|The Harry Potter trio's names engraved at Grauman's Chinese Theatre, L.A.|
Too young to truly appreciate the contributions made to the arts and entertainment by the likes of Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Jimmy Stewart, Judy Garland, Bette Davis and Elizabeth Taylor – fading stars in the annals of pop culture history for a generation brought up on Harry Potter – our group was largely unimpressed by much of what Hollywood and its surrounds had to offer.
We were the Ultimate Hollywood Party Poopers.
Of course, when you're touring with Christians, the term "star" has a different significance. There's only one star in our lives and He points to God and heaven, and we're celebrating his birthday very soon. Everyone else pales in comparison. This somewhat relieves celebrity of its lustre, and therefore makes Hollywood a bit of a bummer, which isn't much fun for anyone. I found taking to the experience with a healthy attitude of sociological interest helped things along.
The site where Tupac was shot, the Roosevelt Hotel where Marilyn Monroe lived for two years and Lindsay Lohan parties with her peers, shops beside the staircase that takes stars into the Kodak Theatre (nice bathrooms, by the way), the Sunset Strip famous for its clubs and car crashes and star overdoses... Hollywood is like a film noir script all its own. Here, the vicissitudes of life, the trappings of fame, become quite plain as the narratives start to sound the same.
Walking into The Grove, Hollywood's swish shopping spot for the stars, I spotted Victoria's Secret model Alessandra Ambrosio walking her tiny daughter to the tune of a pack of paparazzi clicking their cameras. They reminded me of crows picking over something on the road. Our tour guide suggested that this was the place where celebrities go to be spotted, so it's no strange coincidence. Really, a mother would want her daughter photographed like that? It seemed so intrusive; almost fictional to watch. A film crew shooting glamorous Extra TV host Maria Menounos nearby also attracted spectator attention.
From the dizzy heights of billboards on Hollywood Boulevard, to the back streets of Beverly Hills where even the fire hydrants are painted platinum. We saw Spelling Manor, the most expensive home in America (dubbed "Candyland" in reference to the late Aaron Spelling's wife) recently bought by Petra Ecclestone, 22, the newlywed daughter of British billionaire Bernie Ecclestone. Fourteen bedrooms, a bowling alley, a flower-cutting room, a gift-wrapping room, tennis court and swimming pool? This is how the one per cent of the one per cent live? Take me to my humble home!
Indeed, when I arrived at Sydney airport and thought to catch up on the news, I bought The Australian and came across a picture of actress Rose Byrne beneath the headline 'City of Dreams'. Hollywood success at her feet, Byrne's image is one of a red-lipped lovely with the palest of skin who looks tired. As Aussie retailers with their sights set on infiltrating the celebrity set have found, it's hard work making it in Hollywood.
"Celebrities really do dictate fashion in the States," said Sal Morgan, who works with celebrities on achieving the right styling. "What they are wearing is constantly blogged about and with online shopping so advanced here you can get what Rihanna or Kim Kardashian is wearing almost instantly." (Indeed, the 'in joke' on tour was "Look, a Kardashian!" It's tempting to be cavalier about something which is really quite critical... people).
There was a time when "celebrity" was based more on talent and charisma than selling copies of Us Weekly, when it still had a degree of mystery (though I'm not so sure about respectability?), and there's no doubt some stars are able to keep what's personal away from the public's prying eyes and can, in all honesty, hold their heads high (or shake them at the ludicrous nature of the whole shebang).
If you pay the right amount, you can be driven right up to Lindsay Lohan's house near Venice Beach and take a peek... at her garbage, which is the sort of thing some people do around these parts (and haven't we all taken the proverbial peek by way of a gossip magazine?).
It's sobering to think of the sorrow and misery that so often plagues the celebrity and dulls their potential in the world. Some have brought happiness to others through their sheer talent; seeing that go to waste shouldn't be entertainment. For want of a happier ending, Hollywood – at least, the superficial tourist circuit – might just be the saddest place on earth.
Girl With a Satchel