The rich, the famous .. and COVID: Sydney’s year in gossip

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This was published 3 months ago

The rich, the famous .. and COVID: Sydney’s year in gossip

By Lucy Manly

When the tumultuous year of 2020 kicked off in a smokey haze as bushfires ravaged the country's east coast, little did we anticipate the nightmare that was still to come.

 A dozen guests returned positive COVID-19 results after attending Drew and Shadda Abercrombie's Aspen cocktail party in March.

A dozen guests returned positive COVID-19 results after attending Drew and Shadda Abercrombie's Aspen cocktail party in March.Credit:John Woudstra

Pretty soon we swapped gift bags and hors d'oeuvres for facemasks and hand sanitiser as the arrival of coronavirus in Australia saw parties cancelled and charity galas indefinitely postponed. Restaurants, gyms and even Sydney's beaches closed and we were instructed to work from home, kicking ourselves for not buying shares in Zoom.

The tough circumstances brought out the best in some but the absolute vacuousness in others.

Before hotel quarantine was mandatory, Aussies travelling abroad were instructed to return home. But when a bunch of wealthy Melburnians came back, they brought the contagious virus back with them.

In March, Emerald City revealed Toorak residents holidaying in the millionaires' alpine playground of Aspen kicked up their heels at Liberal Party powerbroker Andrew "Drew" Abercrombie's North of the Nell chalet for his end of season soiree.

Almost a dozen guests at the party later tested positive for coronavirus. One couple refused to be tested in Aspen, unable to resist the perfect skiing conditions, and then arrived back in Australia with the virus.

Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson  were quarantined in Australia earlier this year after both tested positive for coronavirus.

Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson were quarantined in Australia earlier this year after both tested positive for coronavirus.

It was a year that confirmed that we all thought - if you're rich and important enough, the same rules don't always apply. Mark Wahlberg, Lord Alan Sugar, Kerry Stokes, Nicole Kidman, Keith Urban, and Dannii Minogue were all granted exemptions from hotel quarantine, allowed instead to isolate at a private residence.

Meanwhile trucking heir Peter Fox moved his family from Melbourne to the Gold Coast after managing to persuade the notoriously strict Queensland government that his truck licence entitled him to an exemption from the state's ban on Victorian visitors.

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Happier times: Ellyse Perry and her husband Matt Toomua at the 2016 Allan Border Medal ceremony in Melbourne.

Happier times: Ellyse Perry and her husband Matt Toomua at the 2016 Allan Border Medal ceremony in Melbourne.Credit:Getty Images

Hookups and breakups

As restrictions eased it became clear some marriages did not survive lockdown.

In May, Double Bay eyebrow queen Kristin Fisher was caught cheating with her hairdresser Tom Cole. Salon customers tipped off Cole's wife Mariah Rota to the affair.

Two months later star cricketer Ellyse Perry and her rugby playing husband Matt Toomua confirmed to The Sun-Herald they had separated. Rumours about the couple's four-year marriage had swirled since February when Perry appeared at the Australian Cricket Awards sans wedding ring.

Another marriage that didn't make it to the end of 2020 was Daisy Turnbull Brown's (daughter of Malcolm and Lucy). She split from her husband of ten years - and the father of her two children - James Brown.

In August, Adelaide-based rich lister and global fitness queen Kayla Itsines broke up with her long-term fiance and business partner Tobi Pearce. The 20-something couple announced the news on Instagram.

And in a cautionary tale for all of us using office communication tools while working remotely, the extramarital affair between Double Bay boutique owner Juliet Schiff and her best friend's husband and new dad Rowan Rundle was discovered after they sent intimate messages to each other on Slack.

A-list decamps to Byron

As international and state borders closed, Sydneysiders decamped to Byron Bay. Throughout winter you couldn't move in the seaside haven without bumping into someone up from Sydney, including the tone-deaf influencers who flocked to Antony Catalano's luxury villa Raes at Wategos to post brand-pushing content as if we weren't in the midst of a pandemic.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk closed the state's borders.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk closed the state's borders.

The once-hippy town has been dubbed Aussiewood as the Hemsworth family effectively turns the place into a mass family compound. The Hemsworth clan encourages their Hollywood pals to hang out in their patch of paradise, where Chris and his wife Elsa Pataky completed the reno of their $20 million hinterland home. Hunger Games star Liam recently dropped $6.5 million on a luxury five bedroom residence in nearby Newrybar while eldest brother Luke has moved into a place at Tallow Beach purchased for $4.9 million by a family trust that lists Liam and Chris as directors.

High School Musical star Zac Efron made himself a Byron local by acquiring waitress Vanessa Valladares as his Down Under girlfriend, while Nicole Kidman, Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone all called the town home while shooting Nine Perfect Strangers.

Meanwhile in the weeks leading up to Christmas, international exports have flocked home to Australia to escape coronavirus rampaging through the US and UK. Isla Fisher and her husband Sacha Baron Cohen have relocated to Sydney's eastern suburbs with their three children.

Natalie Portman has called that neighbourhood home since October as she prepares to film Thor: Love and Thunder. Kidman and hubby Keith Urban have spent much of the year in Australia, but it remains to be seen if they hang around here in 2021.

Sydney's Melbourne Cup soiree was pale in comparison to its usual Birdcage rager.

Sydney's Melbourne Cup soiree was pale in comparison to its usual Birdcage rager.Credit:James Alcock

Parties cancelled

November traditionally marks the start of the party season but with Melbourne only emerging from lockdown and Sydney cautiously reopened, the festivities were muted this year. Instead of dancing up a storm in Melbourne's famed Birdcage, GH Mumm, the official champagne of the Melbourne Cup, shifted its Maison Mumm Hotel to Pier One Sydney Harbour. While the setting was spectacular and the bubbles free-flowing, the crowd of C- and D-listers rendered the event a pale imitation of a Birdcage soiree.

We managed to sneak in a few good parties before the northern beaches outbreak and subsequent border closures ruined Christmas plans. On December 1, jeweller Musson took to the harbour aboard luxury superyacht Mischief to reveal a rare and desirable piece of jewellery, the 29-carat Argyle Octavia white diamond. Refreshingly, the usual crowd of influencers didn't get a look in - instead there was a much more salubrious mix of celebrities, models and cashed-up clients on board.

As the year draws to a close a special shout-out to the talent managers and publicists who went radio silent when Emerald City rang for comment on stories that turned out to be true. Here's to answering your phones and cutting the BS in 2021.

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