Authors: Cate Kendall
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ePub ISBN 9781742744285
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First published by Bantam in 2011
Lisa Blundell and Michelle Hamer 2011
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All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted by any person or entity, including internet search engines or retailers, in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying (except under the statutory exceptions provisions of the Australian
Copyright Act 1968
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ISBN 978 1 86325 695 7 (pbk). A823.4
Cover photograph by
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Cover design by Christa Moffitt, Christabella Designs
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By the same author
To Connor, Francesca, Lucas and Elliot. I am very proud of you all. LB
To Helen with love. MH
By Priscilla Simcoe
Two of Melbourne's do-good darlings are set to go head-to-head to prove which one has the greatest fundraising flair. Who will be the Charity Scene Queen after next Saturday night's function face-off?
Dame Frances Davenport and celebrity spin doctor, Gemma Bristol are going cheek-to-cheek in a charity face-off like nothing this town has ever seen. The fur will be flying and the white silk gloves thrown down next week when the all-important question will be answered: who is the Scene Queen? The Leader of the Party Pack? The Champion Charity Gal?
So, how do
prefer to help the poor? Perhaps you pop money in a collection box at the bank, or post a cheque to the African kiddies that are wedged between episodes of
? Or maybe, like thousands of other Melburnians, you like to frock up and pay a hefty fee for a goody bag and a night on the town.
Two of Melbourne's most prominent identities come up against each other next weekend in the best dressed version of
Clash of the Titans
as they each host their own event in direct competition to one another.
Dame Frances Davenport, having held the title of matriarch of the city's charity scene for fifty years, was knighted by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in '93 for her fundraising efforts when underprivileged kids charity, UP-Kids, hit the five-million-dollar mark. The Dame, as she is known around the traps, will be hosting her annual charity fundraising ball, this year called the Rum Ball, sponsored by Terry's Chocolate Orange, next Saturday night.
And in the other corner of town, well-known PR guru Gemma Bristol, new to the charity scene, has also embraced the chocolate theme and will be hosting the provocative Mal-Teaser on the same night.
It's no secret the women don't get along. The paparazzi have enjoyed a grand old time of late watching the squabbles erupt when Ms Bristol hopped into Dame Frances Davenport's limo outside the Park Hyatt after a black-tie function for AIDS Awareness. Seemingly in retaliation, the Dame ensured she was placed on a higher table number than Ms Bristol at
's Women of Influence luncheon.
The confrontation all started back in July when, reminiscent of the Greek gods themselves, the women had been allies, working peacefully together on the committee, united in their good works. Then, as was well publicised in
, a nasty catfight broke out: names were called, nails were broken, feelings hurt.
The committee split and the line was drawn in the sand. The challenge was set that on the first Saturday night in December she who raised the most funds would emerge victorious.
Melbourne society is agog. Families are divided. Marriages are strained. With whom does one's loyalty lie? The grande dame who represents Melbourne establishment, Dame Frances? Or the young, hip modern-day rock star royalty, Gemma Bristol?
Personal assistants to both women are tight-lipped. When questioned, Dame Frances's PA, Julian Goodstead declared, âMay the best lady win,' while Chantelle Portsmouth, the assistant in the other camp, took advantage of the PR opportunity and explained at length the glamour of their upcoming event. Who will take the crown, at this stage we can't say. But we do know it's a kicker of a tale.
Eight months earlier, March
Something was wrong. There was always something. Missing napkins, floral arrangements slightly askew or the dietary requirements of a vegan, gluten-intolerant guest overlooked.
Gemma Bristol scanned the room one more time, mentally ticking off the evening's requirements. As a PR professional, she had run hundreds of such events and knew from keen experience that there was always a tiny oversight that she needed to catch now before it could mar her impeccable planning.
It was this meticulous attention to detail that had made Gemma one of Australia's most sought-after PR professionals. If you wanted the world to take notice of your new product, if you wanted A-list celebrities at your event or someone to mop up a public scandal, Gemma was the go-to girl. Her iPhone held gigabytes of local and international contacts. Hugh and Deborra-Lee depended on her for launches and fielding their domestic media requests, Kylie trusted only Gemma when she was at home, and Russell had been known to call at three in the morning for crisis control.
Gemma had worked long, hard hours to get to her position, missing her teenage son and testing her marriage, and knew that in her industry she was only as good as her last high-profile function.
From her vantage point at the top of three polished granite steps, she flicked her eyes over the space, her brow furrowing with concentration. Once she would have worried that all the invited guests may not show, but such concerns were a thing of the past. An invitation from Gemma Bristol was a social triumph not to be ignored. Except of course by the one person who consistently declined her invitations, her husband, Stephen. It was years since he had attended any of her events. As a sales manager at BeBop Radio, a mid-rating FM oldies' station, he had his own corporate events to attend, besides Gemma's work bored him and it wasn't as if the couple even had much in common anymore, except their son, Tyler.
