A GALA evening has been held to raise funds for soldiers suffering from combat stress.

North Essex MP Bernard Jenkin and his wife Anne arranged the event to mark Mr Jenkin's 50th birthday.

And rather than receive presents, he hoped to raise thousands of pounds for the charity Combat Stress.

One of the highlights of the event, which was held at St Paul's Cathedral last night, was the unveiling of a portrait by world-renown artist Richard Stone.

The honour of unveiling the painting was given to Baroness Thatcher, who is a long-standing friend of the Jenkins.

Mr Jenkin said: "When Combat Stress first briefed me, some eight years ago, I knew this was a remarkable and important charity.

"Many returning from a war carry no visible wound but will pay a price for their service to our country far higher than we will ever know."

He added: "I have long thought of how I might raise some real money for Combat Stress and, as my 50th approached, I thought this the right opportunity.

"How much better to throw a party to celebrate the thousands of remarkable men and women serving (and who have served) in our Armed Forces."

Tickets for the evening were sold out with 290 guests attending and donations towards the charity had topped £35,000 before the evening started.

The painting of the unnamed soldier, back from Afghanistan, will also be auctioned to generate funds for Combat Stress.

Mr Stone, who has painted numerous world leaders, said: "I think this is such a worthy charity. When Bernard shared with me how he was going to celebrate his birthday, I said 'How can I help you?'

"Between us, we came up with the idea of painting a young soldier who best represented the young men who are in the Armed Forces."

For more on this article and others, see this week's Essex County Standard.