It's been a tough couple of weeks for President Clinton. But there's nothing like company to shore up sagging spirits. And last night's star-studded White House dinner for British Prime Minister Tony Blair was just the ticket.
The guest list included Sir Elton John and Stevie Wonder, who teamed up for an after-dinner performance. "It's a bit like playing a wedding reception," John said. Barbra Streisand and her fiance, James Brolin, were there, plus John Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, Tom Hanks, Harrison Ford, Steven Spielberg, Ralph Lauren, Tina Brown, Anna Wintour, Carol Channing and (whew!) Warren Buffett.
Clearly, it was Clinton's party.
"I'm really pleased the American people have shown great support and good judgment in this matter," Streisand said. "I wish the people who do these illegal leaks and the media who exploit them would show similar respect for the right to privacy and the presumption of innocence. After that, it's no one's business what anyone does behind closed doors."
Not to mention that "he's the most fun president we've ever had -- I think we can all agree about that," said Brolin. "The fact is, the job is getting done and he's enjoying himself."
With 240 guests, it was the largest official Clinton administration dinner held inside the White House. Several guests who originally declined the invitations later scrambled to accept, a testament to Clinton's popularity and the collective star power.
"I can't say we campaigned to come tonight, but we would have," said Sony President Howard Stringer. "It's the ultimate Brit night out." After dinner, he was even more impressed: "If it gets any cooler than this I'll be frozen."
Even a "not too social" fellow like Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott couldn't refuse. "My wife would kill me if I tried to skip an event like this," he said.
This is the first real baby-boomer White House dinner: Clinton, 51, and Blair, 44, both have boyish good looks, Oxford educations, wives who supported (emotionally and financially) their political careers and a passion for popular music.
And so it was no surprise that they bonded so quickly. The Clintons went to London shortly after Blair's victory last May, but this is the prime minister's first official visit to Washington.
The official agenda: Iraq, Bosnia, Northern Ireland and NATO expansion. The unofficial agenda: proof that it's business as usual at the White House. Pundits speculated that Blair was serving as a "human shield" for Clinton, a charge the prime minister flatly denied. "I don't regard myself as doing a favor at all," he told ABC television earlier this week. This visit had been scheduled before the allegations of hanky-panky with a former White House intern hit the headlines.
The mere presence of John and Wonder was enough to assure a memorable evening. "Two of the world's greatest entertainers are here," said presidential pal Harry Thomason. "So being in the entertainment business, how could you go wrong?"
"Everyone's really buzzing," said designer Lauren. "It's really exciting."
"I'm excited," said presidential adviser James Carville. "It's fun to call everybody afterward and tell them what it was like."
This was the second White House dinner in a row for Spielberg, who was a guest at October's fete for China's Jiang Zemin. There, he said, he felt like Forrest Gump. This time, "I brought Forrest Gump," he said, pointing to Hanks.
As one might expect with such an array of star power, there was quite a display of fashionable attire. Hillary Rodham Clinton's gold lace gown by Pamela Dennis complemented the gold dinner suit of Cherie Blair.
Bessette was sleek and elegant in a black fitted gown. Streisand designed her own empire-waist burgundy velvet dress. Diane von Furstenberg fluttered in a navy ostrich boa. But it was Channing, who has traded her trademark blond hair for a salt-and-pepper do, who caught everyone's eye with tinted glasses, rhinestones and a gaudy, sparkling choker.
The toasts before dinner were long on charm and laughs and short on diplomatic pontificating. Clinton began by acknowledging the "uncommon friendship" between the two nations. "In honor of your visit," said the president, "the place where you and Cherie are staying will now forever be known as Blair House" -- a line that drew a big laugh from the guests.
Blair's tribute began on an equally lighthearted note, but the prime minister went on to affirm his friendship with Clinton: "Bill, I'm pleased to call you a good colleague and proud to call you a good friend. I know I'm not alone in supporting you. I know the American people support you, too." There was sustained applause from the audience, then Blair went on to praise the first lady as well.
To reflect the "warm" relationship between the two countries, Hillary Clinton decorated the East Room in tones of gold, peach and terra cotta. She selected a menu of honey-mango glazed chicken, grilled salmon fillet "mignon" with portobello mushrooms, and marinated fresh mozzarella (a favorite food of Blair) served with roasted artichokes and basil tomatoes. All the wines were from Napa Valley but had ties to England.
Dessert was a spectacular chocolate basket filled with strawberry mousse, served with fresh strawberries and chocolate figures of London's Big Ben.
After dinner, the guests swept into a tent erected over the West Terrace for the entertainment. Wonder sang for the Clintons at the 1997 inaugural gala, but John was performing at the White House for the first time.
"I've loved Stevie Wonder since I was 9 years old -- he's my hero," said Melissa Mathison, screenwriter and wife of actor Harrison Ford.
There was a rumor that the two rock-and-roll leaders -- Clinton with his saxophone and Blair strumming a guitar -- might join the musical legends onstage. But the White House sadly announced no instruments had been requested for what would have been a historic jam session.
"It's a pretty high-powered battle of the bands either way," Hanks said. The hour-long concert began with John performing "Your Song." After he finished, the singer said he was so nervous that he had forgotten to greet the distinguished guests and proceeded to do so. He then launched into a series of his greatest hits: "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues," "Daniel," "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" and "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me."
After John introduced him as "one of the all-time great musicians," Wonder took to the piano. He paused. "Just looking at everybody," the blind musician kidded.
He launched into a version of "Overjoyed" by saying, "This song probably describes how I feel about this night. Check it out."
Wonder tried to inject a little life into the audience by asking them to clap while he sang "For Once in My Life." Throughout his performance, he teased, prodded and cajoled the crowd of luminaries. "Snap your fingers, shake your head. Do some thing!" he pleaded. "You guys sound like a library meeting."
After "I Just Called to Say I Love You," a selection which elicited some snickers from the press corps, Wonder continued with "Sir Duke," "Isn't She Wonderful" and, in honor of Mrs. Blair, "My Cherie Amour," which drew an appreciative laugh from the audience.
Sir Elton joined Wonder on stage for the final song, which Wonder introduced by saying that "love was wonderful, but when you can't get the love, this is what you ask for." The two then jumped into a rousing rendition of "Money Money."
They received a standing ovation, of course. Clinton added his appreciation. "Thank you, Sir Elton," he said. "I wish I could give Stevie a knighthood."
But the party wasn't over yet! The president, first lady and guests danced to "My Girl," "Mustang Sally," "Heard It Through the Grapevine" and "In the Mood." The Clintons had such a good time they stayed until 1 a.m.
"It's like the wildest wedding I've ever been to," said Hanks, as the party drew to a close. "Good band, good food."
A good time for the president -- for a few hours, at least.
The guest list for last night's official dinner:
Prime Minister Tony Blair and Cherie Blair
Jack Straw, home secretary
Helen Liddell, economic secretary
Alan Milburn, minister of state, department of health
Sir Christopher Meyer, ambassador of Britain, and Lady Catherine Meyer
Jonathan Powell, chief of staff to the prime minister
John Homes, principal private secretary to the prime minister
Alastair Campbell, spokesman for the prime minister
Fiona Millar, personal assistant to Mrs. Blair
David Miliband, director for policy, 10 Downing St.
Anthony Giddens, director, London School of Economics
Gavyn Davies, chief economist, Goldman Sachs
Geoff Mulgan, policy unit, 10 Downing St.
