The party started a day early and aboard the Air Austria flight. We were all headed to Vienna for the twentieth Life Ball, Europe's biggest charity event raising money for people with HIV and AIDS.
In the front cabin, Antonio Banderas was charming the crowds with his exquisite manners, the almost inhumanly good-looking Cheyenne Jackson was all smiles and handshakes, and Brigitte Nielsen was filling the space with her throaty laugh. There were old friends like Tatjana Patitz to reconnect with, gorgeous women like Kiera Chaplin and Eve, and even our own celebrity photographer, Roxanne Lowit. A tall man with a sweet grin introduced himself as Daniel, an event planner, and seemed so happy to see me, it momentarily brought back the good old days when I took this for granted. Aah, the sparkle of being an A-lister. See, this is something you may not know about celebrities: If we no longer reside on the A-lists, we can be pretty fragile about not being recognized by other celebrities, especially ones we like. Or maybe that's just me, and all the other celebrities are busy feeling fabulous.
The cabin behind us was a spectacle of body paint, crazy hair, outrageous clothes and a voracious appetite for fun. By the time the window shades were pushed up to weak morning light, there had been two questionable passing outs, and at least one crazy drunk shouting obscenities -- in the front cabin alone. Me, and my friend Brian who was accompanying me, stayed on the sidelines, partly watching and partly trying to sleep so we could get off the plane in one piece. We had been warned there was a red carpet as soon as we arrived, and I for one am not one to be at my best in the mornings.
The hotels participating in the event were some of Vienna's greatest. The Imperial, my personal favorite, was where I got to stay next to Bill Clinton. Well, not exactly, but he was in the same hotel. It didn't even pain me too much when the autograph seekers outside asked me to sign photos of Tatjana. Not Tatjana? How about Milla? Oh, not her? How about an ancient photo of Brigitte as Red Sonia? Not her either? Then, who are you?
Back in New York, I had happily agreed to appear on the runway for the Ball, so my two days were full of rehearsals and fittings. I was going to walk the runway while Milla Jovovich performed her newest song. That sounded cool; I've always respected her from afar. The runway was set up in two parts, like a two-pronged fork with one prong longer than the other. I was to walk both, with gorgeous dancers in Missoni body stockings undulating behind me. I had this whole vision of sort of snaking my way down to Milla's sexy beat, making the most of my already pretty awesome Missoni black and white knitted dress. Then, maybe I would edge next to her and give her a hip bump or something. But, it turned out we were short on time, and I had to speed up the walk to a near run and cut one of the runways. The Philip Treacy hat I was made to wear was a piece of art, but sat on my head a bit like a bucket and about the same weight and size. With one of my Missoni shoes coming apart, the walk was becoming more and more challenging. But I hadn't been a model for nearly three decades to let that stop me. I would get new shoes, balance that art treasure on my head, speed walk and give Milla a kiss. Yeah, that was it. Cool and sexy.
By noon, the backstage was already crazy with models getting their makeup put on and dancers in full body makeup, even though the show wasn't until 11 p.m. For lunch, my guide Petra took Brian and I to get the best Wiener schnitzel ever at a local little restaurant, Figlmüller. (Boy, if ever you are in Vienna, do not miss this!) Then back to the rehearsals.
Fortunately, the crowd of people was so fun it was a treat to just sit backstage. I joked around with the beautiful young models, the gorgeous drag queens, my newly met European modeling agent, and anyone who would stop and talk to me. I chatted with the beautiful Kiera Chaplin whose grandfather I had a giant crush on as a teen, (along with Julius Caesar, Frederic Chopin and Mr. Spock.) and shook hands with the incredibly sweet Alek Wek. I was busy admiring her skin -- which to me looked positively edible, kind of like melted dark chocolate, when suddenly, a hush came over the huge room. A tight pack of very serious uniformed men tunneled their way through, complete with dark glasses, earpieces, with the paparazzi clinging on to their sides like barnacles to a boat. Was Bill Clinton coming backstage? I looked up from my chair -- only to have my friend Brian shoved right into my face. In fact, he was rammed so hard by the paparazzi he nearly fell over my head and the back of my chair. And then I caught a glimpse.
