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Why Sean Penn’s giv­ing up his guns

Sean Penn rang. ‘I’ve got a se­cret to share with you, but you can’t tell any­one un­til tomorrow.’ For an in­vet­er­ate gos­sip like me, this kind of con­ver­sa­tion is al­ways a slow form of wa­ter tor­ture. But I agreed.

‘I own 67 guns,’ he said. ‘I guess you prob­a­bly won’t ap­prove!’

‘Well yes,’ I laughed, ‘you guess cor­rectly.’

‘ But here’s the good news. I’m de­com­mis­sion­ing my­self.’ ‘You’re WHAT?’ ‘I’m melt­ing down all the guns, and the ton of ammo I have too, and the great artist Jeff Koons has agreed to make a sculp­ture out of it all to sell at my Haiti fundraiser tomorrow night.’

‘Wow! That’s amaz­ing. Why are you do­ing this?’

‘ You’ll find out tomorrow. But you’re one of the rea­sons. I love your gun-con­trol cam­paign­ing!’

‘I bid $1.3 mil­lion on a Jeff Koons sculp­ture

that’s made out of Sean Penn’s 67 guns’

earth­quake, and the raw power and emo­tion in her voice ex­em­pli­fied the ex­tra­or­di­nary spirit of those poor peo­ple — 300,000 of whom were killed in just five min­utes.

Half­way through, Bono and The Edge ca­su­ally am­bled out to join her, and the room erupted. What fol­lowed was one of the most mem­o­rable mu­si­cal per­for­mances I’ve ever seen, as Anaelle and Bono com­peted to hit ever greater and more rous­ing high notes. I walked over to Sean’s ta­ble, where he was sit ting with new girl­friend, Char­l­ize Theron. ‘THAT was amaz­ing,’ I said.

‘ That’s noth­ing,’ he chuck­led. ‘Wait un­til later…’

Char­l­ize is even more ab­surdly beau­ti­ful in real life than she seems on screen. We did an as­ton­ish­ing in­ter­view two years ago, in which she re­counted how her mother shot her drunken abu­sive fa­ther dead, af­ter he came home fir­ing his own gun and threat­en­ing to kill them. Char­l­ize was just 15 and, un­der­stand­ably, it put her off guns for life.

‘I’m so glad you two have got to­gether,’ I said, ‘Sean’s a great guy.’

‘I know,’ she smiled, putting her hand round his shoul­der.

Emma Thomp­son was at the same ta­ble with her 14-year- old daugh­ter, Gaia. ‘You look so alike!’ I ex­claimed. Gaia’s face froze in horror.

‘Sorry, I didn’t mean to of­fend you!’ I stam­mered. Emma erupted in mock fury. ‘Sorry… SORRY!? It’s not an in­sult to say she looks like me!’ They then both ex­ploded with iden­ti­cal­sound­ing laugh­ter.

Emma later made a fan­tas­tic offthe- cuff speech rail­ing against the ab­sur­dity of Hol­ly­wood’s back­slap­ping ‘char­i­ta­ble’ in­dus­try.

‘I f****** hate char­ity!’ she shouted. ‘It’s not ‘char­i­ta­ble’ to help peo­ple Be­low: Sean Penn’s new girl­friend, Char­l­ize Theron, who in­spired him to give up his guns who’ve been through some­thing this aw­ful; it should be our plea­sure, not our hon­our!’ The auc­tion started, and quickly turned crazy.

Cold­play’s Chris Martin, sit­ting with his wife, Gwyneth Pal­trow, bought a new Banksy paint­ing for $600,000 — as Ju­lia Roberts loudly whooped her ap­pre­ci­a­tion. Sean took to the stage, and said: ‘Where’s Piers Mor­gan?’ I raised my hand. ‘Have you hacked my phone?’ he quipped, to gen­eral hi­lar­ity. Then he got se­ri­ous. ‘ I’m a self­pro­claimed al­pha male who owns 67 firearms,’ he said. ‘But I’ve had my mind changed about guns by a strong woman, a beau­ti­ful South African woman.’ I looked at Char­l­ize, who was close to tears. ‘ I don’t need th­ese cowardly in­stru­ments of vi­o­lence and de­struc­tion, none of us do.’ Then he turned back to me. ‘It’s amaz­ing that it took a for­eigner like Piers to tell us how wrong our gun cul­ture is. At great per­sonal risk to his ca­reer, and to po­ten­tially his life.’

Then he an­nounced his Jeff Koons auc­tion item, and bid­ding was fe­ro­cious. My CNN col­league An­der­son Cooper was win­ning with $1.2 mil­lion, when I sud­denly found my­self in­ex­pli­ca­bly putting my own hand up and bid­ding $1.3 mil­lion. It wasn’t quite as reck­less as it sounds, as a re­cent Jeff Koons sculp­ture sold for $58 mil­lion! But An­der­son, egged on by Gwyneth shriek­ing, ‘Go on, HIGHER!’, bid $1.4 mil­lion to seal the deal, thus sav­ing me an awk­ward con­ver­sa­tion with Celia, who’d gone home early, se­verely jet­lagged. Bono re­turned with all of U2 to per­form three of their hits to round off a won­der­ful evening that raised $6 mil­lion. We then all headed to Balt­hazar Getty’s Hol­ly­wood man­sion for an af­ter-party, where I got re­gally ine­bri­ated with an eclec­tic group of fel­low rev­ellers in­clud­ing Jen­son But­ton and Steve McQueen’s grand­son, also Steve.

At 2am, Sean came over and bearhugged me. ‘Con­grats on a great night,’ I said. ‘And con­grats on Char­l­ize too.’

He laughed. ‘She’s a keeper, that’s for sure… Well, I’ll do my best to keep her any­way!

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