When Savannah Stephens returns to her hometown Sydney after a stint as a music journalist in London, she is thrown into the burgeoning world of society parties and the excesses of the 1980s social scene. Savannah's first job back on home soil is as the editor of the newly created Social Diary. Her days are spent battling old fashioned newspaper colleagues, who frown upon the so-called "women's pages" and tut when her stories make front page splashes. By night she is awash in a sea of expensive champagne at the biggest and best parties the city has to offer. It is there that she collides with the unbelievable characters and larger-than-life personalities who are fast becoming legendary for their jaw-dropping antics. Will Savannah manage to prove her critics wrong, or will she be distracted by a very handsome yet mysterious man? Funny and satirical, The Social Diary reads at times like an extended version of Ros Reines' real-life gossip column Guess Who Don't Sue, and is written by someone who has been through it all and lived to tell the tale.
|Publisher:||Allen & Unwin Pty., Limited|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Ros Reines is one of Australia's best known gossip columnists. A former music journalist in London, she has worked for several newspapers in Sydney, including the Sydney Morning Herald, and currently writes a column for the Sunday Telegraph. She is the author of Gossip.
Read an Excerpt
The Social Diary
By Ros Reines
Allen & UnwinCopyright © 2015 Ros Reines
All rights reserved.
Sydney, 20 February 1984
The cream door with its gold knocker was thrust open, and in the doorway stood our caramel-haired hostess, Beatrice Bonney (yes, the Beatrice Bonney; Queen Bea herself) — the celebrated charity queen and president of the ultra-exclusive Entre Nous committee. She had one wrinkly bejewelled hand resting on the doorframe; it resembled an old crocodile's claw with about twenty carats of diamonds crammed onto it. Her long, red, bugle-beaded sheath — by local couturier Laurence Lavin — clung to her in all the wrong places as she stared with unseeing eyes into the lush, velvety Point Piper night. What did she expect to find there? Only Josef — a limousine driver, waiting patiently for the Spanish Consul-General, Raoul Hernandez, and his wife Julia, who were among the illustrious guests seated for dinner in her ballroom. (Yes, Queen Bea had her own ballroom — probably the only one in Point Piper — although most people would have referred to the subterranean space where two long banqueting tables were set up as a dining room. Certainly no formal dances had ever been held there — it just wasn't big enough, though her acolytes were much too smitten with her to point this out.)
Queen Bea had really outdone herself tonight. She had scattered wild roses with abandon up and down both tables. Attached to each flower stem was a small plastic tube of water, which would ensure that they, unlike some of the guests and even her own husband, Harry the Industrialist, stayed fresh until the end of the evening. She had also dusted off the family heirlooms, and there was so much fine crystal and silver at each place setting that her guests would hardly be able to manoeuvre their utensils, which was fortunate given her questionable talent in the kitchen. (Queen Bea didn't believe in caterers at home; it was one of her golden rules of entertaining — Keep It Real.) On the menu tonight was avocado stuffed with crab (seafood extender) and slathered with Kraft Thousand Island dressing, a rack of lamb served with peas laced with mint leaves and her 'famous' baked potatoes, followed by sherry trifle for dessert. Peppermint crisps, petit fours and filtered coffee would be served with cognac and port in the 'library'. At least that had been the plan for the evening — according to the handwritten menus placed in front of each setting.
Queen Bea was a thoughtful host who wanted to show her guests exactly where they belonged. She had an A table peppered with major names who were served Moët, while on the B table it was domestic bubbles with the label discreetly hidden in the folds of a white napkin held firmly in place by the waiters. Like many rich people, Bea was stingy. Her other maxim when it came to entertaining was simple: if the guests weren't used to the best, why bother serving it to them?
However with so much planning involved, why had she abandoned her visitors to stand at the open front door? All the seats were filled, so she could not be awaiting a late arrival. Was Queen Bea now regally summoning Josef to collect the Spanish couple before the trifle had even been plated? If she was, she must be using telepathy, because her body remained quite stiff.
