Everyone agreed that Cheryl Cole ‘totally nailed’ the Cannes look this year.
With her spectacular Stephane Rolland gown and thanks to a team of beauty specialists from L’Oreal, Cole had never looked more like a stellar movie star than she did on the red carpet on Sunday night.
The trouble is, of course, that she is actually a reality TV star — the closest she has come to the big screen is a two-minute cameo role.
Cannes-do: Cheryl Cole arriving at the Gala Screening of Amour, held at the Palais de Festival, part of the 65th Cannes Film Festival. Her attendance at the event was organised and paid for by cosmetics brand L'Oreal
And though the night was supposedly about Cole turning up to the premiere of the French language film, Amour, it was all about using her image — and the prestige of Cannes — to sell lipsticks and eyeliners to young women from Sunderland to Shanghai.
L’Oreal, with whom she has a highly lucrative deal, paid a fortune to have her attend the 65th Cannes Film Festival — and even more to whisk her home again, a few hours later, by private jet.
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In all, Cole’s walk up the stairs of the Palais, with that iconic backdrop of swarming paparazzi and swaying palm trees, will have cost the company about £300,000.
And that prodigious sum does not include the £1.5 million a year she is paid as part of her deal to be an ambassador for the global cosmetics brand.
Given the coverage Cheryl achieved on her brief visit to the French Riviera, however, the company will no doubt feel their investment proved to be sound value for money.
After all, she didn’t even spend the night in Cannes. And the movie?
Last year, after Cheryl walked the red carpet, she spent only ten minutes watching the film.
Does she belong here? Kelly Brook poses on a ladder on the sidelines of the festival. Her film career has hardly sparkled
This year, I’m told she did stay to watch it, though the truth is that for the purposes of ‘official Cannes sponsors’ L’Oreal, the films are so beyond the point of the whole venture as to be laughable.
‘Of course, Cheryl Cole has nothing at all to do with movies,’ says Dennis Davidson, the veteran of 40 Cannes Film Festivals and boss of DDA, the biggest movie public relations company on the Croisette.
In fact, Cheryl Cole’s flying visit is just the tip of the iceberg in the great Cannes Scam, since the festival has become swamped by commercial deals with official sponsors.
It is overshadowed by a secondary circus that runs on a heady mix of free champagne, media saturation and stars the likes of Kim Kardashian, P. Diddy and Kelly Brook, who are all in town to sell themselves.
What was at one time an elegant celebration of film-making has been debased and diluted by the presence of a group one might call the ‘pluggerati’, who flock to the South of France to piggyback on its success. Who pays for all this excess?
Chopard, Martini, Grey Goose, Belvedere vodka, Gucci, Mercedes Benz — the list of luxury retailers who are willing to spend big in Cannes is a long one.
The party that diamond specialists De Grisogono threw on Wednesday night at the Hotel du Cap, for instance, is thought to have cost the company about £3 million.
Heiresses and socialites Paris and Nicky Hilton attended, there was a DJ set by singer and record producer of the moment Taio Cruz and seven podiums of diamonds were on show to guests, each one guarded by tight security.
Hundreds of freeloaders and media types enjoyed the ride, too. Why? Because there is nowhere better to promote a luxury brand than at Cannes.
As one veteran told me: ‘It used to be subtle, but now it’s taken over the place.’ Another snorts: ‘The festival has completely sold out.’
It’s not always a pretty sight. Over the past week, we have seen reformed alcoholic Ronnie Wood plug a brand of Vodka, septuagenarian sexpot Jane Fonda plug wrinkle creams and model Milla Jovovich plug L’Oreal hair colour.
Kelly Brook, Kim Kardashian and Lady Victoria Hervey have assiduously promoted themselves, seemingly turning up on every yacht and at every marquee where there is free champagne.
Kelly Brook, having done a photo-call with British comedian Keith Lemon to promote his low-budget film, attended three red carpet premieres, two huge parties and squeezed in a swimwear shoot, too.
Lest we forget, Kelly’s attempts at a career in film — boosted by romances with actors Billy Zane and Jason Statham — have amounted to very little.
Anyone who saw her in the frightful, exploitative and unfunny Piranha film will know that Kelly doesn’t exactly belong in Cannes.
But Dave Hogan, a renowned photographer who has been covering Cannes for more than 20 years, says the movies are beside the point.
‘The red carpet is used to sell, sell, sell. Every one of the girls on the red carpet, whether it is Kelly or someone else, is selling jewellery or clothes or make-up,’ says Dave.
‘Cannes has become a massive fashion event, bigger than the Paris or London fashion weeks. The companies are happy to pay to fly people down here because of the exposure they get. The fashion houses and diamond people will give them stuff to wear and, for the others, even just one set of pictures in front of a branded board will do.’
Double trouble: Kanye West and Kim Kardashian pictured leaving a yacht moored at Cannes. They are among the stars unrelated to film who nonetheless turn up at many of the parties thrown during the festival
According to Dave Hogan, someone like Kelly Brook will be paid £20,000 to £30,000 for doing a quick photo-call because it is almost guaranteed there will be some exposure.
‘Then there are the formal arrangements, like Cheryl Cole with L’Oreal. You also see what I would call the friendly relationships, like the ones people have with jewellers. ‘If you show up at their party, the deal is that they will lend you their diamonds the next time you have a red carpet to walk.’ It obviously worked for De Grisogono, as they attracted supermodels Heidi Klum and Milla Jovovich to their soiree.
Last year, Jovovich was paid to wear diamonds by their rivals, Jacob & Co.
Dennis Davidson agrees that an increasing amount of attention is paid to fashion and celebrity, and to the sponsors.
‘It is like the Academy Awards. There are 5,000 accredited media here looking for the next big story. Huge brands spend fortunes coming to Cannes because they hope that some of the glamour rubs off.’
So much so that the ‘gifting suites’ — where stars are given free products and services — which were once only prominent at the Academy Awards are now at Cannes.
‘The gifting suites are where you can take the star to be dressed, made up and bejewelled,’ says Davidson.
Soaking up the atmosphere: Philip Green and Heidi Klum smile for the cameras at the De Grisogono party held at the Eden Roc Hotel
‘There are also more general gifting suites from which stars will emerge with ten or 12 high-value items — products sponsors want to promote among a certain group.’
These suites, mostly at the Hotel Martinez and the Carlton, are one of the festival’s best-kept secrets.
This year, Chopard has a lounge at the Martinez. It took a suite at the Ritz in Paris the week before the film festival so the stars could choose their red carpet jewels in advance and in private.
L’Oreal has a suite at the Martinez, where it has installed three top make-up artists, a nail specialist, three hair stylists and a skin expert, all working around the clock on the company’s tab.
Another suite there is hosted by the Lebanese designer Elie Saab, who has run a successful campaign to get his clothes onto the red carpet this year. French actress Virginie Ledoyen wore Saab this week.
Another big growth area is charitable events. The grand-daddy of them all is Amfar, an Aids benefit which, over the years, has had everyone from Sharon Stone, Madonna and Princess Charlene of Monaco in attendance.
This year, though, there was a rival. The actor Sean Penn threw a big party on board the Armani yacht and badgered attendees into writing cheques for Haiti. After dinner, he delivered a speech to an audience that included the A-list actors Gerard Butler and Ben Stiller.
He said: ‘Why do I ask your attention at this late hour, when you have other parties to go to and other people to f**k? Because, once upon a time, I was ashamed of myself more than I am today, as I think you should be.’
An auction at the event raised more than £1 million.
Ronnie Wood’s Cannes party was sponsored by Belvedere Vodka and publicised Aids charity work.
The burgeoning trend, it seems, is to add politics into an already rather shameless mix. No wonder, then, that the stars who aren’t being paid to plug this or that end up feeling a little exploited by the whole event.
Grey’s Anatomy star Eric Dane attended a film-makers’ party at the Hotel du Cap earlier this week in a sharp black suit and tie. He was overheard asking a fellow party-goer for a cigarette.
‘Aren’t you a doctor?’ the guest joked, to which Dane deadpanned: ‘I’m a victim.’
As the festival becomes an increasingly naked commercial merry-go-round, it would seem Mr Dane is not the only one.