I’m fairly used to covering a party or red carpet, but when I was asked to fly out to Venice to attend Vanity Fair’s Rising Stars party last weekend I had to pinch myself – hard – before I could believe it.
Every year Venice plays host to the world’s oldest and perhaps most glamorous film festival - the Cannes Film Festival might be more famous, but it’s hard to argue with making your red carpet entrance from a speedboat, so I quickly prepared for the most A-List experience of my life. Stepping out from the airport with my lovely hosts from Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve, we went straight to our speedboat transport into the city.
Powering into Venice’s iconic Grand Canal is an incredible experience.
From the waterfront, Venice is like something out of a film set. It’s impossibly beautiful, and as I craned my head to look into side rivers and small waterways, the quaint little bridges and old-fashioned architecture made it easy to understand why the world is in love with the floating city.
Checking into the Westin Europa and Regina hotel – the venue of Vanity Fair’s annual party – I couldn’t resist popping my head into the entrance of the Terrace, with its amazing view of the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, where the evening’s event would be held.
With a few hours free before the party started, we were invited to wander Venice. However, the only way to truly see Venice is by water, and so we headed away from San Marco Piazza to pile into a Gondola rowed by Venetian native Roberto.
We saw the former homes of Mozart and Napoleon, and famous Venetians Giacomo Casanova and Marco Polo, all from the comfort of Roberto’s lush boat, and all around the city were signs of the famous film festival.
This year has actually seemed fairly low key on the Hollywood front, but still, stars such as Emma Stone, Andrea Riseborough, Jude Law, Uma Thurman, Kirsten Dunst, Dakota Fanning, and Fifty Shades of Grey actress Dakota Johnson have all been spotted on the red carpets of the Lido cinemas and terrace parties in the city.
A quick change into our party clothes (an old LBD and red lips for me), we enjoyed traditional Venetian dinner at the waterfront Pensione Wildner restaurant near the famous Bridge of Sighs, before heading back to the Westin to start the party – and what better way to travel than by speedboat?
The paparazzi were slightly put out when we stepped back onto dry land and they realised we were not worth photographing, but soon famous faces from around the world piled in, as well as Johnnie Walker’s Rising Stars who were there to launch a search for the next big thing with the help of photographer Rankin.
European stars such as Spanish actress Blanca Suarez, and Italians Arianna Di Martino, Chiara Mastalli, and blogger Eleonora Carisi all looked fantastic on the red carpet. Rankin arrived with his wife, model Tuuli, and Game of Thrones star Gwendoline Christie.
Gwendoline looked amazing in a Vivienne Westwood show piece dress, adding chic Louboutins to her Amazonian 6'3" frame.
They posed playfully for photographers before coming over to chat and enjoy the whiskey cocktails and canapés.
Rankin, one of my favourite photographers, told me about the photobooth he’d designed for Johnnie Walker. The lighting means that people can get the perfect photo in his recognisable style, and be in with a chance to win a photoshoot with the man himself and star in the whiskey label’s 2015 online campaign.
He also told me what he looks for in a subject: "You’re looking for something that’s exciting. I always think it’s the eyes. If they’ve got excitement in their eyes then I’m drawn to them. You can see that you’ve got sparkly eyes, and they’re the most exciting eyes.
"You’re always like: who is that person? What have they got going on? What are they excited by?"
Our chat gave me enough of a boost to ask Gwendoline about the many layers of secrecy involved in her upcoming Star Wars Episode VII role (I know nothing. Her agent knows nothing. I'm starting to wonder if even J.J. Abrams knows nothing.) but she dodged with a laugh and we soon moved on to obsessing about our mutual Venice debut: "I’m desperate to go on a gondola," she said. "Do they sing to you?"
"I was saying earlier you feel like you’re on a movie set," added Rankin. "You feel like any moment Daniel Craig is going to walk round the corner or Angelina Jolie’s going to jump out of a boat or something will explode."
The party continued into the early hours of the morning, with many classic cocktails such as 'apple coolers' and 'golden touch' on offer, and still the queues for the photobooth showed no signs of letting up.
The most surreal moment for me was when Rankin decided to direct my photobooth attempt – at 1.30am he concluded I’d been taking photos wrong. Having the man who’s photographed everyone from Kate Moss to the Queen shouting instructions like: "Shoulders! Shoulders! Chin up; head forward; kiss the lens; ruffle your hair; touch your face!" is something I’ll never forget.
Three attempts later (it might have helped if I’d managed to get through a take without giggling), Rankin told me he knew what I needed to do – but naturally walked away before sharing his thoughts.
As the party wound down, our group had one last try of the photobooth together before saying arrivederci to Venice.
Now bring on London Film Festival!