You shall go to the ball: Austrian tycoon picks this year's partner

Hollywood A-listers jet in to add sparkle to Vienna's annual event with an image problem

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The Independent Online

In Vienna, the excitement is building ahead of what the Austrian capital presents to the world as its most glittering social event, the Vienna Opera Ball.

Thursday's high-society party, which marks the ends of the carnival season, will see debutantes dressed in white and with crystal tiaras dancing demure Strauss waltzes.

Millions of Austrians will tune in to live television broadcasts from the event and the stars will be out – Oscar-winning actresses Mira Sorvino and Hilary Swank are this year’s A-listers lined up to attend the glitzy event, following in the footsteps of past attendees including Sophia Loren, Paris Hilton and Karima El Mahroug, the teenage belly dancer and associate of Silvio Berlusconi better known by her stage name, “Ruby the Heartstealer”.

Even the best public relations experts couldn’t deny the event, like Austria itself – once memorably described as having got along by pretending Hitler was German and that Mozart was Austrian – has an image problem. You know something’s wrong when even Lindsay Lohan refuses cash to show up to a party with free champagne.

As an indication of how the week-long procession of elite Vienna balls are viewed by some Austrians, nine people were arrested after thousands of protesters clashed outside a precursor event, the Vienna student ball last week.

But the show must go on, and yesterday attendees were putting a positive gloss on things. German fashion designer Harald Gloeoeckler said he planned to arrive in a carriage drawn by six horses and with six footmen. “The Opera Ball stands for radiance and glamour like no other event in the world except perhaps the Oscars. It takes place in a wonderful city and traditional location. You simply have to be there,” he told the Heute newspaper.

Mira Sorvino added: “I feel like I’m going to be in a fairy tale ball, like Cinderella. I just hope I am able to do the waltz correctly.” The real star of the Opera Ball is 80-year-old real estate magnate Richard Lugner, on whose arm the most glamorous guests are always found. 

But it all comes down to money. The event is a cash cow. Attendees pay €18,500 (£16,000)for a box. And Austrian television is able to attract 1.6 million viewers in a country of just 8.4 million people.