| Hurley: No ‘civilians’
London, Feb. 26: It is Friday night on the Champs Elys'es and I am signing autographs. Three hysterical fans are screaming my name and my bodyguard is trying his hardest to keep them at arm’s length. A gaggle of Japanese tourists has gathered round. They are taking photographs of me on their camera phones even though they have no idea who I am.
Within seconds, about 40 passers-by have slowed down to gawk at what is going on. One obstreperous Frenchwoman has come to a complete halt to stare at me. “Who is she,” she asks persistently of the growing crowd. “Excuse me Madame, who are you'”
It should be self-explanatory. For one night only, I have become a celebrity and, to be a celebrity in the 21st century, no one really needs know who I am.
The non-famous, once referred to disparagingly as “civilians” by Elizabeth Hurley, can now pretend that they are on the front line of stardom, thanks to an organisation that provides all the accoutrements of fame for slightly longer than 15 minutes.
Soir'e de Star, literally Evening of a Star, offers a range of packages for those who wish to be treated as achievers, without having to go to all the bother of actually achieving.
For a mere 299 euros, you can enjoy the basic privileges of an average E-lister in the “Red Carpet” package: a chauffeur-driven car, a bodyguard, a security van and a VIP reservation at one of Paris’s top nightspots.
But if you have 3,499 euros at your disposal you can afford the “Glamour Star” experience: a six-person limousine, four hysterical fans, three VIP reservations, optional helicopter ride, a television cameraman and paparazzi on motorbikes who will chase you through the streets of either Paris, Nice, Barcelona or Madrid.
The service has proved highly popular since its launch a year ago and now attracts three or four clients a week; 70 per cent of those are women. Although the service has yet to come to London, it is surely only a matter of time.
“The motorbike paparazzi are less popular because of Princess Diana,” explains David Benguigui, the 26-year-old co-founder. “It is very realistic because all the people we employ have actual experience ' the bodyguards are professionals, the paparazzi are photographers.
“The fans are professional actors and we recruit them over the Internet. We ask them not to wear too much make-up, not to be too good-looking so that the attention is focused on the star.
“Mostly our clients are for hen or stag nights but we also get marriage proposals and parents buying birthday presents for their children. We are currently working on a new concept for stag nights. We noticed that men like to do something that involves kidnapping the groom, so we are hoping to introduce a surprise abduction evening with men in balaclavas and fake machine-guns.”
I have decided to forgo the heavy weaponry. Fighting my way through the crowd of jostling onlookers back to my chauffeur-driven car is quite scary enough. Fortunately, I have Emmanuel, my bodyguard, on hand to shoo away pesky autograph-hunters. He opens the car door with a bulky arm and I am ushered inside.
Emmanuel takes his duties seriously. In the past he has guarded real celebrities, including Bruce Willis, “super guy, but don’t get him drinking”; the Brazilian footballer Pele and the actor Sharon Stone: “Now there is a sublime woman,” he says, looking at me critically through the rear-view mirror, frazzled, ungainly and most definitely not famous. “A natural star.” But is there, I wonder, any such thing'
It is all very confusing, but also it is surprisingly easy to get used to. When I am dropped off at the entrance of Mandala Ray, the exclusive Paris nightclub owned by Johnny Depp, Robert de Niro and John Malkovich, I sashay effortlessly through the red rope cordons and spontaneously decide to order a bottle of champagne.
The manager comes over and kisses me on both cheeks. The champagne arrives after an imperious click of his fingers. I notice David in the background paying with his credit card.
“We will invoice you later,” he says to me.
On the way out, I walk into a maelstrom of flashbulbs. One of the paparazzi is crouching down in front of me and gesticulating wildly to get my attention. Unfortunately, I am wearing sunglasses and can hardly see anything given that it is, in fact, night-time.
After a couple of minutes, the paparazzi give up their pursuit. The chauffeur-driven car has gone. Emmanuel’s shift has ended. I am several hundred euros poorer and I have to walk back to the hotel.
Fame ' it’s so fickle.