'Mrs Bonney, it's Savannah Stephens, is everything okay?' I enquired delicately. I had suddenly come upon my hostess in this bizarre stance after I had made my way up the stairs in desperate search of a loo. (Cheap champagne always went right through me.) I had initially tried to follow her line of sight out into the street, but had been unable to detect anything out of the ordinary. Was the place haunted? The thought crossed my mind that perhaps she had suffered a stroke.
I was just about to head back to the dining room — sorry, ballroom — to fetch Harry when Queen Bea suddenly spoke.
'Leave!' she said dramatically. 'I want everyone to leave!'
'Pardon?' I was sure I must have misheard.
There was a short silence. Was she in some kind of trance?
'Everyone must go home immediately,' she declared.
This was truly awkward. Was it too crass to continue on to the loo (I really was busting to go) or should I do her bidding and inform the other guests of her decree? Tricky when I hardly even knew them. After all, I had only been invited as the newly appointed social diarist on The Sydney News in the hope that I would write a flattering piece about Queen Bea's hostessing skills. But it looked like an entirely different story was starting to evolve. Would her guests take kindly to a blow-in — a gossip columnist acting as Queen Bea's emissary — instructing them to put down their cutlery and leave the premises immédiatement?
What to do? With the society doyenne showing no signs of leaving her post, I hurried to the loo while she wasn't looking and decided to deal with the situation on my return. Hopefully by then someone else would have discovered her.
* * *
It had been daunting enough just arriving at Queen Bea's home for my first society dinner party. I had been ushered inside by a pompous butler, whose withering glance at my ensemble let me know that he did not approve of my black crepe pantsuit, which had come all the way from Kensington High Street. Maybe women were not supposed to wear pants to a black-tie dinner? He had then made me repeat my name three times before he got it right. (Apparently no one was called Savannah. What was I thinking?) Not for the first time, I questioned whether I was really cut out for a job as a social diarist. Even boring old court reporting would be preferable to this. (If only I'd passed my shorthand test ...) But I had returned from London with a stack of press clippings from my time as a music writer in my portfolio, only to find there had been no call for entertainment writers on any of the newspapers I had tried. The only work I could get in the beginning was writing bland freelance stories about soapie stars and doing late-night shifts in news rooms, where all that was required was to man the police radio. After such demoralising employment, I thought that writing a gossip column would be fun and only slightly challenging. But I was soon to discover that I was very wrong about that.
I didn't know any of the guests who had gathered for pre-dinner cocktails in Queen Bea's drawing room, which was dominated by handsome portraits of her in her debutante year, but I had certainly heard a lot about them. A huge chandelier ensured that everyone was bathed in a flattering golden light.
'Hi, I'm Savannah,' I said, introducing myself to Entre Nous's plump, blonde vice-president, Susie Carruthers-Kard, and her reportedly lecherous husband, Emanuel, whom I recognised from the social pages.
'Oh, you must be the new columnist on The Sydney News,' Susie exclaimed, shaking my hand. 'It's so lovely to have you with us tonight. Do you have a photographer with you?' She peered over my shoulder.
I would soon discover that having a photographer on my arm was the best accessory ever in social circles. (Just as long as the photographer didn't put me to work, holding the flash above my head.)
'No, but I think there'll be one arriving soon.'
The paper's official social snapper, Oliver Orlan, was a man who prided himself on his extreme tardiness, though he usually turned up to an event before it ended. There was no sign of him yet.
A kindly woman, Susie proceeded to do her best to make me feel welcome, while Emanuel just stared at me, a half-smile playing on his fleshy lips. He seemed amused that his wife would spend time on a lowly journalist.
The marriage of Emanuel and Susie Carruthers-Kard was the stuff of local legend. Formerly a Greek waiter at The Metropolis, Emanuel Kard had hung up his apron for good when he had married into old Sydney money. Susie's father, grazier Horace Carruthers, had strenuously resisted his daughter's choice of a partner (he privately referred to the handsome, mahogany-tanned Greek as a gigolo). Shortly after they started dating, Susie had duly been packed off to the snowfields of Europe, where she was introduced to a whole range of eligible men.