Madeleine Albright, secretary of state, and Maurice Tempelsman
Roone Arledge, chairman, ABC News, and Gigi Arledge
J. Brian Atwood, administrator, Agency for International Development, and Susan Atwood, National Democratic Institute
Donald A. Baer, consultant, Discovery/BBC Worldwide-America, and Nancy Bard, attorney
Morton Bahr, president, Communications Workers of America
Donald Bandler, special assistant to the president, and Jane Bandler
Paul Begala, counselor to the president, and Diane Begala
Samuel R. Berger, assistant to the president for national security affairs, and Susan Berger
Michael Beschloss, historian and author, and Afsaneh Mashayekhi Beschloss, director of investments, World Bank
Sen. Joseph R. Biden (D-Del.) and Joseph R. Biden III
Sidney Blumenthal, assistant to the president, and Jacqueline Blumenthal, director, White House Fellows Program
Alma Brown, senior vice president, Chevy Chase Bank, and Tracey Brown
Peter Brown, president, Brown and Argus, and Paige Peterson
Tina Brown, editor in chief, the New Yorker, and Harold Evans, vice chairman and editorial director, U.S. News & World Report, Daily News, Fast Company and Atlantic Monthly
Ronald Brownstein, national political correspondent, U.S. News and World Report, and Nina Easton, senior writer, Los Angeles Times Magazine
Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO, Berkshire Hathaway Inc., and Susan Buffett
Ronald Wayne Burkle, the Yucaipa Cos., and Janet Burkle
Thomas M. Caplan, author, and Lucy Clive
Margaret Carlson, Time columnist, and Courtney Carlson, field coordinator, Lois Capps for Congress campaign
James Carville, political consultant, and Mary Matalin, CBS Radio talk show host
Eleanor Clift, contributing editor, Newsweek, and Thomas Brazaitis, Washington bureau chief, Cleveland Plain Dealer
William S. Cohen, secretary of defense, and Janet Langhart
John Cooke, executive vice president, the Walt Disney Co., and Diane Cooke
Andrew M. Cuomo, secretary of housing and urban development, and Kerry Kennedy Cuomo
William M. Daley, secretary of commerce, and Loretta Marie Daley
Sen. Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) and Linda Hall Daschle
Barry Diller, chairman, HSN Inc., and Diane Von Furstenberg, designer
Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) and Jackie Clegg
John Doerr, partner, Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers, and Ann Doerr
John Joseph Donvan, correspondent, ABC News, and Ranit Mishori
Rahm Emanuel, senior adviser to the president, and Amy Rule
Rep. Robert R. Etheridge (D-N.C.) and Faye Etheridge
Colin Michael Foale, NASA astronaut, assistant director (technical) NASA Johnson Space Center, and Rhonda Foale
Harrison Ford, actor, and Melissa Mathison, screenwriter
J. Richard Fredericks, senior managing director, NationsBanc Montgomery Securities, and Stephanie Fredericks
Mary Mel French, chief of protocol
Alvin From, president, Democratic Leadership Council, and Ginger From, R.N., Potomac Home Healthcare
Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) and Jane Gephardt
House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and Marianne Gingrich
Daniel Glickman, secretary of agriculture, and Rhoda Glickman, deputy chief of staff to the secretary of housing and urban development Vice President and Tipper Gore Stanley B. Greenberg, CEO and pollster, Greenberg Research Inc., and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.)
Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, and Phoebe Wetzel Griswold
Marc Grossman, assistant secretary of state for European and Canadian affairs, and Mildred Patterson, managing director, office of visa services, State Department Rep. Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.) and Nancy Hamilton
Tom Hanks, actor, and Rita Wilson, actress
Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and Dorothy Helms
Alexis M. Herman, secretary of labor, and Charles L. Franklin
Marife Hernandez, president, Cultural Communications Group, and David Clayson, chairman, Psychology Department, Cornell Medical College
Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) and Stefany Hemmer
Carolyn Colley Huber, special assistant to the president and director of personal correspondence, and Gregory C. Huber
Peter Jennings, anchor and senior editor, ABC's "World News Tonight," and Kayce Freed, producer, ABC's "20/20"
Sir Elton John, singer, and David Furnish
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Tex.) and Thomas Henderson
Jeffrey Katzenberg, partner, DreamWorks SKG, and Marilyn Katzenberg
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Victoria Kennedy
John F. Kennedy Jr., editor in chief, George magazine, and Carolyn Bessette Kennedy
Michael Kinsley, editor of Slate, Microsoft Corp., and Wendy Wasserstein, playwright
Orin S. Kramer, general partner, Kramer Spellman L.P., and Hilary Ballon
Philip Lader, ambassador to the United Kingdom, and Linda LeSourd Lader
Ralph Lauren, chairman and CEO, Polo/Ralph Lauren Corp., and Ricky Lauren
James C. Lehrer, executive editor and anchor, "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer," and Kate Lehrer
Alan M. Leventhal, chairman and general partner, Beacon Capital Partners, and Sherry Leventhal
Rep. Robert L. Livingston (R-La.) and Bonnie Livingston
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Patricia Lott
Gilman Louie, chairman of the board, MicroProse Inc., and Amy K. Chan, president, LegalNow! Inc.