Not a former president, but a former model. Naomi had entered the building. She was swiftly brought to her own dressing room upstairs so she would not have to deal with the riffraff, and that, besides appearing on the runway and a millisecond in the dressing room, was all anyone saw of her.
Speaking of Naomi, this is a woman who is like a version of Benjamin Button: She appears to remember in reverse. When I first met her in the mid-eighties and I was on top and she just starting out, she had my name down perfectly, pronouncing it cheerily in her charming British accent. And then, the longer we knew one another, the less she seemed to remember my name. At the Life Ball, it wasn't a surprise she didn't even nod my way.
The red carpet was before the fashion show, so I ran back to the hotel to get ready.
I had asked designers in New York to lend me some gowns, and only Vera Wang let me know she wasn't interested. The rest never responded. However, an Austrian designer had kindly sent some gowns to my room, but unfortunately, none of them fit. That was all right, I had come prepared: I had a wonderful black silk ballgown left over from the days of Estée Lauder, which I decided to wear with a leather corset, leather elbow gloves and a tiny leather top hat with a black veil; very S&M Royal, I thought. Painstakingly, I did my makeup; Brian made my hair into a long side swept ponytail, we stuck the hat on, and voila, I felt pretty good about myself.
We pulled up and around to where the red carpet ought to be and...
It was closed.
It had closed five minutes earlier. So, I went to look pretty backstage between the stressed half-naked bodies and painted and plumed folks until it was my turn to get dressed and sashay down that runway. My new shoes were incredibly painful, but that's always been a work hazard. With the music pumping away, and Milla center stage, I walked so fast my hip rotators felt like pistons. My hat stayed on. I managed a little salute at the end of the runway before hurtling back towards Milla. She was rocking out. Playfully, I stopped. Kissing wasn't gonna happen, she was too busy singing. So I thrust my hip out, but again, Milla seemed very focused on her singing.
I felt a bit stupid; I mean, look at me, here I had had idiotic ideas of possibly kissing her! But even with being snubbed, I felt I had done well. Brian confirmed this and told me I looked great, but being my friend and as such, honest, finished by saying, "but the camera was on Milla the whole time."
The after-party was filled by the most stunning costumes and getups I had ever seen assembled in the same space: truly spectacular, like a tropical hothouse of the wildest, brightest carnivorous plants. We stayed all night, and stumbled out only in time for breakfast. In the early dawn hotel lobby, we bumped into Milla and her manager. She was without a stitch of makeup but still covered in glitter and still absolutely beautiful. I said hello, and was ready to move on, when she stopped me. She explained that her earphones, which allowed her to hear the music on stage, had fallen out and she was desperately trying to figure out where to sing through the whole performance. Relieved and pleased, I commiserated, after all, I am married to a rock-star and understood how difficult a mishap like that can be. Then she went on to tell me how much she loved my husband's music, and me, and we traded numbers.
While standing at passport control back in the States, everyone tired and hungover, that tall guy, Daniel, who had made me feel like such an A-lister on the plane coming over, shouted my name out. He was back about fifty people in line. "Paulina!" he shouted over the heads of all the people, "Paulina!" He shouted it with a kind of unrestrained glee of happy children. My name echoed in the crowded cavernous arrival hall. So what if I felt for a moment like Sally Field in Soapdish where she had her personal assistant draw attention to her in a crowded shopping mall so she could relive a moment on the top? I hadn't paid Daniel. I turned to him and gave him a wave. He waved back and giggled delightedly like a star-struck teen. Then I took a deep breath, hoisted my giant bag off the conveyor belt, and went home to take feed my kids and take my dogs out.