Some received starters’ fees, but most celebrities were just happy to be there, writes women Natalie Craig.
There were more celebrities than you could poke a swizzle stick at in the exclusive Birdcage enclosure – from politicians to models and vaguely familiar soap stars – but they were small fish compared to the pale and mysterious woman who arrived at high noon.
Jockeying for position behind the velvet rope, dozens of anxious cameramen and starstruck guests with iPhones yelled ”Dita! Dita!” as a pale, dark-haired woman pouted and posed.
”Who is she again, mate?” said one snapper, his friend obliging him by writing the name on a notepad.
Dita Von Teese at the Lavazza marquee. Victoria Derby Day at Flemington Races.
In fact, women Dita Von Teese is an American ”burlesque” dancer (read: vintage stripper) and ex-wife of grunge rocker Marilyn Manson. And while several guests confessed they didn’t know who she was, she probably won the marketing race for her sponsors, Lavazza.
Its marquee, which also hosted Australian actor Nick Giannopolous and singer Anthony Callea, at one point held more journalists and minders than people actually enjoying themselves.
It was just the kind of circus that the racing aristocracy loathe. Francesca Cumani, daughter of British trainer Luca Cumani, has proclaimed that the practice of bringing international celebrities to the Cup Carnival makes Melbourne look ”insecure”.
Whispers yesterday about appearance fees of more than $100,000 also sullied the shine on Ms Von Teese.
But Lavazza importer John Valmorbida told The Sunday Age he had no qualms about ”putting money in the hat” with David Jones to bring the dancer to Australia, although he declined to say exactly how much. ”We pay for the hospitality, the airfares, all of that – it’s not cash as such,” he said. ”I don’t agree with [Cumani] … By having the celebrities, we’re sending a message back about our hospitality.
”I know others this year have been in a bidding war.”
While everyone else was trying to gawk at her, women Von Teese had her eye on the telecast of the races. She held court with five chosen journalists, and gave specific instructions not to be photographed while speaking (apparently, it’s not flattering to the jawline).
Earlier at Myer’s trackside marquee (Lavazza is one row back) guests were enjoying their elevated view, although the scrum to photograph model Jennifer Hawkins obscured the finish of Race 1.
”Oh my god, you look so good!” squealed Hawkins as fellow Myer ”ambassador” Rebecca Judd arrived.
”R-Judd” swooned over ”J-Hawk’s” outfit, who returned the favour by commenting on her skinny post-baby form. Husband, Carlton footballer Chris Judd, was ”around”, but baby Oscar was at home with the in-laws. (He’s no hassle anyway, she said, sleeping 11-12 hours a night since the age of eight weeks. Oh, please.)
Hamish Blake and Andy Lee also hugged like long-lost friends at Myer. ”Mate!” said Blake lustily. Their entourage included Blake’s girlfriend, author Zoe Foster.
Lee, now single after splitting with model Megan Gale earlier this year, was especially approachable, and candid on the subject of celebrity schmoozing. ”What’s our M.O.? Hamish and I are going to try and get as much free stuff as we can.
”That’s been our style since uni … Aside from the odd interview with wonderfully attractive Age journalists, we’re free to do whatever we want.”
Tour de France champion Cadel Evans was the big-name guest at Swisse. Emirates hosted celebrity foodie Matt Preston, Simone Callahan (Shane Warne’s ex-wife) and Irish crooner Ronan Keating and wife Yvonne, who denied the Cup Carnival was being overrun by celebrities. ”Oh god no,” said Keating. ”It’s just a lot of fun. Derby is the best. It’s a lot less snooty than the races in the UK.”
At the Fashions on the Field arena, where savvy young men gathered to check out the fillies. ”We are single and we’re ready to mingle!” said a smiley Jonathon Davies, 31, here with mates on a bucks’ do.
Josh Lucas and his mates, also at the Derby for a bucks’ day, were testing their fashion nous by placing bets on the winners. ”I reckon definitely No. 412,” said Lucas. ”She’s got everything in the right place.”
But the title went to No. 327, Jess Coad, in an angular black dress and wiry tangerine hat. She won a goodie bag, gift vouchers, a holiday, and will compete for an $85,000 sportscar in the women’s cup carnival final on Oaks Day.