Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the 29th annual Elton John AIDS Foundation Oscar party was held virtually for the first time. Neil Patrick Harris hosted the streaming soiree, which was filmed primarily at London’s luxury Rosewood Hotel and raised more than $3 million for the AIDS organization.
During the hourlong preshow, Harris introduced musical numbers, welcomed surprise guests and conducted sit-down interviews with co-hosts Elton John and his husband David Furnish. Harris addressed the unusual structure of this year’s fete at the beginning of the evening, asking John and Furnish if they had ever imagined they would be virtually hosting the event.
“It’s actually a pain,” John responded, to the laughter of both Harris and Furnish.
He went on to explain, “It’s not a pain, I’m joking. But I wish we could be there. It’s more fun to be there, but this is the only way we could do it so we are doing it.”
“I don’t think you could ever imagine finding yourself in a situation like this,” Furnish said. “But I think it’s amazing during the pandemic, how with the miracle of modern technology, we’ve been able to stay connected with people and hosting a virtual fundraiser tonight is just another brilliant way of doing that.”
John introduced Grammy Award-winning singer Dua Lipa, who was the event’s main performer. He said, “We are so excited to have Dua Lipa here tonight. She’s one of my favorite artists right now. She is a multi-platinum Grammy Award-winning singer with over 4.5 billion album streams. She really is the biggest artist in the world right now and we are really honored to have her.”
Over the course of the show, Lipa performed four songs from her hit album ”Future Nostalgia.” Clad in a black velvet mermaid gown with a diamond choker, Lipa sang “Levitating,” “Pretty Please,” “Don’t Start Now” and “Hallucinate” surrounded by her band, which included a string quartet and four backup singers.
Cynthia Erivo was among the party’s surprise guests, joining the festivities to perform a medley of 12 famous movie lines to the tune of Elton John’s “Your Song.” She also introduced and voiced video segments highlighting the foundation’s work to combat HIV/AIDS around the world.
In another surprise appearance, Lady Gaga discussed the importance of providing mental health services to those fighting HIV and AIDS. During a prerecorded segment, Gaga said, “This last year has taken a huge toll on the mental health of people all over the world. We have all had those days, weeks or longer where we might look okay from the outside, but inside is a different story altogether.”
She continued, “Our mental health is fundamental to our physical health and this is especially true for young people fighting HIV. It’s tragic to think a quarter of adolescents living with HIV don’t have access to the medical care they need because of depression or feeling overwhelmed. The reality is we won’t end the AIDS crisis unless we care for both mental and physical health.”
Later in the show, Harris introduced the director of the United States National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical advisor to the president, Dr. Anthony Fauci. Harris said, “Throughout the pandemic, Dr. Anthony Fauci has become a household name, a heartthrob and leading voice on the frontline of the COVID response in America. However, to all of us involved in the fight against HIV and AIDS, we have known that he has been there from the very start, dedicating half of his life to the cause.”
In a pre-taped recording, Fauci thanked John and Furnish for their work to fight HIV and AIDS globally. He also spoke of the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the battle against the AIDS epidemic, citing decreased testing and the disruption of supply chains providing crucial medications. Fauci said, “Serious challenges lie ahead for combating the global COVID-19 pandemic, yet as we navigate year two of this pandemic, a pathway to dealing with it, lit by the rapid development of safe and highly effective COVID-19 vaccines, gives us reason to hope.”
John and Furnish also participated in comedic bits with British actor David Walliams and cast members from Harris’ 2021 miniseries “It’s a Sin” including Lydia West, Nathaniel Curtis, Callum Scott Howells, Omari Douglas and Olly Alexander, who appeared over FaceTime on West’s phone.
For the evening’s main event, John and Lipa performed a duet of his classic “Bennie and the Jets” and her song “Love Again.” Lipa, who had changed into a sequined dress for the final performance, said, “What a dream and an honor. Elton, thank you so much for having me.”
Following the pre-show, the event transitioned into an Oscars watch party with John and Furnish as hosts for part of the telecast. They were joined by longtime friend, actor Eric McCormack, who took part in the celebration from his backyard in Studio City, though their interactions were plagued with audio problems.
As the winners of the first few Oscars categories were announced, John and Furnish provided commentary on the proceedings. Furnish lauded Emerald Fennell’s nod for original screenplay, noting that the “Promising Young Woman” screenwriter was a family friend.
John seemed less than impressed by the awards show, remarking, “The Oscar ceremony look like it’s coming from a Starbucks somewhere.”
He commended Daniel Kaluuya’s supporting actor win, saying, “I’m very happy for Daniel as well because he was brilliant in ‘Get Out.’ He’s a lovely man. I’ve never met him, but I’ve been in contact with him on email and I’m very proud of him.”
But then the music icon added, “I still can’t get over the set though.”
Eventually, the couple handed off hosting duties to McCormack, with Elizabeth Hurley appearing later to mix up a cocktail at the Rosewood.
Usually one of the most coveted invites of awards season, this year’s celebration was open to the public for the first time. Viewers could tune in by purchasing tickets through Ticketmaster across four different time zones, with the proceeds benefiting the Elton John AIDS Foundation.
The night was sponsored by Cisco Webex, Parx Casino, Fulwell 73, Charles de Cazanove and American Airlines.