'If she has a thing for Greeks at least she could find a shipping heir in St Moritz with a bit of money who can actually ski,' her father told his cronies at the golf club. But on returning home to Sydney, Susie had headed straight back into Emanuel's arms. There was nothing else for it but for Horace to ensure that his daughter's finances were structured in such a way that his prospective son-in-law could not access them without a great deal of difficulty.
The wedding at St Mark's in Darling Point had been suitably lavish, even if there were strangely few representatives there from the groom's side. However, no one had foreseen that Emanuel would become a businessman in his own right following the honeymoon. With only a modest investment from his father-in-law, he set up his own hugely successful import company, Little Acropolis, bringing in specialities of the region. His Greek accent became much more pronounced than it had been when he first arrived in Australia, and he now insisted that he could trace his roots to the former Greek aristocracy. Susie had also done well in business and had a thriving interior design store of her own, The Three Pears, in Woollahra. She had recently branched out into manufacturing her own collection of china.
Emanuel and Susie were good friends with Raoul and Julia Hernandez because their daughters were classmates at the same exclusive Eastern Suburbs private school. Susie introduced me to Julia, then immediately began to gush over the other woman's gold, pleated gown.
'That's a Fortuny, isn't it?' she asked.
Julia looked pleased but said modestly, 'Ah, yes, you are correct, Susie; you are so knowledgeable about fashion. It is several years old but I simply can't bring myself to discard it.'
'Why should you? It's a classic.'
'And your dress — isn't that a Zandra Rhodes? I love it.'
I had been wondering about Susie's flamboyant, multicoloured tent dress, which looked slightly odd on her but was now confirmed as extremely expensive. I was starting to feel right out of my depth in the cheap pantsuit which was already coming apart at the seams.
If Susie seemed a little jittery around Julia, it was probably understandable, because Julia and Emanuel had been having an affair for the past six months. It wasn't hard to see why he was attracted to the svelte, elegant and exotic woman, who wore her hair in a chignon at her neck. Unfortunately for him, Julia also perfectly complemented her husband Raoul, who was tall, dark and greying slightly at the temples, which gave him a suave James Bond appearance. She was never going to leave him.
I looked around at the other guests. Also drinking Bea's lukewarm champagne in the drawing room, and wearing an unforgettable red and gold brocade jacket, was the fascinating Indian jeweller Lahar Kapoor, who had only recently arrived on the scene with the opening of Collier, his store in the CBD. Collier specialised in over-the-top diamond and gemstone necklaces — no doubt inspired by the television series Dynasty. Queen Bea was wearing one of his creations tonight but, far from flattering, it drew attention to her sagging jowels.
Accompanying Lahar was a pretty young blonde, Candy Jones, well known in Double Bay hairdressing circles where she worked as a stylist. Unfortunately, she already seemed to be bored by the gathering. She rolled her eyes at me as if to signal, Get me out of here, when we were introduced.
'What part of India are you from, Mr Kapoor?' asked Julia Hernandez. I had the impression she was trying to distract herself from Emanuel's seductive glances.
'Our family is originally from Delhi,' Lahar explained. An extremely vain man, he was aware that he was quite something to behold with his mane of salt and pepper hair brushed away from his face, his glistening dark skin and light green eyes. In Julia, he also saw someone who could advance his reputation as a jeweller of class. 'We left India for the UK when I was a small child and I was educated in Oxford and then Princeton.' He unleashed his blinding white smile.
'How interesting,' Julia said.
Before Julia had the chance to enquire further about whether they might have some friends in common, Lahar had turned his attention back to his date, whose bouffant hair was only outshone by her enormous breasts.
'This is my partner, Candy,' Lahar said, urging the young woman forward to take Julia's hand. 'She is my inspiration' (which was a bit rich since this was only their second date).
'Lovely to meet you both,' said Julia.
Lahar opened a small, gem-encrusted case and from it produced his gold and black business card. 'Please do call into my store when you are in the city,' he said, handing it to Julia. 'I would love to find you something beautiful.'
'Thank you.' Julia accepted the card and put it straight into her evening bag.
Queen Bea had carefully watched the exchange from the other side of the room. She didn't care how vulgar Lahar was or even that he had brought a hairdresser into her home. She was relying on him to sponsor her forthcoming ball, the Madrid Fling, or at least to donate an expensive piece of jewellery which would be auctioned on the night.
The butler started to usher the guests into the dining room (ballroom), and I was just beginning to wish that I had never accepted the invitation to dinner — I had nothing in common with anyone there — when Oliver Orlan arrived. The photographer was hard to miss. He was wearing a blue velvet jacket, a blue ribbon tied around the collar of his white lacy shirt, blue jeans and velvet slippers. Everyone loved Oliver because he was so avant-garde and several people in the room positively beamed when he made his entrance with his cameras slung over his shoulder. Tonight, thanks to a gentle prompt from the hostess, his first photograph was of Queen Bea with Lahar and Candy.
'Watch out for him, he's a piece of work,' Oliver hissed in my ear as soon as he had taken the shot. 'He pretends to be related to an Indian maharajah but his family used to have a jewellery stand in the markets in Suva, selling fake strings of pearls to tourists. He reinvented himself at the back end of an Air Pacific flight from Nadi to Sydney.'
Oliver nodded, regarding Lahar with disdain as the jeweller now continued to work the room. 'Sydney is full of people trying to be something that they're not and because of your position on the paper, and as someone so fresh on the scene, you're going to hear plenty of stories.'
'Thanks for the heads-up,' I said, although after only a few weeks on the social rounds, I was beginning to work that out.
'Anyway, I'm just going to take a couple more shots; I have another three parties to go to tonight.' Oliver swanned off across the room to where Queen Bea was talking to Julia and Raoul.
It wasn't only Lahar that Beatrice needed to impress that night; she was desperate to secure the presence of the Spanish Consul-General and his wife at the Madrid Fling and, more importantly, she needed them to persuade the Spanish Ambassador, His Excellency Amancio Riguerez, to attend.
Beatrice's other guests at the A table included Bridget Lewis, the eccentric editor of Pulse, an artsy fashion magazine (Bridget always stood out thanks to her eye-popping red hair), and her partner Rupert Swan, the incredibly dry and serious British-born portrait painter who had been a finalist in last year's Archibald Prize. He'd painted an extremely provocative portrait of Bridget nude in front of her magazine galleys. Everyone thought that the only reason that the editor was in a relationship with the gruff, grizzled-looking painter was for her street credibility, but I wasn't so sure. Who knew what went on behind closed doors?
Seated on the other side of Bridget and directly opposite Queen Bea was Sean Munro, one of the lead actors in the Australian surf and sand soapie, Coastline. Sean's long blond hair and bright blue eyes made him look almost angelic. But what was he doing here tonight? Sean was supposed to be involved with Christa Lions, another of the actors on Coastline, but there was no sign of her tonight.
'He's just trying to get as much publicity as he can,' Oliver hissed at me. 'You wait — he'll have heard that you're the new diarist in town and he'll flirt with you shamelessly. Don't waste your time, though; word is that he's gay.'
'No way!' Sean had already given me a couple of meaningful glances shortly after he'd arrived and I'd felt an instant quiver of excitement. My gaydar was usually perfectly tuned, yet it hadn't registered a single beep.
'Okay then, you tell me what he was doing at the Ruby Room dancing with another man until the early hours of Sunday morning.'
'Maybe he was researching a character for a new role?' I suggested hopefully.
Excerpted from The Social Diary by Ros Reines. Copyright © 2015 Ros Reines. Excerpted by permission of Allen & Unwin.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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