LEANNE DELAP: At the amfAR gala

Shinan Govani with Ciara Hunt at the amfAR/Dignitas Cinema Against AIDS fundraiser.

Story by Leanne Delap. Photography by Natalie Castellino.

Name-dropping is crass. Unless you are a professional. Panty-flashing personal journalism is worse. But now that we have that out of the way, I’m left with dilemma of how I gossip about a gossip columnist who is a friend.

People who go to black-tie galas all the time mark the seasons differently: April through June, then September through November are society’s hot zones. I used to take my gowns out to play in heavy rotation, but except for spin-around-the-dancefloor loans to girlfriends, my finery has been gathering dust. So I was excited and uncharacteristically nervous about the recent amfAR/Dignitas fundraiser “Cinema Against AIDS” at the Carlu.

The event was notable not just for the million dollars raised for AIDS research, but because it stands as the one glossy event at TIFF for which you can buy your way into a room to rub elbows with celebrities. I knew it would be like riding a bicycle, but I had become invested in the success of the event because I had spent the spring and summer  listening to my dear friend Shinan Govani (one of the gala’s three chairs, alongside departing Hello! editrix Ciara Hunt and Elisa Nuyten, one of this city’s most active arts advocates).

Govani is the Post’s jewel-in-the-crown social columnist (and novelist—Boldface Names, his debut fictional take on the international rabble that are his subject, was a deftly subversive volley).

It has been dead-good fun watching how his growing success and clout plays out in the real world, and a gas to watch how people simultaneously suck up and are wary of his sharp pen. I’d wager there is not a salon or soiree on the world stage to which he would not be welcomed these days. As a side note, he works damned hard, but he really has a lot of fun, which makes it all so much more of an accomplishment.

There is a reason we have bred so few enduring social commentators: It is a helluva balance Govani has struck for the past eight years. Look more closely at the protagonist of his novel, as he shows us very clearly how he maneuvers through the worlds of Hollywood celebrity, business tycoons, the rich, the beautiful, and the bright young things here and abroad. He is a watcher, and has negotiated his own status shifting from outside to belonging.

I take this barn-door-sized diversion to explain what I learned from watching him wrestle this gala into existence. He worked both his connections and his now quite concrete power to muscle up $10,000 tables. I’ve been a guest at a lifetime of fundraisers, but it was suddenly fun for me to connect how it all came together.

To complicate this digression, Govani has written about me, which was a paint-stripping experience, though any discomfort was crisply superceded by his clever description of me. I will not attempt to reciprocate on that front. Save that I’m dying to use the word “gadabout” as it conveys the retro feel of Govani, whose heros are hewn from the récherché social master stylists, the Dunnes, the Waughs, and the Capotes. He dresses like a character in Sweet Smell of Success, all floppy hair and dark blazer to go from newsroom to nightclub. (Not that Govani has probably stepped into the actual Post newsroom in an aeon. I’ve seen him set up shop as daily deadline looms in the oddest places: yachts, airport lounges, interview suites, a charcuterie lunchbar in Louisiana once recently.)

We do travel-writing gigs together all the time. I’ve become his platonic wife for these bursts. My job to order the butler around a Parrot Cay villa, or to wrangle a cabana at Caesar’s Palace and make a fresh gin and tonic appear with the fresh Vanity Fair.

Point is, he lives the life of his subjects. I’m sure the socialite he’s pressing into a plump donation is titillated by the fact he’s calling poolside from Nevada with the image of Tori and Dean splashing with their wee ones reflected in his Ray Bans. He knows that to play their game he has to live it. Or at least make regular visits. Call it non-hereditary dilettantism: Failing to have achieved high birth, us media types have to hustle the high life.

Walking in past the red carpet on Yonge Street on the first Sunday of the festival, I found Govani decked out in Boss, Ciara Hunt in a deep orange vintage Halston from Shrimpton Originals, and Elisa Nuyten in a sleek cream Prabal Gurung. I had a burst of pride as they shepherded the stars into the event.

And you know what? That night, I had fun. Govani somehow suggested a lovely woman named Jill Killeen, who invited me to the Westbank Development Corp table (the owners of Shangri-La Vancouver and soon-to-be Toronto hotel/residences). I got to play with plastic surgeon Trevor Born (whose wife is New York dermatologist to the stars and Vogue-feted fashion plate Lisa Airan, and I was updated on insider scoop from Fashion Week).

To my right were the UK-import one-name-only design duo Colin and Justin of Home Heist. Great company to josh around with while Martin Sheen took the stage.

As an obsessive West Wing fan, I thrilled to all the “president” jokes. Sheen elevated the affair with his Joycean gravitas and gravel voice, poetry spilling from his tongue. He imbued proceedings with a theatrical heft that I am certain brought goose pimples even to the billionaires fiddling with their BlackBerries under the table deep into a Sunday night (shout-out to another Post scribe, the incisive Nathalie Atkinson).

The end of my Cinderella evening (I so couldn’t jam up the zipper on my best Alexander McQueen and settled on the trusty Gaultier floor-length kimono, a dress that hides every S’more I scoffed all summer) was when I followed Nuyten through some grand Deco Carlu doors to find myself trying to find something to say to the Ace of Base girls wearing teensy hotpants.

I saw the sign it was time to go home. Roll log roll.

Below, more photos from the amFAR/Dignitas gala, all by Natalie Castellino.

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