Gemma leaned her slight 165-centimetre frame against the black wooden balustrade, her green eyes sweeping the room. She was a picture of studied professionalism in a high-waisted Easton Pearson skirt teamed with a chiffon blouse. A smooth chestnut bob skimmed her long, pale neck.
She tapped her fingers in annoyance as she surveyed the space one more time. The showroom was a glistening testimony to minimalism. Only days old, it sparkled with shiny aluminium window frames, glimmering floor-to-ceiling windows and polished granite floors.
The shimmering space provided a perfect backdrop to the evening's stars: two limited-release Porsche models, a convertible and a four-door 4WD, both only available in a sleek blue-black.
The waiting staff was swathed in head-to-toe black including goth-black lips and nails. Even the food and drinks â squid-ink pasta, caviar and seaweed-encased sushi teamed with Black Russians â fitted with the black theme of the evening.
âChantelle,' Gemma called to her good friend and sometime assistant who was making last-minute adjustments to a floral arrangement.
Chantelle turned towards her, her pale pink lips gleaming from her over-tanned face in a wide smile. She scuttled over in perilously high Ed Hardy Sky Shoes, shaking her honey-blonde extensions out of her eyes. Strands of hair fell beneath her shoulders; other random lengths were caught up in barrettes on her head. She was a beacon of hot pink in the otherwise colourless surroundings.
âAwright then, luv?' she asked in her thick Essex accent as she approached. The women had worked together and been close friends for many years. They'd met when Chantelle worked as a receptionist at IQPR, the PR firm where Gemma worked. Chantelle had left the job after marrying up and now only worked for Gemma as an occasional favour.
âWhat's missing?' Gemma asked.
âLip gloss,' Chantelle replied, reaching in her pocket for her emergency supply.
âNot personal, the function,' Gemma said. She smiled at Chantelle's predictable response.
Chantelle surveyed the room. She counted on her long manicured fingers. âFlowers, check; nibblies, check; booze, check. Hmmm. Tunes, mic, speeches, check, check and check. Didja send out the invites, then?'
âCheck. I can't place my finger on it but I know there's something.'
Gemma scanned the room one more time, taking in the lavish floral art sculptures in vases almost as tall as she was.
She felt her heartbeat increase and her breath tighten as she tried to pinpoint the missing link. She breathed deeply to calm her anxiety and lifted her chin defiantly. For God's sake, she thought to herself, I've done this a million times. Why am I stressing? The shortness of breath, palpitations and tension in her chest had happened a few times lately, over even the smallest things, and it was beginning to worry Gemma. She'd always been in perfect health and usually shrugged off the stresses of her high-powered job easily.
She took a second deep breath as the owners of the dealership and the bigwigs from head office arrived in the showroom just as local music legend, Barry Northey, began playing the black grand piano.
Mario Farese, the dealer principal, led the group, moving panther-like in his charcoal Versace suit with black shirt and tie, a predatory glint, as always, in his eyes.
He stretched out his gold-dappled right hand. âGemma, stunning work.'
âPerrier,' Gemma said in response.
âOh, Mario, I beg your pardon. I just remembered something. The guests will be arriving any minute now. I need to chase up one more thing then I'll meet you at the front door.'
Another of Gemma's winning PR skills was her ability to pinpoint the right crowd for the right event. Tonight, for example, she'd invited only the new money. The young entrepreneurs whose ongoing business dealings had helped prevent Melbourne from succumbing to the worst of the global recession. Mobile phone kings, property developers, other car dealers and cashed-up IT gurus were among the guest list â the sorts of people who would happily put their hands in their pockets for a gleaming new Porsche.
Gemma darted from the room as fast as her gladiator stilettos would allow. She zipped past the sales offices and out to the walk-in fridge the caterers had installed in the car park. Underneath platters of sushi sat six boxes of Perrier.
She touched the side of her head to activate the earpiece. âBar staff, this is Gemma.'
âPlease send a waiter to the caterer's fridge to carry the Perrier to the bar.'
âSure, boss,' young Zac said and signed off.
Gemma straightened her black pencil skirt until the ruffle skipped out over her knee. That was the problem with hiring kids as bar staff, she thought. They'd soon notice if the grog hadn't been delivered, but water was off their radar.
Gemma met Mario at the front door and gave him a thumbs up as the guests began to arrive. Mario greeted his first guests with vigorous handshakes and back slaps. Gemma caught his eye as he grinned happily. The night would be a huge success.
The back seat of the limo was awash with magenta ruffles. Julian could barely see his boss's face over the clamour of fabric. He slid across the leather seat to the opposite corner of the car to check his notes one more time.
Dame Frances Davenport patted down some rogue ruffles that were obscuring her vision. Like a hawk seeking prey, she scouted the scene from the limo's tinted window.
âBoth newspapers have confirmed?'
