Former South African President FW de Klerk has decried the lack of leadership in the free world today, telling Norwood’s biggest ever dinner there is a “need for quite a few Nelson Mandelas”.

The man who won the nobel peace prize with Mandela for his part in ending apartheid paid tribute to his “special friend” in front of more than 1,300 guests at an event focusing on the charity’s young supporters and service users, where £3 million was raised. 

“The world is crying out for strong and balanced leadership,” de Klerk said during an interview with long-time Norwood supporter Tania Bryer. With the possible exception of Germany’s Angela Merkel, leaders in the free world were displaying short term thinking and being opportunistic, he charged. “The world needs quite a few Nelson Mandelas.”

The former president recalled his journey to the realisation that apartheid was “an unjustifiable place, we had to break absolutely with the concept of separation” and how the Jewish community played a “constructive role” fighting the system without backing the tactics of the African National Congress. It took courage from both sides of the fence to bring change “but if you truly believe you’re doing the right thing the courage comes”.

While there were sometimes tensions between him and the future leader he freed, “we always found a way to rise above. We became friends. He was a guest in my house. His lack of bitterness, his visionary approach made him a special man and I was proud to call him my friend”. 

Touching on the theme of the evening The Future Is Young, de Klerk said the “grievances of the youth are often misunderstood. Leading parties in the free world don’t give enough attention to the youth”. 

More than 300 young professionals were among the guests at the Grosvenor House Hotel. Rebecca Lane, a scientist who was helped by Norwood after being abandoned by her parents as a teenager, fronted the appeal video to take the audience on a journey to meet a selection of young people who have been supported by the charity’s varied services. 

A star of the evening was one of those featured Jodeci Joseph, a sufferer of bipolar who has become a motivational speaker to help other youngsters. The son of a Nigerian father and Jewish mother, he only learnt of his Jewish roots at the age of 10 and recalled feeling like an “alien” after finding himself in an Orthodox environment. 

Working with a Norwood psychotherapist after reaching a low point, he said: “I didn’t feel invisible anymore. I didn’t have to live up to the high expectations I placed on myself. Instead of despair I started to feel happy. Without Norwood I can’t begin to imagine where I would have ended up.”

Norwood joint president Nicola Mendelsohn thanked diners who had brought designer items to be sold at their network of charity shops. She also announced plans to expand services in Hertfordshire as the community grows. Saying that £12m must be raised annually, she pledged that Norwood would “never stop in the quest to provide the best services”. Bryer praised the charity as “embodying” the spirit of World Kindness Day”. 

Lance Corporal Richard Jones, the only magician to win Britain’s Got Talent, performed at the dinner.