are concerned about is popular.

"You have to just keep your head high, march on and beat the drum until someone starts to hear the music," he said. "Fortunately people are starting to hear the music."

Etheridge said she first met Gore in 1994 at the White House, where one wall of his office was dominated by a large photo of Earth taken from space. She said it was clear that the environment was his passion, but that "people were telling him, shhh, please don't talk about global warming."

Thurman said she didn't want to think about how the world might be different if Gore had defeated Bush in 2000. "It's too painful to think about. Like pulling bandages from unhealed wounds," she said.

Washington and the Bush administration came in for heavy fire on a night when they were portrayed largely as obstacles to the climate-change cause.

During the concert, the audience watched a videotaped interview Spacey conducted with Rajendra Pachauri, head of the IPCC.

"Surely there are skeptics still out there," Spacey said.

"Well, there will always be some skeptics," Pachauri said. "As you know, there is still in existence something called the Flat Earth Society. There are people -- a very limited number, thank God -- who believe the Earth is flat."

"Yes, I believe many of them live in Washington, D.C.," Spacey said.

Spacey recently finished filming "Recount," an HBO movie about the 2000 election in which he plays Ron Klain, Gore's former chief of staff.

Backstage after the concert, Gore approached Lennox, another Academy Award-winning performer. "I just love your work," Gore said, holding out his arms to Lennox, who hugged him emotionally and said, "Congratulations on everything you've done."

A few minutes later, Lennox, in a fiery interview, called the Bush administration "absolutely disgusting" and said she lamented that Gore was not elected president in 2000.

Tunstall, 32, jumped up and down when Gore approached her, and hugged him close. "I've got all your songs," the Nobel laureate told her. "I play them all the time." Tunstall later said she had never met Gore before, but "he speaks from the heart."

"I trust him, and there are so few people I believe in public life these days," she said.

Gore worked the room slowly, spending time with each artist. He made small talk with Thurman and her two young children. He spoke to Juanes briefly in Spanish and told him his performance had been "fantastico."

"He's a politician, but he has a lot of charisma," Juanes said, saying that it was his first meeting with Gore, and he found him "exactly the same as in the movie."

Tipper Gore, in a green dress and high-heeled boots, gently wiped sweat from her husband's brow.

As he left the room for a private performance by Earth, Wind & Fire, Gore stopped for a brief interview. He said he did feel more comfortable now as a sort of public-policy celebrity.

"There is a grain of truth to the old saying that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger," said the man of the hour, as he was whisked away to the next party.

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