This sort of thing has probably happened to all of us, hasn’t it?
Leonardo DiCaprio, the movie star, had invited dozens of his closest friends to a lunch party at his house. Of course, it wasn’t an ordinary party – the cost to attend was roughly US$34,000 (Dh125,000) – and the guest of honour was no ordinary guest. The party was a fund-raising event for Hillary Clinton, the current front-runner in the November US presidential election.
But as the date approached, DiCaprio discovered, apparently, that his current work on an environmentally-themed film documentary would require his presence somewhere else that afternoon, so he did what any of us would do when faced with moving a big party with famous guests, all of whom had paid some very large coin to attend, and which included one of the most powerful political figures in the world: he called up his megastar friends Justin Timberlake and Timberlake’s wife, actress Jessica Biel, and asked if maybe the whole complicated, expensive event could be moved to their back garden instead.
Luckily for him, Timberlake and Biel had already planned to be home that day and could easily accommodate this last-minute appeal from their friend. Equally fortuitous, that Timberlake and Biel have a big enough house to host the group.
There are murky rumours about the true reason for the shift in venue. Leonardo DiCaprio’s foundation, the eponymously-named “LDF”, has been financially linked to a Malaysian investor named Jho Low, who is currently in hiding thanks to a multi-nation investigation into his handling of funds from a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund. It’s possible that the ethical cloud hanging over DiCaprio was the inspiration for the sudden change, though it’s unclear whether the suggestion came from the DiCaprio camp or the Hillary Clinton campaign.
Hollywood parties like this one, whether for a political or charitable purposes, are always carefully orchestrated events. The guest list is tightly controlled, either by a ruthless assessment of which stars are “A-list” and which don’t make the cut, or by the prohibitive price tag. (Money tends to have an efficient sorting function.) This event was no different: most of the A-list was invited (and attended) and it included some influential and mostly unknown executives, so the entire afternoon carried a powerful movers-and-shakers vibe.
Or so I was told. I didn’t attend, for two reasons: one, I’m in no position to give $34,000 to anyone, let alone an American politician; and two, I wasn’t invited.
Don’t spread that around, OK? I have a reputation as an “insider” to protect.
In Hollywood Wives, the juicy entertainment industry roman a clef written by the salaciously unreserved Jackie Collins, who died almost exactly one year ago, the social politics of a party like this one are neatly laid out. When some of the grasping, social climbing characters discover, to their shame and humiliation, that they are not on the guest list for an important and A-list event, they do the only decent thing and pretend to be elsewhere. Cars are pulled into garages or hidden out of sight, house lights are kept dark, and trips to far-flung places suddenly become necessary. “I so wish I could have been there,” they all say to anyone who will listen, weeks after the event that everyone else was invited to, “but of course I was on location at the time.”
Being “on location” – that is, required to be on a working film set somewhere distant – is a universally-accepted Hollywood excuse for almost any social snub. Even though it’s ridiculously easy to verify – the number of pictures in production at any time, especially now that the film business has contracted so sharply, is quite small – no one bothers to double-check. And why would they? It’s likely that the person you’re lying to about the reasons you weren’t at the big A-list event was also not invited, and is about to conjure up a similar untruth.
My face-saving posture is, I think, much smarter. I simply brazenly say that I was, in fact, there. Because these events are meticulously photographed and Instagrammed and covered in all sorts of ways, it’s easy enough to bluff your way through any conversation. I know what Timberlake wore and what his welcoming remarks were, I know what was served and even how he and his wife have decorated their back garden. And the chances are high that the person I am delivering all of these social-climbing lies to wasn’t there either.
Leonardo DiCaprio isn’t as clever as I am. He fell back on that old-fashioned excuse – “I’m working on a film! Wish I could be there!” – even though he was not only on the guest list but the official host of the event. It’s unclear whether he was really at home the whole time, shades drawn, hiding in a dark corner, like one of the Hollywood Wives, but he’d have been better off just having the party at his house, not showing up, and then telling everyone he was there all the time.
Rob Long is a writer and producer in Hollywood
On Twitter: @rcbl