Oscar week is intense — and it’s been a while since it’s been as intense. The red carpet is full of eager paparazzi and interviewers waiting for a photo opportunity or a quotable gaffe. My husband and I went to a couple of parties, but the most coveted is the Vanity Fair Oscar viewing dinner at the Annenberg Center. About 100 people are invited by editor Radhika Jones, and we were delighted to be among the chosen few. The ceremony was long and snoozy, and people were scrolling down their phones for entertainment when suddenly one of the most celebrated actors in Tinseltown, Will Smith, rushed to the stage and bashed the comedian Chris Rock in the face. You could almost hear the collective jaw-drops in the silence of that room. Naturally, the next day there was barely a mention in the press of the wonderful Best Picture, Coda, announced by a wheelchair-bound Liza Minnelli, or of the touching speech by the deaf actor Troy Kotzur. Everything was about this outrageous incident.
Breathing in the cool Los Angeles night air at the end of the evening, I could still feel the slight stinging in my left breast where I had been hit hard by a stale bread roll a month ago. A complete stranger, the female guest of an unknown-to-me lord, had launched it at me from across the room of the Chelsea Arts Club. She was insulted that she couldn’t crash our private dinner party. So I felt sympathy for Chris Rock when he bore the brunt of Will Smith’s rage. My assault, coming out of the blue, was a shock to my system, so I can only imagine the pain and embarrassment that Rock endured. But I must admit, it’s one heck of a way to make the Best Documentary category more interesting.
When Percy and I dine at the popular Craig’s restaurant in Hollywood, we, and many other well-known people, are often subjected to a barrage of flash bulbs. Usually the pictures are not good. Nevertheless, each shot, however awkward or uncomfortable we look, is allegedly the property of the independent paparazzo, who can then charge as much as they want for it. If the person in the photo (i.e. me) should post it on their social media or website, they can be threatened with a significant demand for payment. To me, this means that I do not own exclusive rights to my image. What next? Will expectant mothers not be able to post an ultrasound of their babies because the images belong to the technician?
When we attended an outdoor cocktail party for Sir Kenneth Branagh and his excellent film Belfast, Sir Kenneth was his usual ebullient yet modest self as he was being lionized by the guests. We reminisced about In the Bleak Midwinter, the movie he wrote and directed in which I played a tough Hollywood agent. In one scene, I had to walk down a hill chattering away to another actor while being followed by the camera. Being a stickler for authenticity of dialogue, Sir Kenneth insisted I retake this four-minute tracking shot several times.
“But why?” I would ask. “What didn’t you like?”
“Darling, it was fine,” said Ken, “but you kept on saying ‘the’ instead of ‘a’.”
“It’s not bloody Shakespeare,” I muttered, trudging back up the hill.
In January, we returned to London. I thought I was safe from Covid after my booster, while Percy and I prepared for our twentieth anniversary party at Claridge’s, which we had been planning for over two years. In the middle of the complication of creating perfect placement for 140 people, I started sneezing. It was Covid. Terrified I would have to cancel the event, I tested myself every day, and felt tremendous relief when I was finally negative with five days to spare. However, I asked my doctor to carry out a PCR test in the middle of my convalescence and this was reported to Britain’s National Health Service, so even though I was feeling better, the NHS kept calling me and telling me I couldn’t go out. I was in bureaucratic limbo.
The party was spectacular. The invitation stated that “white tie was optional” but, lo and behold, at least half of the gentlemen complied. They all looked exceptionally handsome, as white tie is a most flattering look for men. The women also looked stunning wearing full-on evening gowns and finery. Many guests hadn’t been out of their homes properly for more than two years, so the celebrations, dancing and speeches were stellar. Altogether it was one of the best nights of my life, which I was so happy to celebrate with my husband of twenty years and so many close friends, some of whom had flown in from Scotland, Spain, Switzerland, New York, Hollywood and even, yes, deepest darkest Peru.