Julie Bishop and her partner David Panton talk to Geoffrey Edelsten and Gabi Grecko in the Emirates marquee in the Birdcage at Flemington Racecourse during the Melbourne Cup.
Julie Bishop and her partner David Panton talk to Geoffrey Edelsten and Gabi Grecko in the Emirates marquee in the Birdcage at Flemington Racecourse during the Melbourne Cup.

Where stars go wild in Australia

MELBOURNE Cup week and the Birdcage at Flemington are like nothing else in the world.

For just four days of racing, marquees with million dollar plus budgets are built, celebrities are flown in from all over Australia and around the globe, and gallons of French champagne are consumed.

The Birdcage has always been an Australian hot spot for celebrities, Derby Day on the Saturday has a more Sydney feel, and Melbourne Cup Day is more traditional, but in 2003 one American socialite changed that - Paris Hilton.

Ever since the day she was on track, there have been many an international guest, some great, some dead fishes, but every brand has wanted to have their own Paris Hilton moment.

It's a good payday for an international celebrity. Anything from $50,000 to a few hundred thousand for a few hours' work can be the going rate, according to industry sources.

Here's a look behind the scenes at 15 years of celebrity antics at the Melbourne Cup Carnival, including the gossip and scandal that has sometimes gone around the world.

PARIS AND NICKY HILTON ARRIVE WITH A SPECIAL GUEST

In 2003 just outside the old Channel 7 marquee, which was a tent in those days compared to the huge structures these days, there was an unusual flurry of activity.

Paris Hilton and her sister Nicky had arrived, with the then Australian Idol finalist Rob Mills on her side.

At the time people in the racing world were thinking, why in the hell would the Hilton sisters be invited, let alone why was she with Rob Mills?

 

Rob Mills and Paris Hilton in 2003 Melbourne Cup.
Rob Mills and Paris Hilton in 2003 Melbourne Cup.

 

The chemistry was palpable. Picture: Brett Hartwig
The chemistry was palpable. Picture: Brett Hartwig

 

But it turned out to be a genius move by Channel 7, who had her in town to promote her reality show that she filmed with Nicole Richie, The Simple Life.

It was lucky photos of Hilton and Mills having a cheeky kiss on a balcony in Sydney had surfaced the day before. As a result, pictures of her and the Australian Idol finalist in the Channel 7 marquee went around the world.

The word was that Hilton's mother Kathy didn't want her to be photographed with a drink in her hand, so there are no photos of her partying in the clubs, such as Boutique in Greville St and the now defunct Q Bar in South Yarra, where more than a few shots consumed and perhaps some tables were danced on.

 

Millionaire socialites Paris and Nicky Hilton in the Channel 7 marquee at Flemington. Picture: Brett Hartwig
Millionaire socialites Paris and Nicky Hilton in the Channel 7 marquee at Flemington. Picture: Brett Hartwig

 

While she was in town, the famous Rick Solomon sex tape scandal broke and Hilton was out of there quickly on a plane.

Hilton's outfit upset some of the stiffer Victorian Racing Club (VRC) officials, but milliner Kerrie Stanley revealed to news.com.au the white top hat she made for her was a last-minute decision.

"The girls had worn my pieces the day before for a Herald Sun photo shoot, and on the morning, they were going to the races, their stylist rang and asking me did I have anything for the girls to wear?" Stanley said.

"I said, 'I have two pieces, I'll put them in a box and come and collect them,' and that was that.

"One of them was this cream top hat, which I didn't think worked with Paris's outfit at all.

"It made me laugh because I thought her outfit was completely inappropriate, but I don't think sometimes the international celebrities have a clue what to expect when they come to the races."

Speaking of Parises, Michael Jackson's daughter Paris Jackson made a bizarre appearance at Melbourne Cup Day last year when she pressed her face up against the Birdcage's windows and poked her tongue out at photographers.

 

WHAT ABOUT THIS YEAR? Three bizarre things inside the Birdcage

ENRIQUE IGLESIAS ROCKS UP IN JEANS AND A HAT

The Birdcage and indeed all the members areas at Flemington have very strict dress codes. Back in 2010, a suit and tie for the blokes was the minimum requirement to enter the Birdcage.

Someone forgot to give Enrique Iglesias, who was one of the world's biggest stars at the time, the memo.

The guest of Emirates was supposed to be dressed by Louis Vuitton, but turned up in what looked like dirty jeans, a shirt and a baseball cap.

 

Enrique Iglesias goes casual.
Enrique Iglesias goes casual.

 

There was a real debate at the top levels at the VRC on the day: Do they knock him back and it become a huge international story?

In the end, much to the disgust of some VRC head honchos, he was allowed in.

Judy Romano, who owns the public relations and events agency Romano Beck and ran the Emirates marquee for years, remembers the day well.

"I think he saw the races in America, which is like the greyhounds here … so he came as he wanted," she said.

"The funniest thing was in the end he came in without being stopped, and was charming, and smiled for the cameras."

 

Natalie Imbruglia and Enrique Iglesias cuddle up.
Natalie Imbruglia and Enrique Iglesias cuddle up.

 

That same year, superstar AFL player Buddy Franklin was stopped for wearing a bow tie and that is what upset Judy more.

"I thought it was really upsetting. They let Enrique in without stopping him, but when Buddy wore a bow tie they wouldn't let him in," she said.

"We had to get a tie off someone in the marque and run it out and find him and let him in.

"I thought that was unacceptable at the time by the VRC at the time."

NICOLE KIDMAN'S EMOTIONAL DAY

Nicole Kidman was only in town for one day to attend Derby Day for Swisse in 2012, but it was a memorable 24 hours.

She was at the races with her father Antony and mother Janelle. Less than two years later, her father died after suffering a heart attack. The day at the races is one that she will treasure for ever.

It was a true fashion moment when Kidman arrived at the Birdcage, in a My Fair Lady-inspired gown by designer L'Wren Scott.

 

Nicole Kidman stuns in 2012.
Nicole Kidman stuns in 2012.

 

Kidman worked closely with the late designer, who was also a friend, to create the stunning gown.

There was an audible buzz as people clambered get a look at the Hollywood superstar, Mitch Catlin, who brought Nicole out to Melbourne for Swisse, recalled.

"She was all class and elegance and I think she stole the show," he said.

"I will never forget it.

"People were literally climbing over fences with their cameras and phones to get pictures.

"I think it would go down in history as a true Hollywood moment for Flemington, right up there with Prince Charles and Lady Diana's visit."

Kidman was filming Grace of Monaco in Europe and flew back that night.

She was contracted to spend two hours on track but ended up spending an extra couple of hours.

We haven't seen fashion like that since at Flemington.

BUDDY AND JESTINA … AND KATE UPTON

Are they together, or are they not?

That was the big question leading up to the Melbourne Cup Carnival in 2013 with Jesinta Campbell and Lance "Buddy" Franklin.

It was Derby Day when Campbell confirmed to reporters they were a couple after all the speculation. Two days later, while Campbell was in rehearsals for Dancing With The Stars, Franklin met supermodel Kate Upton in the Emirates marquee, where she was the special guest.

Pictures of the Franklin and Upton chatting, laughing and supposedly exchanging text messages had all the gossip reporters in a frenzy, but was there anything to the story?

 

Kate Upton and Buddy Franklin had tongues wagging. Picture: Alex Coppel
Kate Upton and Buddy Franklin had tongues wagging. Picture: Alex Coppel

 

According to Romano, Franklin was innocent and just happened to be sitting next to the American model and being friendly when the eager photographers snapped them.

"I asked Buddy to mind a spot for me for Kate on the balcony of the marquee, which he did and then I introduced them," she said.

