It was a perfect summer evening for the concluding gala night of the Habanos Cigar Festival in Cuba. The event was to be held indoors but the short journey exiting the car and walking along the red carpet can be perilous if the weather is playing havoc. With hair like mine weather matters, to be more precise, humidity really matters. I often laugh that my hair would be an excellent humidity meter, the more humid it is the bigger it gets, at times so dangerously big it could poke you in the face. Be warned! Thankfully that evening it was low humidity and my hair was behaving.
The CEO and Vice President of ‘Chingari’ the official distributors of Cuban cigars to India were both dressed in glamorous saris and so was I. These two wonder women had been making hard-nosed deals all week in an industry that is very much male dominated. This was girl power at its best, unapologetically owning their femininity and taking giant leaps for ‘wo-mankind’ in the cigar industry. This was the new ‘India Shining’ figuratively and quite literally thanks to our decorative Indian attire. The sari and cigar combo had quite a hypnotic effect at the gala. How could 3 women in elegant saris puffing the world’s best cigars be ignored? It blew away every myth and preconceived notion that anyone in that room had about Indian women. We were not one homogenous servile group. I could almost hear the sound of the dropping jaws, a crack, a puff of smoke and just-like-that the myth evaporated.
We ladies arrived at the gala dinner before our male counterparts. We had left them to finalise all the important matters in life – the Middle East crisis, oil, the state of India etc while we got on with business at hand.
Our car arrived and we stepped out to a flight of 15 steps covered in the sharpest red carpet leading up to the venue. The Press brigade was stationed inside in the large air-conditioned lobby about 50meters from the top of the red-carpeted stairs. We waited at the top of the stairs for our Cuban comrade who was running late. There was another gentleman standing beside us, the Chinese distributor with his wife. We greeted each other with pleasant smiles, he too was waiting for someone. About 10 meters to the side of him I spotted a familiar face, a large man with a young male companion with striking blue eyes. It was Stephen Fry with his husband xxxxx. I wondered if I should go over to them and congratulate them both on their wedding. I never did it, instead, once again, I just smiled pleasantly. He too was waiting for someone. Wonder who? And what is Stephen Fry doing here? Should I go over? It’d be an embarrassing fan moment and I’d end up gushing.
As I was pondering over my thoughts I saw Stephen’s facial expression change, it was one of, ‘Oh dear…what am I doing here?’ his eyes were fixed on the cars that had stopped at the bottom of red carpeted stairs. I looked down to see what could have caused this and see a lot of commotion going on at the bottom of the stairs. A man who looks much like the IPL man exiled in London, casually climbs the stairs and makes a beeline for us.
“I didn’t expect to see beautiful Indian ladies at a place like this? What brings you here?” he was genuinely curious. I told him we were guests of Habanos thanks to ‘Chingari’ the Indian distributor of their cigars. A little, ‘Huh..right.’ A big smile but not totally convinced he walked over to the Chinese distributor whispered a few words, exchanged a pleasant smile and went back down the stairs.
“Paris, Paris….”he said, Paris Hilton steps out of the luxury car and heads straight to the wing mirror. She swings it open, pulls out her compact and powders her face, fiddles with her hair, smacks her lips and then turns around in dramatic style, posing perfectly, as if to announce that she was here. But there was no-one at the bottom of the stairs, I wondered who it was for. I was most amused. Should I tell her that she can relax? That the photographers are at the top of the stairs, and even then a further 50 meters away in the air-conditioned lobby?
“Paris, Paris…” continued the IPL man in his surprisingly high pitched voice. He began helping her up the stairs. During this little episode I spotted Noami Campbell, she steped out of her car and headed to another car parked 4 cars ahead. She was dressed in a beautiful black shimmery gown, it was unfortunate that she didn’t realize that there was no-one there to take her photograph, she hid her face with one hand and hitched up her gown with the other to dash rather robotically (I'm presuming the dress restricted her walking rather than believe she walked that way) to the other car.
I giggled to myself, no one would believe me if I retold them this story. And all this while Stephen Fry is trying to maintain the epitome of English politeness and remain poker-faced but I was certain that, just like me, he was thinking, ‘what the hell is going on!’
It seemed that Stephen was part of the Paris/Noami glamourous contingent and couldn’t believe his luck! Paris and IPL man eventually reached the top of stairs with a lot of preening and pouting for I don’t know who. Noami Campbell also made her way up the stairs. Before you know it the Chinese distributor and his wife along with Stephen Fry and his husband, form a herd with IPL man, Paris and Naomi and they triumphantly walk into the lobby through the wrong set of the doors. The red carpet entrance was on the left hand-side. This didn’t stop the herd! Realizing their blunder they decided not to stop and wait for the Press pack to turn around but instead headed straight for their table inside the ballroom. This, ofcourse, meant the Press had to follow them into the hall, most did, others protested. I could have been watching a ‘Carry On’ film, could it get any more ridiculous? I was completely amused. This was another level of people watching.
The commotion soon died down, the Press got the photos they wanted and reassembled. Our comrade eventually turned up as did my fav. Beardyman. Without any fuss or drama he walked up the stairs, kissed me on the cheek, told me I looked beautiful, apologized for keeping me waiting and said, “Shall we..”
We walked through the correct set of doors, the ones on the left, and were cheered by the Press. I giggled again and Kabir looked at me. ‘Long story’, I said, ‘will tell you about it over dinner’. And that is how you walk a red carpet – no drama, no fuss and obviously walk through the right entrance and try and keep everyone happy.
The gala dinner was a delight; a 7-course meal served with the finest cigars paired with each dish. It was a spectacular evening with best Cuban music and performers the country had to offer.
My red carpet story should have ended that night but it has another funny twist. About 4 days later I see a photo in a Mumbai paper of the man that I only knew as the ‘IPL man’ with Paris Hilton at the gala dinner surrounded by Press, the caption read “Media Frenzy in Havana”. The article based on the IPL man’s tweet said he had to leave the Habanos gala dinner early due to a media frenzy at his table thanks to Noami Campbell and Paris Hilton, poor Stephen Fry didn’t get a mention. Clever how the omission of a few key details in a tweet turned the whole comical saga into something else completely. I suppose this is what is called PR spin at its best. So there you have it my red carpet story at the Habanos gala dinner in Cuba.