Shaun Walker: If Sharon's not there, it ain't happening

Notebook

Share
Related Topics

Russia is fertile ground for celebrities of all hues to make pots of extra cash, whether it's oligarchs flying in their favourite singer, or Hollywood stars parachuted in to liven up a party.

One person has been popping up more than any other of late though, and that's Sharon Stone. At anything Russia-related these days, her grinning face seems to put in an appearance, like some kind of recurring nightmare, supporting whatever it is that the particular junket is about. A trusted source told me about the prices to bring different "entertainers" to Russia for events – Stone is one of the more expensive, reportedly coming in at as much as $250,000 a time. But pay that, and, calendar permitting, she'll likely be there.

A week ago, she was in Moscow for some music awards. "I love Russia. I love the country. I love everything about Russia," she gurned, to wild applause. Two days later, she was in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, for the premiere of Five Days in August, a propaganda flick about the 2008 Russia-Georgia War, which paints a less than pleasant (and sometimes less than truthful) picture of her beloved Russians. She also took time out to engage in some banter with Moscow's Enemy No 1, President Mikheil Saakashvili. I hope she didn't tell him how much she loves everything about Russia.

These are just the latest in a long line of junkets for Stone. She was one of the star guests at the notorious St Petersburg "charity" auction where Vladimir Putin wheeled out his cringe-worthy rendition of "Blueberry Hill" last December and, off-camera, sang a duet with the Russian Prime Minister. When a journalistic investigation uncovered that the children with cancer for whose benefit the concert had been organised hadn't received a kopeck, the organiser (an old friend of Putin) said that actually, the whole point was to "raise awareness" rather than to raise any actual money.

In March, Stone was rather oddly called on to co-compere Mikhail Gorbachev's 80th birthday bash at the Royal Albert Hall, with Kevin Spacey. She rattled off a few platitudes about freedom, made some terrible puns, and engaged in bizarre and inappropriate scripted faux-flirting with Spacey. I'm sure that with a bit of imagination, the organisers could have found someone a little more sincere, and with a little more genuine connection to the events of late 1980s Russia, to host Gorby's big day. And they might not even have had to pay.

If I was going to place a bet on where Stone might end up next, I'd say keep an eye on Grozny. The local dictator, Ramzan Kadyrov, has already flown in Roberto Cavalli for an unlikely fashion show, as well as a whole host of faded international football stars to play against him in a vanity match (Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman, hang your heads in shame). I'm sure, for the right price, maybe Stone would be delighted to grin at the cameras and talk about the peace and stability underpinning Chechnya today.

Some advice to Kadyrov, though – if you do get Stone in, better show her a map first, as she's apparently not too hot on Caucasus geography. "Azerbaijan? What is that?" she apparently asked in confusion when the name of the billionaire host's home country came up on her autocue during a hotel opening in Turkey two years ago. "I can't pronounce this! Chaka Khan! Chaka Khan!"

No more beautiful spot to sip a vodka cocktail

There's something very Russian about the all-or-nothing excesses of St Petersburg's northern climate. In winter it's mostly dark, icy and ravaged by howling, bitter winds, while in summer the hot sunny days tail off into long bright evenings, a couple of hours of twilight, and then sunrise again while the nightlife is still in full swing. Boats carrying revellers speed through the canals and bob along the River Neva; bleary-eyed locals mingle with tourists on drinking sessions that seem to flow seamlessly from one day into the next.

Russia is not known for its pleasant urban environments, and having travelled through most of Russia and the former Soviet Union, I get used to labelling the better cities as "not bad for the region", or "reasonably nice". But sipping vodka cocktails on a rooftop terrace this weekend, looking at the cathedrals and palaces glinting in the pinkish midnight glow, I was reminded that St Petersburg in June is not just "nice for the region", it's up there with the world's most beautiful cities.

Don't teach Russian hotel staff to imitate Americans

I was lucky enough to spend the weekend at the newly opened W in St Petersburg, the latest instalment in the chain of hip boutique hotels that is going increasingly global. It was all very nice, with suitable levels of wanton luxury and decadent opening parties.

But one thing bothered me. I was ordering some room service when the chirpy voice on the other end of the line asked if I wanted "vetya weasel". I'm sorry, I said, I'm not sure what that means, but I'm probably fine for weasels, thanks. "Vetya weasel," she repeated. Eventually, she rather sheepishly asked if I wanted any water. It transpires that water in W Hotels is referred to as "wet your whistle", and the poor Russians have obviously been told this is what they must say.

The hotel was peppered with these little phrases, presumably dreamt up by an American brand director in a New York office – staff who utter "Whatever Whenever" when consulted. The smiling faces and obsessive can-do attitude are certainly a refreshing change from the usual miserable service levels in Russia, but Icouldn't help feeling that in chain-ifying the boutique, W has managed to achieve the opposite of what it intended, and have made the idiosyncratic and quirky seem forced and templated.

s.walker@independent.co.uk

twitter.com/shaunwalker7

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Gold Ferrari sits outside Chanel on Sloane Street  

Sunday Times Rich List: We are no longer in thrall to very rich people

Terence Blacker
David Cameron was openly emotional at the prospect of Scotland leaving the union before the referendum  

Remember when David Cameron almost cried over Scotland because he loved it so much?

Matthew Norman
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions