NELSON MANDELA last night praised the celebration of his 90th birthday concert — but said it was time for new hands to lift the burdens of human suffering.
Looking frail but smiling, Mr Mandela was physically helped on to the stage and used a stick as he delivered his birthday speech at London’s Hyde Park.
He told the audience: “We say tonight, after nearly 90 years of life, it’s time for new hands to lift the burdens.
“It’s in your hands now. Where there is poverty and sickness, including Aids, where human beings are being oppressed, there’s more work to be done.”
Stars including Andrea and Sharon Corr, Annie Lennox, Queen, Amy Winehouse and Leona Lewis performed at the concert.
U2’s Bono and The Edge have also recorded a version of Happy Birthday for the statesman, which was beamed on to screens.
Actor Will Smith kicked off proceedings by introducing Razorlight on stage, adding: “The party begins now.”
As well as marking the former South African president’s birthday, the concert will raise funds for Mr Mandela’s HIV/Aids charity 46664.
Scottish singer Lennox, wearing a t-shirt reading “HIV positive”, gave an impassioned speech about combating the virus.
“Don’t you think that every child should have the right to life?” she said, to huge applause.
Precisely 46,664 tickets — after Mandela’s prison number during his 27-year incarceration for trying to topple South Africa’s apartheid regime — went on sale.
The event takes place 20 years after a 70th birthday concert at Wembley Stadium galvanised momentum for the end of apartheid.
Will Smith quoted singer Peter Gabriel as once saying: “If the world could only have one father, we would choose Nelson Mandela.”
Other performers on the concert bill included Andrea and Sharon Corr, Simple Minds, Josh Groban, Joan Baez, the Sugababes, Eddy Grant, Jamelia, and the Sudanese rapper Emmanuel Jal, a former war child.
Victoria Beckham was booed by the crowd when she sent Mr Mandela a birthday wish via video link from LA.
But her husband, David Beckham, was cheered by the audience.
The night’s host June Sarpong jokingly told off the crowd. “I won’t tell her what you guys said.
“You should be ashamed of yourselves,” she said.
Other stars who sent out a birthday message included former X Factor judge Sharon Osbourne, actor Morgan Freeman and TV chef Gordon Ramsay.
Leona Lewis sang her ballad Bleeding Heart and Better In Time.
The X Factor winner said: “When I was younger my aunty and grandmother used to tell me stories about this incredible, wonderful, great man, Nelson Mandela. We used to sing songs about him. It’s incredible to sing here today at his 90th birthday celebration.
“I feel so honoured, I just can’t begin to explain.”
Razorlight also performed, with frontman Johnny Borrell speaking out against the situation in Zimbabwe.
Singer Josh Groban said: “Audiences got a magnificent, eclectic, energetic celebration of an extraordinary man. At 90 years old he still has the reach and inspiration and power to make change. It really just goes to show us how strong his legacy and his legend is."
July 18, 1918: Born to Nosekeni Fanny and Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa, chief counsellor to the chief of the Tembu tribe.
1942: Completes his degree through the University of South Africa and goes to African National Congress meetings, becoming a member a year later.
1944: Becomes a founder of the ANC Youth League and marries Evelyn Mase.
1951: Elected President of the Youth League.
1952: Opens a law practice in Johannesburg with his friend Oliver Tambo and the pair campaign against oppression.
1958: Divorced and marries Nomzamo Winnie Madikizela.
1960: Is one of thousands detained after the ANC is banned following the Sharpeville massacre.
1962: Smuggled out of the country for military training and later arrested.
1964: Sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labour on Robben Island.
1990: President FW de Klerk announces Mandela will be released.
1991: Elected ANC President at the Congress’s 48th National Conference.
1993: Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with de Klerk.
1994: Elected first president of a democratic South Africa.
1998: Marries Graca Machel on 80th birthday.
1999: Steps down as president.
2001: Diagnosed with prostate cancer.
2005: Son dies of Aids. Makes fighting the syndrome his main cause.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved