- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 4, 2006

It is Friday night on the Champs Elysees, and I am signing autographs. Three hysterical fans are screaming my name, and my bodyguard is trying his hardest to keep them at arm’s length. A gaggle of Japanese tourists have gathered. They are taking photographs of me on their camera phones even though they have no idea who I am.

Within seconds, about 40 passers-by have slowed down to gawk at what is happening. One obstreperous Frenchwoman has come to a halt to stare at me. “Who is she?” she asks persistently of the growing crowd. “Excuse me, madame, who are you?”

It should be self-explanatory. For one night only, I have become a celebrity, and to be a celebrity in the 21st century, no one needs to know who I am.

The non-famous, once disparagingly called “civilians” by Elizabeth Hurley, can pretend they are on the front line of stardom thanks to an organization that provides all the accouterments of fame for slightly longer than 15 minutes.

Soiree de Star, literally Evening of a Star, offers a range of packages for those who wish to be treated as achievers without having to go to all the bother of actually achieving.

For about $350, you can enjoy the basic privileges of an average E-lister in the Red Carpet package: a chauffeur-driven car, a bodyguard, a security van and a VIP reservation at one of Paris’ top night spots.

However, if you have $4,200 at your disposal, you can afford the Glamour Star experience: a six-person limousine, four hysterical fans, three VIP reservations, an optional helicopter ride, a television cameraman and paparazzi on motorbikes who will chase you through the streets of Paris, Nice, Barcelona or Madrid.

The service has proved highly popular since its start a year ago and attracts three or four clients a week, 70 percent of them women.

“The motorbike paparazzi are less popular because of Princess Diana,” explains David Benguigui, the 26-year-old co-founder. “It is very realistic because all the people we employ have actual experience — the bodyguards are professionals, the paparazzi are photographers. The fans are professional actresses, and we recruit them over the Internet. We ask them not to wear too much makeup, not to be too good-looking so that the attention is focused on the star.

“We are currently working on a new concept for stag nights. We noticed that men like to do something that involves kidnapping the groom, so we are hoping to introduce a surprise abduction evening with men in balaclavas and fake machine guns.”

I have decided to forgo the heavy weaponry. Fighting my way through the crowd of jostling onlookers back to my chauffeur-driven car is scary enough. Fortunately, I have Emmanuel, my bodyguard, on hand to shoo away pesky autograph hunters. He opens the car door with a bulky arm, and I am ushered inside.

Emmanuel takes his duties seriously. In the past, he has guarded real celebrities, including Bruce Willis (“super guy, but don’t get him drinking”), Brazilian soccer player Pele and actress Sharon Stone.

“Now there is a sublime woman,” he says, looking at me critically through the rearview mirror — frazzled, ungainly and most definitely not famous. “A natural star.” But is there, I wonder, any such thing?

It is all very confusing, but it also is surprisingly easy to get used to it. When I am dropped off at the entrance of Mandala Ray, the exclusive Paris nightclub owned by Johnny Depp, Robert De Niro and John Malkovich, I sashay effortlessly through the red rope cordons and spontaneously decide to order a bottle of champagne.

The manager comes over and kisses me on both cheeks. The champagne arrives after an imperious click of his fingers. I notice Soiree de Star’s Mr. Benguigui in the background paying with his credit card.

“We will invoice you later,” he says.

On the way out, I walk into a maelstrom of flashbulbs. After a couple of minutes, the paparazzi give up their pursuit. The chauffeur-driven car has gone, Emmanuel’s shift has ended and I have to walk back to the hotel.

Fame — it’s so fickle.

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