Gay equality organisation Stonewall said they were delighted that last night’s Equality dinner raised nearly a quarter of a million pounds.

The money raised will help Stonewall’s ongoing campaigns, such as Education for All, which tackles homophobia and homophobic bullying in schools.

The 9th annual event was held at top London hotel The Dorchester.

The highlight of the star-studded evening was a speech by Tony Blair.

Representatives of leading UK businesses were in attendance as the Prime Minister spoke about the changes in British society since he came to office in 1997.

“By removing prejudice and discrimination, and by enabling people to stand proud as what they are, it has had an impact that I think is far more profound in the way the country thinks about itself.

“One thing I think is very important for any country that is to succeed in the future you make the most of the talents and abilities of your people.

“If you allow discrimination to fester, that is a complete rejection of that modernising and civilising notion,” he told the assembled crowd of nearly 500 diners.

“What Stonewall did, and Angela Mason, who I thought was absolutely fantastic when she was the Head, and now Ben, what they did was remarkable and it is a real tribute.”

The Prime Minister spent nearly half an hour before his speech meeting Stonewall supporters at a champagne reception.

Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, said he was delighted that the Prime Minister showed such enthusiasm:

“He spoke to about 120 supporters before the dinner and was delighted to hear from them about their civil partnerships or the impact the goods and services legislation.

“We are pleased he paid such warm tribute to Stonewall and our effectiveness and the professionalism of our staff.”

The Prime Minister said the Sexual Orientation Regulations, which protect gay people from discrimination when accessing goods and services, were a continuing sign of his government’s commitment to equality.

The regulations passed the House of Lords on Wednesday and will to become law on 30th April.

Mr Blair was most passionate when he talked about the impact civil partnerships have had on the lives of gay and lesbian people.

“It is not often that you sort of skip around in my job, I can assure you, but the fact that that the people were so happy and the fact that you felt just one major, major change had happened, of which everyone can feel really proud.”

Chris Bryant, the Labour MP for Rhonnda, said the Prime Minister’s speech at the dinner was a reflection of, “all the work the government has done on lesbian and gay rights which, in a sense, culminated on Wednesday’s vote on goods and services.

“The event was excellent. It was really good fun and I had a great time. Tony Blair was right to remind us of the days when it was thought it was just the “Loony Left” who supported gay rights.

“I think its really important that all those commercial companies were there because it shows that equality is right at the heart of sound business practice.”

Nicholas Boles, who is a prospective Tory candidate for Mayor of London, also attended. He said:

“It was an amazing event. I was there with Steve Hilton, chief adviser to David Cameron. I thought Blair made a good speech and he was rightly applauded for his work on gay rights.”

Also attending the dinner were the Education Secretary, Alan Johnson, environment minister Ben Bradshaw, Lib Dem MP Stephen Williams, Tory MP John Bercow and deputy editor of The Telegraph Andrew Pierce.

Later in the evening, an auction was held and a considerable sum was raised from lots such as an evening out with Torchwood star John Barrowman and a book reading with award-winning author Sarah Waters.

Comedian Amy Lamé made an emotional speech paying tribute to Stonewall.

For those that missed this year’s event, Mr Summerskill said he was looking forward to the 10th Equality dinner.

“It will be happening again next year and who knows who will be the speaker then?” he said.