âYes, Dame Frances.' Julian straightened his white bow tie for the third time since getting in the limo. He'd spent hours searching for an evening shirt with just the right number of pleats for tonight. He felt most Rock Hudson in his favourite tail coat and spiffy white vest, which were offset splendidly by black trousers featuring a sleek silk stripe down the outer leg. A white rosebud in his buttonhole added an air of occasion to his outfit. Dressing up was one of his favourite parts of his job as assistant to the Dame. What he didn't like was moments like right now, he thought, rubbing his bald head anxiously as they drew closer to their destination.
This was always the worst part of a function. All the what-ifs, the maybes, the last-minute rushes. He loved it best when the function was over and he could curl up at home on the couch with his partner, Oscar, cosy in his favourite Peter Alexander PJs, and indulge in some PFD (post-function debrief). He'd describe all the fashion triumphs and faux pas of the night, showing Oscar images he snapped on his BlackBerry. He'd usually sneak home a snack box of catered goodies such as canapÃ©s and tiny dessert morsels, which looked ridiculous in Oscar's huge hands.
For Dame Frances the pinnacle of any event was making her grand entrance, and for it to be a success, split-second timing was crucial. It was essential that the venue was perfectly ready down to the last teaspoon, the media lenses were pointed in her direction and all the other guests had arrived, but not have been there long enough to have too much fun without her.
In the fifty years she had headed her charity committee, Dame Frances had raised millions of dollars for Melbourne's underprivileged children by fundraising exclusively for an organisation called UP-Kids. Known as a tough, no-nonsense matron who didn't suffer fools, she was both admired and reviled.
âTV?' the Dame demanded of her assistant, checking her lipstick in a gold compact.
âChannel Nine for exclusivity,' Julian replied, scanning his notes.
âGood.' Dame Frances nodded. âLara, Pia, Lavinia, Lauren â all definites?' Her pencilled eyebrows rose questioningly and Julian simply nodded in reply.
She'd achieved a minor coup in attracting a quartet of Melbourne's top pretty young celebrities to the function â especially when a glitzy film premiere across town beckoned. But they had been swayed by the calibre of the media covering the UP-Kids extravaganza. Dame Frances and her committee contributed more than sixty per cent to UP-Kids' annual revenue. Not one to miss a fundraising opportunity, Dame Frances charged $300 per person, but the event boasted goody bags bulging with designer freebies and top-shelf samples.
Tonight was the fiftieth anniversary of the Dame's first UP-Kids event. It was a black-tie dinner in celebration of the Dame's incredible achievements over the past half-century. It was only fitting that Dame Frances be recognised for her tireless work and she'd had a devil of a job to find somebody to host it for her. Of course it had been her brainchild and she'd organised the entire thing, but she could hardly be seen to be putting on her own celebration, now could she? Thankfully she'd finally convinced the Mayor of Melbourne to put his seal on the invitation, so it appeared to all intents and purposes the City was bestowing this honour upon her. Dame Frances Davenport would reign supreme as the guest of honour and the matriarch of the old-school Melbourne social scene. Thus all was right with the world.
As the limousine approached the building, Dame Frances grabbed Julian's arm.
âWho's that? Julian, who is that? Can you see who's getting out of that car?'
âOh, yesÂ .Â .Â . I believe it is Jo and Stephen Silvagni.'
âGo around, go around,' Dame Frances shrieked at the driver. Damn, they were on time in the end. There was no way she was going to get enough media attention arriving directly behind that golden couple.
At its second approach the limousine pulled up at the Windsor's now-vacant red carpet. The liveried doorman opened the Chrysler's back door.
The Dame waited until Julian came around to offer his arm so she could alight elegantly from the vehicle. Her silver dragon-headed cane emerged from the car first, followed by the magenta silk ruffles of her Linda Britten gown. Her silver chignon was clasped with a long diamond barrette that matched the heirloom five-carat diamond necklace draped around her ageing throat.
On the street a group of tourists stood clicking away on their cameras, hoping to get photos of celebrities to show their friends back home.
After assessing the lobby and reassuring herself it was up to scratch, Dame Frances paraded to the formal drawing room where the pre-dinner drinks were being held. Julian had already ducked in to announce her impending arrival to the press.
Dame Frances paused at the door and surveyed her mini-kingdom as three newspaper photographers rushed up to her and the group of Melbourne's elite assembled in their tiaras, cravats and morning suits to toast her achievement. These people represented old money, the old school and the Dame's well-preserved contact list.
The cameras began clicking as Dame Frances stood with a regal smile accepting the congratulations and accolades of the room.
Oh my God, this is freaking boring, Laura Gillespie thought and leaned back against the flocked wallpaper. Where was that waitress with the canapÃ©s?
The movie premiere was a big deal. She knew that. She knew she should care. But she just didn't. She'd done so much of this sort of stuff before. Already tonight she'd had to cover some snobby charity event and now she had to contend with this bunch of celebrities and tragic hangers-on, all desperate to get their faces in the paper.