Deryck Maughan, co-chairman and co-CEO, Salomon Smith Barney, and Va Maughan
Michael McCurry, assistant to the president and press secretary, and Debra McCurry
Gerald McEntee, president, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and Barbara McEntee
Larry McQuillan, senior White House correspondent, Reuters News Service, and Geraldine McQuillan, Centers for Disease Control
Morris Mike Medavoy, chairman, Phoenix Pictures, and Irena Medavoy, founding partner and president, High Heels and Loafers
Marc B. Nathanson, chairman and CEO, Falcon Cable TV, and Jane Nathanson, psychotherapist
Joseph S. Nye, dean, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, and Mary Nye
Eileen Mary O'Connor, White House correspondent, CNN, and John Bilotta, producer, ABC News
Alan J. Patricof, co-chairman, Patricof and Co. Ventures Inc., and Susan Patricof, Northside Center for Child Development
Norman J. Pattiz, chairman, Westwood One, and Mary Pattiz
Federico F. Pena, secretary of energy, and Ellen Hart Pena
Kim Karin Polese, CEO, Marimba
Franklin D. Raines, director, Office of Management of Budget, and Wendy Raines
John Reid, chairman, Rocket Records
Janet Reno, attorney general
Richard Riley, secretary of education, and Tunky Ann Riley
Gov. Roy R. Romer (D), Colorado
Haim Saban, chairman and CEO, Saban Entertainment/Fox Kids Worldwide, and Cheryl Saban, author
Andrew Schiff and Karenna Gore Schiff
William Schneider, senior political analyst, CNN, and Dora Schneider
Bernard L. Schwartz, chairman and CEO, Loral Corp., and Irene Schwartz
Eli J. Segal, president and CEO, Welfare to Work Partnership, and Phyllis N. Segal, chair, Federal Labor Relations Authority
Donna E. Shalala, secretary of health and human services, and Anastasia Fritel
Gen. Henry H. Shelton, chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Carolyn Shelton
Walter H. Shorenstein, chairman, the Shorenstein Co., and Carol Channing
Stanley Saxe Shuman, executive vice president, Allen and Co. Inc., and Sydney Roberts Shuman
Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) and Susan Skelton
Rodney E. Slater, secretary of transportation, and Cassandra Wilkins Slater, senior adviser to the Social Security administrator
Steven Spielberg, partner, DreamWorks SKG, and Kate Capshaw, actress
Barbra Streisand, singer and actress, and James Brolin, actor
Howard Stringer, president, Sony Corp., and Jennifer Patterson
Lawrence H. Summers, deputy secretary of the treasury, and Victoria Perry Summers
John J. Sweeney, president, AFL-CIO, and Maureen Sweeney
Strobe Talbott, deputy secretary of state, and Brooke Shearer, senior adviser, Department of Interior
George J. Tenet, director, Central Intelligence Agency, and A. Stephanie Glakas-Tenet
Harry Thomason, president, Mozark Productions, and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, television producer
Elizabeth Tilberis, editor in chief, Harper's Bazaar, and Andrew Tilberis, artist-inventor
Alex Trotman, chairman, president and CEO, Ford Motor Co., and Valerie Trotman
Melanne Verveer, assistant to the president and chief of staff to the first lady, and Philip Louis Verveer, attorney Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) and Barbara Walters, co-anchor, ABC's "20/20"
Sanford I. Weill, chairman and CEO, the Travelers Group, and Joan Weill, board member, Women in Need
John F. Welch, chairman and CEO, General Electric Co., and Jane Welch, attorney
William Weld, counsel, McDermott, Will & Emery, and Susan Roosevelt Weld, Harvard Law School, East Asian legal studies
John C. Whitehead, former chairman, Goldman Sachs
Anna Wintour, editor in chief, Vogue, and David Shaffer, chief of child psychiatry, Columbia Presbyterian Hospital
Stevie Wonder, entertainer-artist, and Brian La Roda
Janet Yellen, chair, Council of Economic Advisers, and George Akerlof, professor of economics, Brookings Institution CAPTION: Singing for their supper: Sir Elton John (with David Furnish), above, and Stevie Wonder provided the entertainment at last night's rockin' White House dinner. CAPTION: British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife, Cherie, were greeted by President and Mrs. Clinton last night at the White House. CAPTION: Steven Spielberg arrives with his wife, actress Kate Capshaw. CAPTION: Prime Minister Tony Blair greets actor Harrison Ford as President Clinton enjoys a laugh before last night's star-filled White House dinner.