A common habit of the tourism industry pretty much everywhere is to make a big deal of it when celebrities have been hanging out in town. Better still, if a big name does something a little out of the ordinary on your turf, it’s an opportunity to entrench the tale in urban legend and set the word spreading about your local attraction.
Movie locations provide the most obvious source for such look-who-has-been-here tourism marketing. New Zealand has been milking its status as the real-life Middle Earth, and has seen a 50% increase in tourist visits since the Lord of the Rings films were shot there in the early 2000s. Tour guides revel in recanting anecdotes from the set; in Hobbiton, we were told about how the cast were served real beer at Bilbo’s birthday party, and that every morning frogs had to be removed from a nearby pond as they were interfering with the sound.
In Fiji, travellers flock to see Qalito Island, where Castaway (you know, the one where Tom Hanks gets stranded) was filmed. In the remote south of Argentina, we heard all about how the final scenes of triple-Oscar-winning The Revenant were shot there. And most recently, Bolivia’s Uyuni salt flats were given a huge boost when they provided the location for planet Crait in the latest Star Wars flick, The Last Jedi.
But sometimes the celebrity-in-town stories stem simply from famous people stopping by and sticking their necks out in some way. Whisper becomes rumour becomes certified urban legend. While travelling through Australia recently, I heard a couple such anecdotes I found particularly amusing, and I will share them with you here.
What you are about to read truly transpired – I have it on the word of the most upstanding tour guides and door staff that Oz has to offer. Okay, I suspect they may have been embellished just a little bit. But here goes.
The bar that turned down Lady Gaga
Melbourne has a wonderful and proud tradition for live local music, one of many reasons it’s up there with my favourite cities in the world. On any night of the week you can walk around a corner and find a band playing in a bar somewhere.
As is our usual custom, on our first full day in Melbourne we took the free walking tour, and this was one of the best we’ve done anywhere. Among other useful tips and tales about the city, the guide told us a story about Cherry Bar, a legendary live music venue in the CBD.
A few years back, Lady Gaga was finishing up a tour in the city and asked Cherry Bar if she could host the after-party there, and use the stage for a private set. The manager refused the request. Why? Because a Melbournian blues rock band was due to play on the same night, and the bar wanted to uphold its commitment to local talent. So the story goes, Lady Gaga and her crew went along anyway, she got absolutely sozzled and bought drinks for everyone at the bar.
I went to Cherry Bar to see some punky metal bands on a Saturday night, and asked the door staff about the Gaga story – one of them claimed to have seen her literally crawling out on her hands and knees at the end of that famous night.
Red Hot Chili Peppers breaking the dress code
This story is a little, erm, different – but if you are at all familiar with the past antics of the Red Hot Chili Peppers it will not come as a surprise. To give you a little clue… these guys just love getting naked.
While on a two-night cruise on the Whitsundays, we sailed past Hamilton Island, the setting for Qualia – one of Australia’s premier six-star resorts. Last year, Qualia had undertaken expensive renovations when the Queensland coast was ravaged by Cyclone Debbie. Nearly a year later the effects were still visible.
“Do you want to know why the Red Hot Chili Peppers are banned for life from Hamilton Island?” asked our sailing tour host. I suspected immediately that the answer would involve nudity, and I wasn’t wrong.
Apparently, those evergreen icons of funk rock stayed at the resort while touring in Australia, and were invited to a super-formal black tie dinner. However, when they arrived, they were told they could not enter as they were not wearing black ties. Yep, you can guess where this is going.
The band members disappeared back to their rooms to change into the correct attire, and reappeared a few minutes later wearing black ties as requested. But this time they were wearing only black ties – not a garment more.
I guess there are more respectful ways to make a point, but I have never been a fan of dress formality, so I’ll give the guys a pass on this one.
Now, we’re off to Thailand next month, and I hear you can see the place where Leo Dicaprio filmed that waterfall scene in The Beach…