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Paper Trail:
Donatella's New Year's Party

Paper Trail:
Donatella's New Year's Party


An excerpt from Rupert Everett's new memoir, Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins.

The Versace house remained empty after Gianni's murder until New Year's Eve 1999, when Donatella made a new entrance in the alleyway at the back and put a sign on the front door with an arrow directing visitors around the corner. That night, she gave the last party of the old century. She left the next day.

What a feeling of impending doom there was that night. Were the computers going to jam? Was the world going to stop? The TV jumped from Bethlehem to Belgrade and crowds around the world leered dangerously at each other across a billion screens, like too many panting dogs straining at the leash to get into the dog park. Any second now there would be a giant scuffle.

On the way to the Versace house, I bumped into Luisa on Ocean Drive with a piece of tinsel around her sailor's hat. She was drunk.

" Tutto bene?" she asked.

"Tutto bene, Luisa," I replied. "Bon anniversaire!" And she disappeared waving into the crowd.

The walls of the Versace house could no longer hold the outside world at bay. The noise from Ocean Drive was like the storming of the Bastille, exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. I found Donatella sitting alone on a couch in the garden, wearing a silver dress, wrapped up in a thousand memories.

"I'm so depressed," she said simply.

"Me too," I replied, but mine was cosmetic by comparison.

Donatella was clouded by tragedy that night. It curled around her in wisps and tendrils, obliterating her from time to time. Suddenly she was there for a moment, visible through its icy receding fingers, laughing at a piece of gossip, but otherwise it was always pulling her in deeper. It was touching to see her brace herself and greet the throng of guests that swept into the house, wave after wave, a polished swaying Botoxed crowd baying for pleasure. She moved among them with the politeness and precision of a hardened sleepwalker. Luckily for her, and unluckily, people generally reacted to the way she looked and searched no further. To them she was the brash party diva. People didn't see the depth or the sadness, though sometimes she offered it, humbly and with dignity, in a conversation, but it was always overlooked. She had built an image for herself that had become a prison. Nobody could see through the peroxide wall. Then she huffed smoke like a dragon, rolled her eyes in frustration and came back to the couch to sit down. Soon, however, she was back up on the burning deck, one hand in an endless rotation pushing her hair behind her back, the other, manicured, heavily bejeweled, clutching a pink diamante lighter and a pack of Marlboro reds. Special packs had been made for these cigarettes in the atelier back in Milan, and "Smoking Kills" was replaced by the letters DV in a gothic scrawl. The tragic cloud could not extinguish that peculiar humour, very Italian, and it broke through the mist that night after Jennifer Lopez made her entrance.

Dessert was being served. A cluster of divas, some of them stars, others not, sat around Donatella at a corner table in the courtyard. The party moved fast around us, the table was a rock, and waves of fruits demer crashed against it, swelling our numbers from eight to twelve, and then to sixteen. Chairs peeled off in all directions in a swastika for intimate asides over cigarettes and crossed legs, but the undertow on this particular stretch of bitch was strong and soon, they had been swept back out to sea by the acid tongue of Madonna's brother Christopher Ciccone, the glum monosyllabic reply of Guy Ritchie, or the polite but firm dismissal of Gwyneth Paltrow. Madonna smiled graciously to all and sundry, secure in the knowledge that someone else would do the dirty work, and give any unwanted jellyfish "the old heave-ho."

But Ingrid Casares, Madonna's mouthpiece and Miami's mistress of ceremonies, kept the flow coming, watching her saint all the while, but at the same time ignoring the warning signals from the galaxy around her. She had a job to do, after all, but the table wanted to keep to itself, because with us that night, hanging in the air, were the thousand ghosts and skeletons that come with the holly and the mistletoe: our fears and hopes, and these were company enough. A lot of wires were crossed around that table, and some strained connections were going to be cut loose as the old century rang out. Others were being forged right there; locks were being hammered into chains, as the minute hand approached the extraordinary hour. Perhaps the table had one thing, one aim, in common. Nobody, Guy, Madonna, Gwyneth or Donatella, was ever coming back to Miami.

Unbeknownst to most of us, Guy and Madonna were having a baby. Strangely enough, so was Ingrid. Guy's body curved around his rock princess in acquiescence though his face was a sheer contractual addendum that night. It said: whatever else, never Miami. The impact of this was dawning on poor Ingrid, who had moved Madonna to Miami in the first place, but she held on doggedly to the fraying lasso around Madonna's neck. For the time being it could stay there, but nothing was going to be the same again in the house of the immaculate deception. Gwyneth had been flirting with Guy Oseary, the child prodigy who ran Madonna's record company, but that liaison was another thin strand that Gwyneth cut with the brisk cheer of a dignitary opening a new wing of a hospital. "I name this ship...Over." It had snapped before the party even began. Actually, she was thick as thieves with Christopher, and after midnight the two of them danced like whirling dervishes until they wound up slumped and feverish on Donatella's garden couch.

And this was the night that marked the beginning of the end for Christopher and Madonna. They had been inseparable through a trippy childhood in a huge family with a wicked stepmother, and she had taken him with her to the material world, where Christopher had provided a solid raft in the shark-infested waters. And for anyone who came in contact with Madonna, to know her at all you had to know him. The one was incomprehensible without the other. He was her dark side and she was his. People reeled in horror at the mention of his name, because he had a blunt aggressive manner, and he often looked as though he was laughing at you, particularly when he was drunk, but underneath he was a vulnerable funny friend in the old tradition. Once you were friend-you were friends. But Guy and Chris were from different planets, and in a way the one's success relied on the other not being there. Also Guy was not particularly comfortable with queens, and so, as the relationship between him and Madonna quickly deepened, it was a last call for a lot of the disco bunnies and club-mix queens that made up the fabric of Madonna's mantle. It was a surprise, because Madonna came out of the womb blowing a disco whistle, but a whole aspect of her life was about to be hit by the delete button.

The Next Best Thing hung over the table that night as well. "American Pie" played endlessly on South Beach that Christmas like the first chilling breeze before the hurricane to come. For me, hearing myself chanting away behind Madonna, later that night at Twist, or later still, in a weird remix by Junior Vasquez, it was about as exciting as life could get. The movie was coming out in two months' time and we knew it could make or break us both.

And so, shortly before midnight, Jennifer Lopez swept into the courtyard on the arm of Benny Medina, her new manager. Donatella got up and walked over to greet her while Gwyneth and Madonna gave two snorts of derision and noisily left the room. The men and Ingrid were momentarily flummoxed but followed suit, leaving me and my hairdresser Jaime alone at the table. It could have been a moment from The Women. A thousand pairs of eyes swiveled between the two groups of divas, one caravan threading its way grandly towards the garden and the disco lights, the other moving slowly towards the table through a sea of upturned adoring faces. As the last member of the M team left, Donatella arrived with the J team, only to find Jamie and me alone at the huge table.

"Where is everyone?" asked Donatella, startled.

"We don't know," Jamie and I replied hopelessly.

Jennifer had given a rather startling interview a few weeks earlier, one of her best, as a matter of fact, where she regally dished all and sundry, saying, among other things, that Madonna couldn't sing and that Gwyneth couldn't act. This broke an unwritten Hollywood law. Think it but never say it. Jennifer was still learning the ropes. (She learnt fast. When Iraq kicked in, somebody asked her what she thought of the war and she replied, "I leave all that sort of thing to Ben (Affleck)." Jennifer was no Dixie chick.) I say, let's have more catfights. The public love it because they finally get a feeling of the diva involved, a glimpse of the snarly side of her character; and certainly, everyone there at the party that night adored the drama. They were visibly shaking with the thrill of it, and so were the girls in question. They were like ducks during a rainstorm, preening, stretching their wings, shaking themselves and quacking. Jennifer sat with Benny, holding a beatific smile in place for longer than a porno star keeps an erection. Gwyneth and Madonna huddled around Donatella's garden couch like bullies from the upper sixth. Guy and Guy were puzzled but played along. Ingrid was like a cartoon cat, caught in a ravine between two cliffs. Jamie and I locked ourselves into a bathroom with Donatella, a bodyguard at the door, and informed the rest of the world what was going on outside. We popped out briefly for midnight and then went back to the bunker like war journalists to phone in the latest explosion.

The next day Madonna had a barbecue at her beautiful house on the bay. It was the last time anyone would see it. She sold it two months later. It was a beautiful white mansion, built it in the twenties and had been decorated by Christopher. It stood in front of a huge expanse of sea and sky and had a strange, uninhabited feeling. You wouldn't know she lived there; there was nothing personal within it. A little freshwater creek ran through the bottom of the garden and that day the sky was off-white, so was the bay and so were we. Everything merged into one. Far away on the horizon, Miami Beach was a thin line dividing the elements upon which the new towers of South Point were like little jagged blips on a fading cardiogram.

Everyone was exhausted. Especially Mo, who nearly drowned in Madonna's pool. Luckily Lola was watching and we hauled him out. I thought he'd had a heart attack because he staggered out of the water and collapsed in a puddle on the terrace. I became quietly frantic. Elsa, an eccentric Cuban, came and sat by us. Mo couldn't move. He lay there looking at me from the corners of his eyes. We fed him bread and milk. Finally he got better and staggered to his feet.

Everyone who was anyone left the next day. Madonna and Donatella sold their houses. Jamie and I flew back to a freezing Chicago where we were filming, leaving Mo with Jay. With the coming of the millennium, la belle epoque was officially over. Hardly has a star been seen on South Beach since. Now it was open season for everyone else.

The premiere of The Next Best Thing was the breathless summit of my Hollywood year. Paramount flew me and my friend Baillie from London on Concorde, and for a brief dazzling moment I was on everybody's mind. The trailers were on TV; "American Pie" was on the airwaves; my airbrushed face stared petulantly from the magazine stands. My relationship with Madonna intrigued America, and for a few seconds on the street the world froze and I walked on by.

At the premiere, which was orchestrated with a military precision by Madonna and her field marshal the formidable Liz Rosenberg, our cars pulled up simultaneously at the kerb; the crowds screamed our names as we stepped out into the firing squad of paparazzi, like condemned men with smiles glued to our faces. Guy and Madonna walked ahead. I kept one pace behind, like the Duke of Edinburgh. We made our way down the long red carpet as the dark holes of a thousand cameras dilated in scrutiny, looking us up and down while I said what I loved about her and she said what she loved about me. Stunned by the flashlights and faces--among them Salman Rushdie and Cilla, of all people--we were swept along by the current, wide eyed and wired, guided by the invisible hands of "our people" towards this journalist or that studio executive, until we eventually arrived at our seats in the theatre, where various members of my life waved from different corners of the stalls. Julia and Ben appeared out of an explosion of flashlights, looking glossy and unruffled.

"Hi, I'm Julia," said Julia, with a huge smile.

"I know who you are," said Madonna icily.

It was the only good moment of the evening.

The movie opened across America on Friday. At eight o'clock on Saturday morning Baillie and I arrived at the Concorde lounge at JFK. The first person we saw was Robbie Williams. "Oops," he said and disappeared to the loo.

"What's wrong with Robbie?" I asked Baillie, as we meandered through the lounge.

On a table were the morning papers. "Madonna Lays an Egg" was written in huge letters across the cover of the New York Post. "Rupert's Mediocre Thing" said another. "Next Best Thing is a Stinker." I nearly fainted. It was a catastrophe. Baillie and I rummaged through the papers as the dowagers and tech billionaires watched us with amused distracted smiles from their comfy leather couches. At a certain point we began to laugh.

"Oh, no! Look at this one. Actually maybe you shouldn't," said Baillie. I grabbed the paper: "Rupert Everett's performance has all the energy of a pet rock."

"That's why I said oops," said Robbie returning from the loo.

I have never read such bad reviews in my life.

But a film has a Picture of Dorian Gray quality to it. Even though its image is "locked down," the perception of that image ebbs and flows with the years. Sometimes a movie coins a catchphrase of the day but it looks hollow and contrived a year later, and ends its flickering life as a campy classic to be watched, stoned, with a bunch of queens who chant every line. Sometimes it sinks without trace in the initial race, torn to shreds by the vultures in the know, only to re-emerge years later on cable TV with a strange resonance and a new meaning that was unintended or overlooked by its creators. Thus Doris Day and Rock Hudson, the "It" couple of their day, end by revealing the hypocrisy of their age. Their relationship seems hopelessly fake in an America of suppression and segregation, whereas Nick and Nora in The Thin Man series are strangely fresh and true. But what is true? Mommie Dearest killed Faye Dunaway, but was Faye as bad as all that? Or was she too brilliant? What made James Dean live on and then suddenly die? They were forced to close his tribute museum this year due to lack of interest. These are questions we in the business ask our shrinks every week.

The Next Best Thing is not a great film. Its tone and delivery are unremarkable. It blew my new career out of the water and turned my pubic hair white overnight. But over the years it has had a strange life. Maybe it was painted in blood. Certainly it was a snapshot that sucked up many souls. The vitriol engendered by Madonna's performance says as much about the resentment felt by a world of neurotic fans for its household gods as it does about her thespian skills. Acres of acting have been cheaper than hers and have yet been awarded Oscars and crowns. It all depends on how the liquor is hitting you. My mum watched the film at a screening and she felt as if she was in a muddled dream of her own life. She was heaving with sobs after twenty minutes and nearly had to be carried out at the end, she was so upset.

In Cambodia three years later, a country largely beyond the clutches of Hollywood but not of Maverick Records, I walked into a bar and The Next Best Thing was playing on a TV above a pool table. Madonna was looking sadly at her breasts in a mirror, holding them in her hands. "Nineteen-eighty-nine," she said, before letting them flop down. "Nineteen-ninety-nine." It was the best scene in the movie.

Kids with billiard cues in their hand stood motionless before Madonna, intrigued and challenged. Now our film was shocking and avant garde, winking at me across the smoky room. Who knew that a chance moment in a bar at Phnom Penh would be one of the high points of my career. Me watching them watching her watch herself was as good as it ever got.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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