Cannes may have lost its class and star appeal, but I still love it
I've been watching 'stars' I've never heard of gather on the red carpet at the glamorous Cannes Film Festival these past days and I'm glad I gave this year a miss.
Even though the festival has reached its 70th birthday milestone this year, Cannes has, according to many, lost its class.
"It's gone down the toilet. It's all about social media and the selfie this year," a friend who is based in the French resort informed me.
"The VIP guests are not just movie stars, but 'influencers' - kids who allow anyone to follow them on social media," she added.
No one has ever heard of them, but apparently they are 'hot shots' at parties on indolent superyachts belonging to Russian plutocrats, and at film premieres.
Between them and the ramped-up security, which includes hundreds of armed police, military, anti-drone systems and massive flower pots as barriers along the Promenade de la Croisette - the already tight main thoroughfare - the average bottom feeder like me would have a hard time trying to blag their way into some fancy schmancy do.
Speaking of bottoms and influencers, last year I thought I saw reality star Kim Kardashian outside a designer store until I realised it was her mother Kris Jenner. A large butt in a brown boob tube full-length dress could easily lead me to mistake one for the other.
Later that day she wore a black poodle dress with what looked like something circus acts put on Indian elephants. Money can't buy class as the old adage goes.
Locals say any sign of a Kardashian lowers the tone of the festival. They lament the days when Cannes was the playground of Gregory Peck, Grace Kelly, Sophia Loren and their like.
Everyone has their time in Cannes. "You can't compare it to the 1980s. Parties spilt out on to the streets back then. It was wild," a regular told me a few years back.
I've been five times since 2002, and I've had some amazing experiences, but also some very dodgy ones.
I've gifted one of the richest men in Switzerland with a painting on his superyacht; slept rough outside the casino in Monaco; I've seen Daft Punk surrounded by precocious little rich kids who looked about 12 spraying vintage pink Dom Pérignon; and I've been chased around a club by a famous 75-year-old surf legend, while Leonardo DiCaprio was languishing by the DJ booth at the Vanity Fair after-party at the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc down the road.
When I go out in Cannes, I end up in a rave or a club with red curtains, disco balls, and wall-to-wall trannies in gold dresses with beehives, rather than a Chopard and Vanity Fair bash with Mick Jagger and a posse of skinny models. I'm probably better off though. I just feel bad for all the marinated foie gras, lobster thermidor and vintage Krug that goes to waste.
Not one for queuing, one year I was happy to drive home a drunken member of our group who was refused entry into celebrity haunt Gotha, which was packed with oligarchs, hookers and playboys with their initials written on the backs on their shoes.
Those who stayed ended up getting robbed and one got a black eye. I did warn them. A note to self - don't go to Cannes with amateurs.
Cannes can be seedy and dodgy, once you peel off the shiny, sparkly outer layer to reveal a dark underbelly.
That said it's not just a film festival, it's a trade fair, a movie market and, because of its unparalleled reach, it acts as a platform for 'important' celebrity causes.
Last year, I saw a great interview with Susan Sarandon at a Variety event, where she discussed US corporate media blackouts of rallies by Democrat Bernie Sanders. Meanwhile, Julia Roberts scoffed at convention and laughed her way up the red carpet barefoot - in honour of the strict rules for women to wear heels at Cannes. Feminists always love a non-issue to get behind.
I also found an early house in Cannes after a free drinks party at the Palais. Who knew? Though if you were hoping to find any of the guests previously seen boarding Roman Abramovich's yacht, you would have been duly disappointed.
It may all seem like fun and games, but most of us - even me - are in Cannes to work. It's non-stop. People are buying and selling thousands of movies, launching movies, looking for distributors and potential collaborators. Careers are made or sometimes lost. Meetings are short. They take place on white leather couches. Large quantities of espressos and bottles of rosé are drunk.
Even the thousands of members of the press are running around in evening gowns and tuxedos, interviewing people, attending photo calls, trying to get images to media outlets around the world as quickly as possible.
It's exhausting. Every model attending a party is here to sell something.
I met Pamela Anderson at the airport once and asked her what she was doing in Cannes. She was networking - just like everyone else.
An Irish producer I bump into in Cannes regularly likens it to the Ballinasloe horse fair. "Everyone is either here to do business or fight with their cousin," they said.
He hit the nail on the head.
I do love it though. Cannes, I'll see you for the 71st.