If you've ever watched a red-carpet premiere and imagined that it's all for show - that the stars front-up, pose for the cameras then go home to bed for a Horlicks and a beauty sleep, you'd be wrong. At least that wasn't the case for the cast of The Great Gatsby. And definitely not on the night their movie opened the 66th Cannes Film Festival.
Imagine, if you will, the bar at the Hotel du Cap - the exclusive, chateau-cum-boutique hotel perched on the clifftops around the bay from Cannes. It's just after 2am and though the rain is bucketing down outside, the joint is jumping, bright with the mega-wattage of assembled international megastars.
On balance, I probably shouldn't be here. It was only on a whim that I took a midnight taxi from my hotel, hoping to penetrate the Hotel du Cap's defences yet fully expecting to be turned away at the door.
Yet here I am, champagne glass in hand, trying desperately to blend into the crowd while at the bar Justin Timberlake is holding court. Sipping a gin and tonic, and looking typically polished in a dark-green smoking jacket and shiny patent leather shoes, he is regaling a gaggle of beautiful people with tales from a recent round of golf with Clint Eastwood.
In breezes Leonardo DiCaprio, still in his tuxedo, shirt unbuttoned and casting that familiar ice-blue stare across the room. All eyes are on him as he barely breaks stride to make a beeline for the terrace and what appears to be a much-needed cigarette.
On a sofa nearby, Timberlake's wife, the ridiculously handsome Jessica Biel, swings a Manohlo Blahnik shoe bag as she chats to Joel Edgerton's girlfriend, Alexis Blake - who will break off eventually to go upstairs and "check on the babysitter."
Joel, full-bearded and black-suited, is clearly enjoying himself, laughing and drinking with Tobey Maguire who is sucking on a cigar between flashes of his impish smile.Suddenly the hubbub is broken by a series of wolf-whistles as a tall, bespectacled man and his tiny, red-haired female companion waltz into the bar wearing only white terry-towelling bath robes and hotel-issue slippers. Sacha Baron-Cohen (aka Borat) and his Australian actress wife Isla Fisher have decided to join the party.
"Ladies and gentlemen!" Justin Timberlake yells dramatically above the din. "Will you please make welcome Mr and Mrs Borat!"
Despite their state of relative undress, the Baron-Cohen's form a huddle with the Timberlakes and engage in mega-star small-talk.
"You've been married seven months and no babies!" Isla exclaims jokingly to Jessica. "But you have to get moving or your eggs will dry up! Take folic acid, immediately!"
The forty-dollar cocktails are flowing, the room is humming and the beautiful people are braying: it's a party that wouldn't be out of place in The Great Gatsby itself.
Baz Luhrmann alights briefly on the scene, collaring his leading man Leonardo. The film they have made together has just opened the most prestigious film festival in the world and they're clearly on a high. Away from the cameras, the pair have an obvious simpatico, laughing together as they mimic a dance move and share a joke. Despite the celebrity competition in the bar tonight (and it is formidable) Leo still looms large in this room. His every move is monitored from the corners of countless eyes while an entourage of minders seems to busy itself with not only tending to, but anticipating his every need.
"The reviews have been mixed," Tobey Maguire tells a group of be-suited Hollywood producer-types of Gatsby's critical reception. "But Baz has never shied away from taking chances and being bold."
Everyone in the bar interacts with the assumed intimacy of the super-famous. A-list celebrity is their common denominator.
Gatsby author F. Scott Fitzgerald himself could not have conjured a more perfect scene. It is, afterall, a soirée with all the necessary elements: a French Riviera location, a luxury hotel, bellinis by the trayload and more fabulous somebodies than any one room has the right to contain. To paraphrase Cole Porter: what a swell party it is.
Down on the Croisette the next day, the boardwalk is jammed with aspiring young film stars, dressed in next-to-nothing and hoping to be discovered. In every hotel lobby, camera crews linger as elfin-faced ingenues get ready for their close up.
At the Palais du Congrés, banks of black-tie sporting photographers capture every move on the red-carpet. From the elegant sweep of Gatsby star Carey Mulligan's white satin gown to the structured Dior couture of jury member Nicole Kidman.
Meanwhile at the Hotel Martinez, where festival co-sponsors L'Oréal Paris have gathered together a selection of their ambassadors, the beauty quotient is off-the-scale.
There's Slumdog Millionaire star, Freida Pinto posing for the paparazzi, French model Inés de la Fressange flashing her famous smile and Hollywood actress Julieanne Moore cutting a swathe through crowds in the lobby while the ageless Jane Fonda turns heads and sets off a thousand camera flashes. And flying the flag for the home country, our very own Megan Gale.
Down on the beach, you can't see the sand for the marquees that are crammed side-by-side - their music blaring and lights flashing late into the night as they compete for the patronage of the well-heeled and cashed-up. While bobbing gently off the coast is an armada of luxury vessels and cruise ships - hulking great gin palaces owned by Arab sheikhs and dot com billionaires.
Welcome to the French Riviera - long time playground of the jet-set and spiritual home of decadence. It's over-the-top, it's outrageous, it's bling-tastic. And for the 2013 Cannes Festival at least, it's the venue for a very lavish, very Luhrmann knees-up. Or as Variety magazine has coined it: "a whole lot of Bazzamatazz".