"I said he is a famous footballer and Buddy showed some photos of him to her, and that's when everyone thought they were exchanging text messages.

"But the truth of the matter is, he was with Jesinta at 3.30pm at Crown that same day."

Two days later, Franklin and Campbell arrived again in the Emirates marquee happy as they could be. Five years later, they are married and still on the top of every marquee organiser's guest wish list.

 

Jesinta Campbell and Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin in 2013. Picture: Jim Lee
Jesinta Campbell and Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin in 2013. Picture: Jim Lee

GEOFF AND GABI ARE GETTING MARRIED

You just can't make this up.

Like with Nicole Kidman, there was another hush that went through the Birdcage, as Gabi Grecko with what looked like a peacock on her head and her partner Geoffrey Edelsten, in a canary yellow suit, walked through on Cup Day 2014.

As reporters approached the pair to have a chat, Edelsten, who is 46 years older than Grecko, suddenly got on bended knee and proposed to her right in front of the cameras.

Gold!

 

Geoffrey Edelsten proposes to Gabi Grecko on Cup Day. Picture: Bradley Hunter
Geoffrey Edelsten proposes to Gabi Grecko on Cup Day. Picture: Bradley Hunter

 

"When our relationship blossomed, I decided I would surprise her at the Melbourne Cup and propose," Edelsten told news.com.au.

"Everyone was so great to us when she said yes."

After that, the pair spent the day talking to some interesting guests; just imagine being a fly on the wall.

"I introduced her to a lot of celebrities; she had along conversation with Julie Bishop," Edelsten said.

The lead singer of The Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger, was in town for concerts that week and obviously saw all the coverage Gabi and Geoff were generating.

At the concerts, he had a running joke to the audience: "I'm too young for Gabi Grecko."

Ever the good sport, Edelsten didn't mind.

"I actually thought it was quite funny," he said.

Before he was with Grecko, Edelsten and his ex-wife Brynne were always very colourful in the Birdcage, whether you liked them or not.

Grecko and Edelsten aren't the only high-profile couple to have a romantic moment at the races.

Way back in 2006, Megan Gale and Andy Lee met in the Emirates marquee, as eagle eyed gossip reporters watched on.

GUESTS EVERYONE WANTS TO TALK TO

Is this the Queen arriving?

That's what many thought as they saw Gina Rinehart arrive at the Melbourne Cup in 2016.

She attracted a bigger media scrum then I've ever seen before on the track, waving to the crowd in white gloves like royalty as she entered the Emirates marquee.

Everyone wanted a piece of Rinehart that day.

 

Popular guest Gina Rinehart in the Emirates marquee in 2016. Picture: Stuart McEvoy/The Australian
Popular guest Gina Rinehart in the Emirates marquee in 2016. Picture: Stuart McEvoy/The Australian

 

She ended up taking a tumble down the stairs of the Emirates marquee later that afternoon, which a keen photographer snapped. Ever the good sport, she got up and continued on her merry way.

 

The mining magnate takes a tumble. Picture: AAP Image/Julian Smith
The mining magnate takes a tumble. Picture: AAP Image/Julian Smith

 

Politicians and business figures can be boring guests, but a few are highly sought after by organisers.

Julie Bishop is very well liked, as she has a chat with everyone, Gabi Grecko included.

Tony Abbott was a regular guest alongside his daughters Frances and Bridget when he was opposition leader.

One guest on the dance floor at the Myer marquee after perhaps a couple of drinks pinched Mr Abbott on the bottom one year as the canapés whisked past.

NAOMI CAMPBELL, WHERE ARE YOU?

The media pack wondered all afternoon in 2013: where are you Naomi Campbell?

It wasn't until hours after she was supposed to arrive that Campbell finally turned up at the Lexus marquee.

The inside word is she was getting ready at the not-so-glamorous Park Royal hotel at Tullamarine, straight off the plane from Los Angeles.

However, when she did arrive, she worked it and spent the afternoon in the top balcony mingling with all sorts of guests, including Jamie Durie.

 

 

 

She may have been late, but Naomi Campbell really worked it when she arrived.
She may have been late, but Naomi Campbell really worked it when she arrived.

 

USAIN BOLT AND SARAH JESSICA PARKER: MODEL GUESTS

While much attention is on the Birdcage, the best spot to watch the actual races is from the Crown marquee, which is at the other side of the track.

Crown, with Melbourne royalty Ann Peacock hosting and doing what she does best, has had some huge guests over the years.

Usain Bolt was a huge hit on Oaks Day in 2016.

"You have to remember, this is work for them," Peacock said.

"But for Usain, he was so much fun.

"I think he really enjoyed the races and chatted to everyone."

 

Usain Bolt is hugged by former Australian Olympian John Steffensen at Flemington. Picture: AAP Image/Julian Smith
Usain Bolt is hugged by former Australian Olympian John Steffensen at Flemington. Picture: AAP Image/Julian Smith

 

Sarah Jessica Parker was also a huge hit back in 2011 for Crown.

"She said to me, 'what's your dress?' and I said 'Asos' and I asked her, and of course she said 'Chanel'. She was lovely," Peacock recalled.

WHERE IS KIM KARDASHIAN?

Disaster. Kim Kardashian was supposed to be at the races for Swisse on Stakes Day but pulled out at the last minute as her marriage to Kris Humphries crumbled.

In the end, it didn't matter. Organisers placed a cardboard cut-out of the reality star for the marquee and that generated even more press.

"The longstanding story is the cardboard cut-out of Kim was last seen dancing with (Melbourne TV presenter) Lauren Phillips at The Motel at 3am Sunday morning," organiser Mitch Catlin laughed.

 

Even better than the real thing … Jules Lund attempts to steal the Kim K cut-out.
Even better than the real thing … Jules Lund attempts to steal the Kim K cut-out.

 

Talking of after parties, where to the will the stars party this year?

You can bet The Emerson and new venue The Osborne, both in Commercial Rd, Prahran, will be hot spots.

 

WHERE WOULD WE BE WITHOUT KERRI-ANNE?

Back in the day, the Birdcage was no more than a carpark.

Kerri-Anne Kennerley remembers those days well.

"I've been going to the Melbourne Cup since 1981," she said.

"The Birdcage in those early days was a carpark and cars would come in and put up an umbrella and have a picnic out of the boot.

"I remember one year it was raining and the carpark was muddy, and some of the designated drivers just couldn't get out of the carpark because of the mud, so John my husband helped and ended up driving about six cars out."

 

Races stalwart Kerri-Anne Kennerley.
Races stalwart Kerri-Anne Kennerley.

 

 

Caterer and Melbourne hospitality icon Bruce remembers those days well.

"It was very elegant," he said of the Birdcage.

"The smart Toorak ladies would either make their own sandwiches or bring some good furniture from home.

"It was very much like what Royal Ascot is today."

Keebaugh's company employs 1800 people now around Melbourne, many of whom will be in action at Melbourne Cup Week.

When the marquees began, brands such as Saab, Louis Vuitton, Moet and Chandon, and later Emirates led the way.

Now dating app Bumble and musical festival Ultra Music have marquees.

With celebrity guests now likely to be replaced by social media influencers, the strategy for many brands have changed.

Gareth Beck, who runs Romano Beck with Romano, believes the real action is now at the carpark across from the Birdcage.

"I think the Nursery is the place to be," he told news.com.au

"People are now spending a lot of money on the Nursery carpark, there are lots of brands that are doing hospitality out there because they don't want to pay for the Birdcage."

So, if you really want to spot a celebrity or an AFL footballer letting their hair down, the Nursery is the place to be as the cameras aren't there and it's much more discreet.


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