Cheek by jowl with Leo

He has just won an Oscar. In January, Leonardo DiCaprio visited Davos. He talked to the rich and powerful about the state of the world, was patted on the shoulder by US Vice President Joe Biden and demanded that crude oil remain in the ground.

By Peter Hossli

leo_domoLeo is coming. This news electrified many people – especially members of our editorial team. Leonardo DiCaprio, 41, will travel to Davos to discuss the state of the world with the wealthy and mighty at the World Economic Forum. One of my female colleagues wants an autograph, while another suggests an interview. «Take a selfie,» one colleague suggests over lunch. «He is only coming to the WEF to launch his Oscar campaign,» the local cynic quips.

Honoring his commitment
DiCaprio, who currently stars in the movie «The Revenant» as a trapper out for revenge in the American West, was to receive the Crystal Award in Davos – a prize Hilde Schwab annually bestows upon artists actively engaged in social issues. The award is a welcome excuse for the WEF to bring some glamour to Davos and the Landwasser valley.
My assignment from Zurich is crystal clear: «Bring back something from Leo.»

It is a Tuesday evening in January, shortly after 6 p.m., at the Davos conference center. The WEF attendees in their elegant attire are seated in the big auditorium. The lights go out. Along one of the walls men with earpieces, broad shoulders and sunglasses are moving in. They are US Vice President Joe Biden’s bodyguards. He is participating at the WEF.

Walking right behind them is Leo, his hair gelled back, his beard a few days old, his blue suit a perfect fit. Even dispassionate bankers pull out their cellphones to take pictures of the Hollywood star and tweet «Leo is here!» What they’re actually saying is: they are where Leo is.

But, what about Leo? He is acting like a politician, not a star, accepting the Crystal Award from Hilde Schwab’s hands and stepping up to the rostrum. His sober and matter-of-fact speech galvanizes politicians and bankers alike. «We’re fighting for the survival of our planet,» he says.

The agreement at the Paris Convention on Climate Change in December 2015 was «an important first step», but now everybody would have to make an effort «to avert the crisis we face,» says the star of hit movies like «The Great Gatsby», «The Wolf of Wall Street» and «Blood Diamond». He singles out one industry for contempt: «We can simply not afford to allow the corporate greed of the coal, gas and oil industries to determine the future of humanity.» We must leave fossil fuels where they belong: «in the ground.»

The crowd’s applause is tepid. Many of the people in this auditorium earn their living from the very industries that their screen idol is tearing down. Harmony is restored – as is so often the case – by art. American cellist Yo-Yo Ma, 60, gives a concert; in the front row Joe Biden and the Schwabs sit beside Leo. As soon as he last note has faded away, DiCaprio rises and claps wholeheartedly.

leo_domo2Closer than the photographers
Almost simultaneously I get up from my own seat, not in order to applaud but to fulfill my assignment: Bring back something from Leo. I squeeze past other WEF guests until I reach the front row. Like a motionless fly on the wall I stand watching Leo going to join Joe. Or is it Joe joining Leo? DiCaprio and Biden are standing right in front of me, their shining faces turned my way. Behind them, their bodyguards are lurking. I, however, get an unobstructed view of the pair. They chat for minutes, laughing, sometimes getting serious. Time and again the politician pats the actor’s right shoulder, as would a father. Don’t move, I tell myself, or one of the bodyguards will pounce. I pull out my iPhone, take pictures and film them. A photographer in the distance watches, champing at the bit. He’s too far away to get the double head shot that everybody wants: DiCaprio with Biden.

The Schwabs invite everybody to an Italian buffet with prosciutto, Parmesan, risotto and tiramisu. DiCaprio und Biden have long vanished into the night. I send the pictures and videos to Zurich. Minutes later they’re online. The following day the photograph hits the newspaper and an e-mail from Zurich comes in. It’s from our switchboard operator. «I had a few callers this morning who did not want to e-mail but asked me to forward their questions.» She sums up their inquiries into one question. «All those VIPs talking about protecting the environment in Davos – did they drive up in electric cars?» Smart readers. Are the WEF’s guests, who have to sit out endless traffic jams in Davos, just as smart?

But what result did Leo’s visit achieve? For him it was part of his Oscar campaign. As for the rest of us: «Whenever stars turn up at Davos, a new crisis is sure to follow,» a WEF regular warns. «When Angelina Jolie was there the next thing to come along was the financial crisis.»