Billionaires play battleships on the Med

IT HAS become the catch-cry of the Cote d'Azur: ''Sacre bleu! Les Australiens!'' Around the luxurious villas and gleaming superyachts of the French Riviera, party planners, maids, chefs, caterers, waiters and butlers are in a tizz as they welcome one of the biggest influxes of Aussie silvertails to converge on the famous playground.

And they want to party.

Already there are James Packer and his heavily pregnant wife Erica, spotted ordering bottles of Dom Perignon at the Hotel Du Cap Eden Roc in Antibes, the venue of their 2007 wedding.

From next week, Australia's richest woman, Gina Rinehart, will be leading a conga-line of well-wishers making their way to St Tropez and the sparkling waters of the Mediterranean for fast food king Jack Cowin's lavish 70th birthday celebrations.

PS hears Cowin - who is the single largest Hungry Jack's and KFC franchisee in the country and is worth a cool $618 million according to the latest BRW Rich List - has rented a vast villa for the event.

Cowin has already dispatched his $50 million superyacht, Slipstream, to St Tropez, which has long been one of his preferred holiday destinations, in readiness for what will be several days of celebrations, both on land and at sea.

Slipstream, which can accommodate 12 guests plus a crew of 14, features mirrors above a giant waterbed, a jacuzzi, an observation lounge with panoramic views, gym and a sky lounge with a retractable roof.

The boat is well known around the Med, where it is regularly chartered by celebrities such as Simon Cowell, who recently paid more than $500,000 a week to play captain of the high seas.

However, bobbing in the waters nearby and expected to dwarf Cowin's 1100-tonne, 60-metre long ''tinnie'', will be an even bigger private ship which is rumoured to have been chartered by Rinehart.


PS hears the mining heiress and emerging media magnate has been busy planning one of several glittering soirees aboard the huge vessel to honour her close friend and confidant, Cowin.

It is understood Rinehart is paying up to $1 million a week to rent the unnamed pleasure craft, said to be one of the biggest in the world.

Expected on board will be a mixed bag of Cowin mates, including some of Rinehart's loudest cheerleaders, such as the millionaire larrikin John Singleton and the purveyors of exotic cars Neville Creighton and John Sample.

Cowin did not return PS's calls this week.

Cruising like commoners

WHETHER it be cruising down the coast of Croatia or the canals of Venice, no one does the European ''season'' quite like the Murdochs.

But judging by their somewhat bewildered expressions, PS gets the feeling Wendi and Rupert Murdoch are a little more at home aboard their private multimillion-dollar super-yacht than a crowded gondola trying to manoeuvre its way down a Venice canal packed with tourists.

Patriarch of the powerful media clan and keeper of its multi-billion-dollar fortune, 81-year-old Murdoch has been soaking up the warm sunshine on a veritable flotilla of vessels across Italy, a rare experience of ''family time'' away from his all-consuming empire.

But they were unable to escape completely. Last week the family quickly became paparazzi prey in Venice after hiring a gondola, the shots showing his uncomfortable-looking wife, Wendi, with their fast growing daughters, Grace and Chloe, now aged 11 and 9 respectively, almost growling at photographers.

The family seemed much more relaxed back on the top deck of their $30 million superyacht Rosehearty, which had been moored off Venice, where Wendi, 44, could kick off her trademark Louboutins in peace.

Joining them was son Lachlan and his wife, former model Sarah, who has just signed to host a new dance program on her husband's Channel Ten, with their growing brood of three in tow.

Sarah and the kids have spent this week cruising down the coast of Croatia, while Lachlan has been seen darting back and forth between New York and London on business.

Wedded bliss

ON A picture perfect Italian summer's evening, Sydney ''it'' couple Kate Waterhouse and Luke Ricketson married in the historic Sicilian resort town of Taormina yesterday.

Socialite and racing heir Waterhouse, dressed in an ivory Vera Wang gown she bought in New York, with a flowing veil and accessorised with a stunning diamond bracelet, was accompanied by three bridesmaids, all in matching ivory, in Grecian-style gowns by Carla Zampatti.

''I'm so excited, I feel like I'm the luckiest girl in the world to marry Luke,'' Waterhouse said. ''He is everything and more I would want in a man and to have family and friends share our special day in such a beautiful setting is a dream come true.''

Ricketson wore a cobalt blue tuxedo while Waterhouse's mother, trainer Gai, eschewed the tradition of not wearing white to someone else's wedding, turning up in a mother-of-the-bride gown in the same shade as her daughter's wedding dress.

Taormina has been a long-term family holiday destination for the Waterhouses, and was the location for Tom Waterhouse's wedding last year when he married his long-time partner Hoda Vikili.

Devil wears disdain

THE former Vogue Australia editor-in-chief Kirstie Clements is well into writing her first book, a memoir full of amusing and no-doubt intriguing anecdotes from her three decades at the fashion bible before she was shown the door in a blaze of headlines in May. And she won't be pulling any punches. ''You know me, I always say it as I see it. While it's not in my nature to dwell on the negatives, I guess it will be in the eye of the beholder if people think it is controversial,'' Clements told PS. The Melbourne University Press publisher Louise Adler called Clements the day after she left Vogue with the book offer. Interestingly Clements has not signed any kind of ''gag order'' with her previous employer. The book is due out early next year.

Brush with society

THE KING of the ''stretch and burn'' blow wave, Joh Bailey, celebrated his 50th birthday in grand fashion last Sunday night. Star guest Kerri-Anne Kennerley (sporting seriously big hair and an even bigger smile) had clearly shaken off her breast cancer diagnosis and subsequent surgery a week earlier. She embraced a busy party schedule which included seeing Lady Gaga as well as Wednesday night's Vera Wang launch. She is soon to start radiotherapy. Also celebrating Bailey's birthday was former society queen Karin Upton Baker, making a rare public outing and working a new darker ''do'' at Bailey's Double Bay salon, where the wash basins were stuffed with bottles of Moet. Bailey, who has expanded his hairdressing empire into the horse grooming world with a range of equine hair colours, was ''roasted'' by comedian Vince Sorrenti, before Jack Vidgen sang and burlesque artiste Rachel St James splashed about in a giant martini glass, causing a mild panic among the front row when she sprayed a few Chanel suits.

Fawning, foundering

CRITICS of 60 Minutes'Grant Hackett interview - who called it a ''puff piece'' designed to resuscitate the fallen sports star's image given he is employed by Channel Nine - hit a raw nerve within Nine's Willoughby bunker this week. However, debate about the once indomitable show's editorial direction (it has dropped around half a million viewers over the past decade) has raged for months, and centred on an almost sycophantic approach to recent subjects including Delta Goodrem, and James Packer and Damien Aspinall (men with close ties to Nine's big kahuna David Gyngell). It's a debate that is ruffling feathers, so much so the network's boss Jeff Browne recently cornered PS, bellowing across a cocktail party in defence of the show. A little over-sensitive perhaps?

Seven stay schtum

THE mystery ''grubby'' incident alleged to have resulted in David Leckie stepping down from the chief executive's role has left executives at the Seven Network scratching their heads. Neither Leckie nor Seven was approached about the claims before they made it into print elsewhere, nor did the network have any response when PS called to ask about them. One senior figure was adamant: ''There was no incident''. While Leckie's unorthodox behaviour has long been a source of intrigue, it is hardly new. PS understands his move to the newly created position of executive director had been planned for a considerable period. Meanwhile, Leckie's wife, Skye, has been enjoying a holiday in deepest Oxfordshire with the couple's sons, and declined to comment when PS called.