By Greg Carannante
City & Shore Magazine
The little girl with the microphone stood just three feet in front of Phil Collins. Unintimidated, she began to sing: “I heard there was a secret chord that David played and it pleased the Lord…”
It was a surprising choice for an 8-year-old – Hallelujah, Leonard Cohen’s 1984 meditation that’s become almost a sacred hymn. And by the time Camila Pocovi was finished, having elevated to a stirring falsetto for the final “hallelujahs,” that opening line had turned into something of a dream come true. She had pleased the lord, and Collins bestowed upon her the first Dreamer Pass of the evening. She had passed the audition. She was a Little Dreamer now.
“That’s a tough song to sing,” Collins told her. “You’re 8 years old and you sang it beautifully. You have a wonderful life ahead of you.”
Camila, of Miami, was one of over 80 kids kids vying for one of the 14 Dreamer Passes awarded at the Little Dreams Foundation auditions last month in Hollywood. LDF, which supports talented youngsters with big aspirations and little means, has provided financial assistance, opportunities and “godparent” mentors to 400 children in various countries since its start in 2000 in Switzerland.
Launched in Miami two years ago, LDF has hosted glamorous annual fundraising events, such as “Brunch on the Beach” in May and the “Dreaming on the Beach” gala that this March featured Collins’ first performance in almost six years.
Sitting beside Collins at the judge’s table was his LDF co-founder and its chairman, Orianne, his ex-wife with whom he reunited almost a year ago.
It’s a tragic irony that this woman who is the driving force behind Little Dreams is herself emerging from a big real nightmare – she awoke paralyzed from the head down after a recent operation to treat a slipped disc in her neck. She remained that way for more than nine months.
Irony No. 1: The founder of a special program within LDF to help the disabled suddenly found herself in a wheelchair. Now she says she’s “the ambassador” of No Difference, which she created in 2006 and which currently supports 150 people.
Irony No. 2: Collins also suffered a disabling side effect following major back surgery last year. His was a less serious numbness in his right foot that nevertheless requires him to walk with “a stick.”
“They touched my spinal cord,” Orianne, 43, says of her 2014 operation in Switzerland. “The surgeon came to me and said I will never be able to walk again. It’s not fair for my children to have a mother who’s just a vegetable in a bed. It was a very big experience for me. One day I moved one of my toes, so I say to myself, well maybe you have a chance to come back.
“I was in Switzerland for four months on my own in a rehabilitation center, so I train and I relearn everything – how to write, how to cook, how to walk. I came back in a wheelchair.”
Orianne, who became a black belt 12 years ago, says she had to train five hours a day for almost a year and a half and credits much of her recovery to martial arts, which is also used to treat No Difference patients.
“I have still part of my body that is paralyzed, but at the end of the day, I’m alive and I’m walking OK. I have one [walking] stick now, and my mind is strong, so I’m getting there. It’s a miracle actually.”
It may not be miraculous but there is a silver lining to Orianne’s tragedy. She is once again using Collins as her last name. The couple hasn’t remarried, but old flames rekindled after her ex moved to Miami Beach last year to help with her rehab and care for their two boys, Nic, 15, and Matthew, 12.
The couple split in 2008 after nine years in what was until then Britain’s biggest celebrity divorce. Orianne moved to Miami that year after marrying investment banker Charles Mejjati, against whom she has recently started divorce proceedings. Their son, Andrea, 5, now lives with her and Collins and their two boys in Collins’ Miami Beach bayfront villa previously owned by Jennifer Lopez.
“When I was sick last year he was there for me,” Orianne told the British paper The Mail recently. “I don’t think I ever stopped loving Phil but it took me a while to realize that he is the love of my life.”
Despite the notoriety of their divorce, the couple had remained friends, growing LDF together. It was a good match. Collins naturally had the entertainment cache and Orianne boasted an extensive background in organizing events and work with charitable agencies, particularly through the communications company she started in Switzerland in the ’90s.
“We used to receive a lot of demand from young aspiring talents to help them to realize their dream, and to help them to go to school,” Orianne says. “We used to send checks individually to people, and then one day we said why don’t we just create a foundation.
“What I would love is have the foundation do more work in Florida and in the U.S. That is, I will say, my emotional work, because I’m a jewelry designer and have my business aside.”
Jewelry design is her own little dream. She discovered her love for it while collaborating with different brands on pieces for the foundation, and in 2006 launched OC Jewellery. Located in the Miami Design District, the store offers intricate pieces for women, men and children that are also available at Neiman-Marcus and oriannecollins.com. Ten percent of each sale goes to LDF, she says.
The couple’s charitable work has not gone unrecognized. They were honored with the Humanitarian Award from The Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis last October.
For more info on LDF, please visit ldf.cc.
Camila Pocovi, 8, sings at the LIttle Dreams Foundation auditions in June.