August 18, 2003, Atlantic Edition
LETTER FROM ITALY; Pg. 10
Vacationing With Mr. B
By Mauro Suttora
What's new, Salvo?" my paparazzo friend is sipping caipiroska in a seaside cafe, watching the yachts anchored off Porto Cervo. The smallest is 40 meters. It's cocktail time, and he's taking a break from chasing celebs all day. "I got Gwyneth Paltrow on Valentino's boat. Liz Hurley, too. But I'm still looking for Eric Clapton. He should be at Peter Gabriel's villa."
There's no place like Sardinia's Costa Smeralda for stalking stars in summer. Marbella, St. Tropez? Not even close. "Tonight Roberto Cavalli is throwing the wildest party," Salvo informs me breathlessly. The Sultan of Brunei could be there, though probably not Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's prime minister. Among the world's richest men, he owns four villas in Costa Smeralda: one each for his mother, his brother, his eldest son and himself. Salvo's fondest dream is to snap Berlusconi on holiday, preferably with a woman other than his wife. The picture would be gold--not worth as much as Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed's first and last kiss here in 1997, but enough to make his season. My friend is practically salivating.
Casually, I mention that I'm vacationing with Mr. B--or rather with three of them, all oddly linked to the real Mr. B by no more than a degree of separation. Salvo looks confused. Berlusconi recently bought a fifth piece of land for a fifth villa, I explain. He got it from another Mr. B--the most powerful man on the Costa, Tom Barrack, a Californian descended from a Lebanese grocer. This second Mr. B also just paid $340 million for a chain of luxury hotels in Porto Cervo, including the sumptuous Cala di Volpe. "I'm having breakfast with him tomorrow." As it turns out, Barrack is aiming to develop some virgin shoreline but fears being blocked by local zoning authorities, who didn't let even the Aga Khan (the famous bazillionaire playboy-prince who essentially founded the Costa Smeralda) build on the site when he once owned the land. Will they now let Barrack fire up his bulldozers? I bet they do. The two Mr. B's are now friends, I tell Salvo, especially since Silvio gets his fifth villa. Tom, clearly a smooth operator, lavishes compliments on the P.M. "A Renaissance man," he calls Berlusconi. "He even composes love songs for his wife that he sings himself." Salvo looks downcast.
My third Mr. B to be vacationing in Sardinia this year is Gigi Buffon, the renowned goal-keeper for Juventus and the Italian national football team. This has been a fantastic year for Italy: we swept three out of the four first places in the European Champions League for the first time in history. The winner was AC Milan--Berlusconi's team, of course. A pity that the football players who flock to the Costa in search of glamour and girls are not more appreciated. They aren't elegant enough for the habitues, who despise them as newcomer wanna-bes. And the sleek young women who prowl about in the snippiest of bikinis and evening dresses are mostly after bigger fish than footballers.
At the ultra-glam Yacht Club annual gala, filled with everyone from the president of Mercedes to the most powerful and secretive Swiss bankers, Salvo and I hoped again to come across Berlusconi. But no. Instead we teamed up with the young and rowdy football champions--and thus fell in with still another famous Mr. B. This one is Flavio Briatore, the Formula One racing-team manager who owns the most expensive nightclub in Porto Cervo, aptly named Billionaire. The big news this season is that the potbellied playboy Briatore has switched girlfriends: from high-attitude model Naomi Campbell to, well, high-attitude model Heidi Klum. A point in his favor, Salvo agrees. We left Billionaire at 5 in the morning, the not-quite-risen sun lighting the sea a tender pinky-violet to the east. No doubt the real Mr. B was home in bed. With his wife.
Copyright 2003 Newsweek