Vienna rides Conchita wave with Life Ball AIDS charity

by Reuters
Saturday, 31 May 2014 14:07 GMT

(Repeats to additional subscribers)

By Derek Brooks

VIENNA, May 31 (Reuters) - Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst will rub elbows on Saturday night with former U.S. President Bill Clinton, actress Lindsay Lohan and designer Vivienne Westwood at Europe's biggest AIDS charity event, Vienna's Life Ball.

This year's event takes place as the Austrian capital basks in the victory of the bearded drag queen Wurst earlier this month, which has at least temporarily given it a self-image as a hotbed of tolerance.

Skimpy costumes will be de rigeur, and guests wearing costumes the organisers' "style police" judge to be exceptional could win half-price admission to the Vienna ball. Tickets are normally distributed by a lottery and cost 160 euros ($220).

The event is inspired by the 15th-century Hieronymus Bosch triptych "The Garden of Earthly Delights", which depicts hedonistic revellers in its centre panel and the Garden of Eden and hell on either side.

The ball has drawn criticism for using Bosch-like posters featuring a nude transgender model, Carmen Carrera. Photographer David LaChapelle designed two versions, showing Carrera with either male or female genitalia, along with the slogan: "I am Adam - I am Eve - I am me." In response, a vigilante granny has become a media event by going around defacing the exposed parts.

Life Ball organiser Gery Keszler said the poster was intended to provoke discussion of acceptance, not to exploit Wurst's Eurovision victory.

"The goal of the poster was to reach a dialogue, but the reaction was bigger than we thought," Keszler told Reuters. "For one night, Vienna seems like the centre of tolerance because the Life Ball brings everybody together. Not everything in the world is black or white, it is all a spectrum, and we wanted to present that," he said in an interview.

Wurst will perform her winning power ballad "Rise Like A Phoenix" live on the ball's main stage.

Other celebrity guests include Courtney Love, Kesha, and Desperate Housewives actress Marcia Cross.

The annual ball, now in its 22nd year, has grown from a small gay-community event to a celebrity-studded society fixture. Its cost-free venue, the neo-Gothic Vienna city hall, is the first government building to host an AIDS-related event.

The ball raised around 2.4 million euros ($3.3 million) last year, much of it donated to the Clinton Health Access Initiative to treat and reduce HIV infections in children.

Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for over 70 percent of the world's HIV-positive people from an estimated total of 35 million living with the disease worldwide.

According to the United Nations, in 2012 2.3 million contracted new HIV infections and 1.6 million people died of AIDS-related illnesses.

($1 = 0.7345 Euros) (Reporting by Derek Brooks; Editing by Michael Roddy and Larry King)

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