ANTIBES, France - What if the richest man in Australia, with ties to a huge movie star and Scientology, threw a splashy, $6 million, week-long wedding on the French Riviera, rented out two of the most exclusive hotels on the planet - and nobody cared?
I realized this week while covering the story for Australian TV, what a drag it is to be anything but American.
At least if you're a big shot with wads of cash, have a penchant for marrying models, count Tom Cruise and Rupert Murdoch among your close pals -- and gosh darn it, might like a fraction of the p.r. that Nicole Richie or the Olsen twins get just for showing up with a hangnail.
Pity poor James Packer. At 39, he's the wealthiest man in Australia thanks mostly to his billionaire media mogul dad Kerry Packer. He's also a Scientologist thanks to Cruise, who is at the wedding celebration with his wife, Katie Holmes. Today Packer married Erica Baxter, a beautiful 29-year-old former model, his second model wife.
Doesn't matter. I was reminded again, especially seeing this story through the prism of Australian media, what a giant shadow America casts in the world.
It was like covering a low-tech, pale imitation of the real thing -- like an Almost-America taking place in a parallel universe. Even the name of the show I was reporting for in Australia was called the Today show. But it wasn't THE Today show, if you know what I mean.
Rupert Murdoch, his wife Wendi Deng, his son Lachlan, and a ton of other Australian VIPs I never heard of (like cricket star Shane Warne) descended on the Hotel du Cap in Antibes this week.
In case the gorgeous Hotel du Cap (where Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt stayed during the Cannes Film Festival) started to grate, wedding guests were ferried by yacht to the equally luxe Hotel du Cap on St. Jean Cap Ferrat, about 30 miles east.
Today's wedding, which took place at the town hall in Antibes, had been rumored to occur on Packer's yacht, a converted icebreaker named the Arctic P, moored off Antibes. Paunchy, multi-millionaire wedding guests, decked out in speedos, have been seen swimming between each other's yachts.
Snore. Not even the local paper, Nice-Matin, is taking much note.
However, a year ago, a C-list American starlet pushing 40 and her wifebeater-clad beau -- Pamela Anderson and Kid Rock -- got married off St. Tropez. The ensuing international paparazzi gangbang brought the town to a halt and landed the pair on TV shows and on magazine covers stretching from London to New York and as far away as Hong Kong and Bombay.
In contrast, it was a relative morgue around the Hotel du Cap this week after the motley crew consisting of me, an Argentinian cameraman, a French soundman and an Australian producer met in Nice to drive to Antibes.
A live truck was deemed too expensive so we had less than two hours to get there, tape a fake "as-live," then rush back to a studio in Nice and feed it back to Australia.
Deadlines were irrelevant to the French soundman, who was driving and got into it with a guy in a truck he thought had cut him off. Next thing we knew, the truck was blocking us. The driver got out and strode over menacingly.
Fisticuffs were narrowly averted thanks to the diplomacy of the savvy Australian producer. The truck driver retreated but not before spitting at our car and storming back to his truck.
Down in Antibes, we had to scramble over the seaside cliffs to find a spot with Packer's weird yacht Arctic P in the background. But at least it wasn't as if we had to jostle for position. There wasn't another soul around.
I was teetering on a tiny outcropping of rock. The producer hid in a crevasse below me and held up her cell phone on speaker just out of camera range so I could (theoretically) hear the anchor back in Sydney fire questions. Normally you communicate by an earpiece.
I adjusted my stance by an inch to avoid toppling backwards. The cameraman had a fit. I tried to get back in the original position, but my legs were hopelessly twisted, one foot stuck down behind me.
"Okay, but aren't I going to look like a double amputee?" I asked, trying for some levity. American TV crews are often hilarious.
The cameraman frowned. The soundman, still smarting over the road rage incident, glowered.
Then tape was rolling -- and I spoke as authoritatively as I could about people like Erica Baxter, Packer's bride, who I had not heard of until that day.
"Thanks," the Australian producer said after we were done. "You sounded so enthusiastic!"
Someone had to be.