Like greedy children stuffing themselves sick with party bag chocolate, the Academy award nominees and their accountants are set to discover that nothing in this life comes for free
In the car boot sale that is the celebrity bubble, they are a greedy lot. Just as 21st century children expect to be rewarded with computers, mobile phones and iPods simply for not behaving like brats, A-list celebrities expect to be rewarded by the organisers of award shows, product launches and fundraisers simply for turning up. Around a decade ago, this adult version of the party bag started small. As a going home present it was relatively modest. Some perfume and upmarket cosmetics for the ladies and a recently released CD perhaps. But the phenomenon of bribing the super-rich with things they could already afford and didn’t really need grew and grew. And like Hampstead parents vying to make sure their child’s fifth birthday party was the most talked about in the pre-prep playground, the offerings became more and more elaborate and expensive.
So at this year’s Oscars, presenters, nominees and assorted executive hangers-on each benefited to the tune of over $100,000 worth of ‘goodies’, ranging from week-long, luxury skiing holidays in Canada (£10,000) to cashmere pyjamas to $540-worth of olive oil. The Times reported on Tuesday that a canny nominee could wrest as much as half a million dollars-worth of goodies from all the hoo-hah in the month between announcing the nominations and calling the winners. In the Oscar bag itself were vouchers for free stays at some of the finest hotels in California and New York, jewellery, cosmetics, chocolates, paintings, $6,000-worth of digital widescreen TV, a collapsible bicycle and (since James Dyson is now taking the States by storm – or cyclone), a Dyson vacuum cleaner.
As the power of “the Bag” has grown, a whole business has sprung up of specialist PR companies which will negotiate, beg and pay through the nose to get a certain product or service included. And as a PR stunt, getting your client’s product into the bag must feel great. Imagine being able to issue a press release announcing that Mike Leigh owns a pair of Kay Unger cashmere pyjamas ($500) or that Clint Eastwood relishes both of his T3 Tourmaline Hairdryers ($200 apiece).
But excess never goes un-noticed, and as the extravagance of the celeb sweetener has reached new levels of silliness, interest in the contents of A-list party bags has spread inevitably to the Inland Revenue and HM Customs and Excise. Valuable goods represent money and, therefore, income. They are taxable. Like greedy children stuffing themselves sick with party bag chocolate in the back of their parents’ 4x4s, the Academy award nominees and their accountants are set to discover that nothing in this life comes for free. I think there is a lesson here – never forget who reads the press, because it’s not just the hapless brand manager eager to see his or her trinkets in the hands of mega-celebs. You guessed it, grey civil servants cast their beady eyes over the daily broadsheets too. So a nasty shock and a bit of reverse spin for the poor unfortunate specialist PR agency that PR’ed their venture. Oh yes, acres of coverage on the originality of their service. But I don’t think they will be getting many A-listers from Blighty running for their swag-bag at the next glittering event. Who said all publicity was good publicity?