My arrival in the world's sunniest spotlight, aka the red carpet at Cannes Film Festival, coincided with that of Nicole Kidman, guest of honour for the opening night premiere, her film 'Grace of Monaco'. Hopefully, she wasn't intimidated.
The stars would appear to have aligned - one Hollywood icon playing another - one who lived the life of a princess against the same sun-kissed, palm-treed Riviera backdrop where the world's press were now gathered to adulate and admire.
Which would all be fine, if it weren't for the first reviews of the film, which had dropped only a few hours before, and universally declared it to be a turkey of Christmas proportions.
Not that you'd know it from the deportment of this leading lady. Despite the glowering notices, despite the certified contempt of Monaco's royal family and despite, most woundingly, the absence of the film's producer Mr Weinstein, La Nicole slapped an enormous smile on her face, gripped the hands of fans as she climbed out of her car, wiggled her bare shoulders for the clicking masses and generally conducted herself, well, like a princess. Give that lady an Oscar, immediately.
Meanwhile, my own acting skills were being called upon, because it was my mission - and choose to accept it, I certainly did - to conduct myself like an A-Lister at Cannes, well, for 24 short hours at least.
Banging the bags down at the Hotel Martinez, past more clicking masses on the forecourt, this meant a trip to the stylists' salon to be primped, preened, poked and generally perfected for the evening's red carpet. Now, I don't know if France is planning any invasions in the near future, but they don't need to bother with their armies if so. Just send this lot in. For they do not bow to opinion, distraction, hesitation nor suggestion. They have a mission - in my case, to get this sow's ear into a frock and some heels - and from it they will not be deflected.
An hour and several ozone holes of hairspray later, a silk purse emerged from the sanctum... I was carrying it, on loan for the night, having been sternly informed of its unique, 18-carat gold properties and its price tag - a cool 10,000 Euros. I was about to ask for a ribbon to attach, like for mittens at school, but one look at La Styliste and I was quiet.
It takes a lot to look this effortlessly good (apparently)
Off to the red carpet, for two lifelong illusions to be promptly scuppered. The first is that Cannes Film Festival is like the swansong of true European cinematic glamour, where everyone is basically an extra in a Marcello Mastroianni movie, impeccably glamorous and effortlessly stylish. How do they pull it off in the snaps? I'll tell you. It's a simple trick - there's just one rule that all the photographers on the red carpet must dress in tuxedo. So every photograph shows this mass of uniformly suave gentlemen taking photographs of beautiful ladies. La Dolce Vita reigns... unless you pan across and see that everywhere apart from this narrow corridor of mirrors is full of barriers, crowds and, zut alors, flip flops. It could be Westfield on a summer night.
My other long-held belief was that the rivers somehow part for any lady carrying a pricey purse. Truth be told, it's an unseemly scrum for what little space you can get. Stopping for a photographer who didn't get the memo and thinks you must be someone famous, you're brought down to earth with a bump by a bored French snapper muttering "Allez allez... " to everyone who isn't Meryl Streep. Fortunately, Tim Minchin comes to my rescue. What's this Aussie polyglot doing on the Cannes red carpet, I hear you cry?
Tim's actually nowhere to be seen, but the words of his now-celebrated UWA commencement speech come to mind. "None of you are anybody special, and you're all going to die... so you might as well do whatever you want." Which is my cue to forget all self-consciousness and join in with my mob taking selfies on the red carpet. Marcello would have been proud, I'm sure.
There's only one thing worse than being stuck on the red carpet at Cannes Film Festival, and that's not having a ticket to get in...
One weepy premiere later with some genuine clapping at the credits - we were lucky to catch 'Foxcatcher' - and it's off to the restaurant, but not just any old greasy cuiller. Nope, it's the Palme D'Or, where the perfect fare is complemented by a series of fruity 'pairings', courtesy of Chivas Regal 25 - turns out even within the elite dining area of this 2-star Michelin restaurant, there's an even more inner sanctum, the Chivas Regal 25 private dining room. My taste buds aren't sufficiently sophisticated to discern the different flavours in the glasses - some which even arrive in puffs of smoke - but I can sniff the quality.
From there, it's a fast ride to one of the best clubs in town, the Silencio, ironically named, naturellement. How DO all these stunners on the dance floor make it to the early screenings of a morning? My weary feet make do with one champagne for the road, and then a walk back to the hotel. The route is glorious - past a series of marquees perched on the beach, playing host to the film world's makers and shakers, presumably hammering out distribution deals by shouting in each other's ears over the encouraging musical crusade of Pharrell - who else?
Life on the high seas - how the other 1% live, courtesy of Chivas Regal
Fade down... fade up, breakfast on the terrace punctuated by huge numbers of suspiciously fresh-looking people wearing sunglasses while they tuck into their cornflakes. I pass a weary-looking gentleman in the foyer, looking at aeroplane tickets in his hand. It seems even the mercurial David Cronenberg can't get away from the practicalities.
Off to the harbour, and aboard the Alexandre IV, for another sumptuous spread, and a wander downstairs. My new whisky-making friends at Chivas have spent their yacht pennies with care. The cabins are truly stunning - spotless and more finely appointed than just about any house. I'm in no hurry to return to land. Sun-lounging on deck in the harbour is punctuated by gasps from the Palais de Festival. We all gaze to see the latest arrival to make the paps reach for their ladders. And everyone else on the quay is looking to see who we are on this floating palace.
It's almost the witching hour, when I turn back into a F-list pumpkin, but there's just time for the piece de resistance - a helicopter ride back to the airport. I'm squeezing my eyes tight as we take off, until the pilot tells me that Roman Abramovich's villa is on our left. Curiosity trumps fear, and luckily so, as it's a rare treat to see this stunning coastline from up here in this little white electronic mosquito. And Roman's pile is simply ginormous.
The French Riviera - according to Somerset Maugham, a sunny place for shady people, but beautiful from on high
I almost forgot to mention, in all this splendour, from which my head may never be returned to its proper angle, I did suffer a proper first-world problem. On the red carpet the night before, I'd made it all the way up the red-carpeted steps, without encountering any kind of Jennifer Lawrence mishap, only to discover I was without ticket. The system had failed, and no amount of 'I'm English' was going to get me past the door. For a horrendous moment, it looked as though I might actually have to reverse down the steps, into the oncoming masses, women with pricey purses and, worst of all, back past the snoozing snapper still waiting for Meryl. Not even Tim Minchin's wisdom could save me now.
In the end, it was a fellow Brit, in a slightly more accommodating dinner jacket and troose, who volunteered to dive back into the throng and rescue me from this debacle. Never mind Nicole Kidman's Oscar-winning effort, this gentleman was the real Grace of Cannes and proved that, even in the midst of all that peerless Provencal glamour, sometimes the only thing can save you is some home-grown good manners.
With many thanks for hospitality, conviviality and largesse to Chivas Regal 25, official sponsor of the Cannes Film Festival for six years, and this year's sponsor of Finch and Partners Filmmaker Dinner and the premiere party for 'The Rover', starring Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson.