Category Archives: Celebrity

Alan Jones

Alan Jones, the Grand Inquisitor of Radio Talkback, is now in a firestorm of his own making. His loathsome comments about the death of the Prime Minister’s father, John Gillard, have blown up in his face with a number of key advertisers now deserting his top-rating breakfast show and a growing social media backlash showing no signs of abating. Jones has been here before: the infamous London toilet incident in 1988, the Cash for Comments scandal a decade later, his inflammatory remarks during the Cronulla riots, in fact a lifetime of controversy and divisiveness. In 1998 I wrote an article for Good Weekend on the broadcaster called, appropriately: `Who’s Afraid of Alan Jones?’ The answer: A lot of people. This article was later re-published in my book “The Whites of their Eyes.”

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Serge Benhayon and Universal Medicine

“I know more than any scientist in my inner heart … I know everything about the universe and how it works. I can answer any question about any mystery in the world, any mystery in the universe.”

– Serge Benhayon’s message for the “New Era”, January 1, 2012.

A few years before Serge Benhayon realised he was the reincarnation of Leonardo da Vinci, he was a junior tennis coach on the north coast of NSW. What prompted Italy’s greatest Renaissance painter and polymath to reappear in the lush hills of Alstonville to teach tennis 480 years after his death is a mystery, even to Benhayon.

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Paul Kelly’s “Stories of Me” – a new documentary

Paul KellyA three year project documenting the life and musical career of Paul Kelly has now been completed. On Saturday, August 4, the film had its premier at the Melbourne International Film Festival. It will have one-off screenings in all Australian capital cities during October/November (for tickets, dates and to view the trailer click here )

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The Biggest Hit

Twelve years ago, in the rapture of the 2000 Olympics Closing Ceremony, you could almost feel the elation sweeping the globe when Men at Work’s Greg Ham offered up his immortal flute riff on Down Under to a television audience of nearly 4 billion, and a capacity crowd of 110,000 mostly dancing souls inside Sydney’s Olympic Stadium.

On that golden millenial night, Ham had stood centre stage, a bright pixie of a man with silken blonde hair, raybands and black dinner jacket, bending to the wind and giving us the melody we’d all come to regard – without suspicion – as part of our unofficial national anthem.

Men At WorkAs singer/songwriter, Colin Hay, laid a gentle hand on his friend’s shoulder, Ham cut loose with the sequence of notes he’d once dreamed up – or thought he had – in a haze of marijuana smoke 21 years earlier.

It was his tongue-in-cheek tilt at an Irish Australian-style tune that went: A A A A B B B A F# A F#  followed by a descending scale, and then another 11-note flourish: F# F# F# F# G G G F# D F# D.

For all the world, it looked like the flautist was on top of the world, as he and Hay were eventually joined on stage by a rollcall of Australian icons. But the unravellening of Ham’s life had already begun, though nothing like it would in the period leading up to his death in April this year …

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Justin Bieber: Never Say Never

The Canadian teenage superstar has just turned 18 and the Justin Juggernaut continues. David Leser recalls the Bieber tour Down Under and his awakening to Bieber Fever.

Justin Bieber: Never Say Never by David Leser

Photo by Pacific Coast News

The tender hearts of Australia’s female youth are probably still palpitating, but now that he has departed our shores it might be a good time to get some perspective on the phenomenon that is Justin Bieber.

Never mind if there are those of you who’ve only just heard of him – I, too, was living under a rock marked `Paleolithic’ until recently – this is the 17 year-old from Stratford, Canada, who, is now re-defining fame and the history of pop culture.

Consider this: Nine million albums sold worldwide in his first year as a professional performer; earnings of over $100 million in 12 months; one billion viewers on YouTube, 9 million Twitter followers, nearly 17 million Facebook friends, a best-selling book, a 3-D movie about himself, two performances at the White House, appearances on Oprah, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, David Letterman, Saturday Night Live and a host of others, sell-out tours across America, Europe and Australia. And all this before the singer with the Cupid smile can vote or drink in his own hometown.

Think Frank Sinatra in 1942 when he nearly caused the walls of the Paramount Theatre in New York to cave in, such was the commotion from his teenage fans. Think Elvis Presley in 1956 after he sparked near riots with his smouldering good looks and voice, not to mention his on-stage gyrations. Think the Beatles who, during the 1960s, triggered a worldwide hysteria that was to become forever known as “Beatlemania.”

Yes, think all the pop acts of contempory history that have caused the tweeny thermometer to sizzle and melt – Old Blue Eyes, The King, the Fab Four, the Monkees, David Cassidy, Michael Jackson, the Backstreet Boys (for a moment anyway) – and Justin Bieber is now a glittering star in the same firmament. Only he’s done it faster.

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Julian Assange: The Most Wanted Man In The World

As Julian Assange awaits a British Supreme Court challenge to his extradition to Sweden this story looks at the early life of a computer wizard who became one of the most wanted men in the world.

Nearly two decades ago in the hills outside Melbourne Julian Assange would go to sleep in the early hours of the morning dreaming of police raids. He would hear footsteps on the driveway gravel, see shadowy figures hovering near his house, and imagine armed police bursting through his backdoor at dawn.

Julian Assange: The Most Wanted Man In The World

Photograph: Carmen Valino

He was often paranoid and exhausted, mainly because he’d been up all night hacking his way into Australian and overseas computers. His lack of sleep compounded his paranoia. He believed the police were watching him, tapping his phone and about to raid his house.

He was dead right about that.

In late October 1991, this 20 year-old computer wizard was a key member of an elite underground movement in Melbourne known as International Subversives, arguably the most sophisticated hacking group on the planet.

Comprising three brilliant, obsessive young men from dysfunctional family backgrounds – they met initially on computer bulletin board systems, not in person – the group had managed to break into some of the most secure networks in the world, including NASA, the Naval Surface Warfare Centre in Virginia and the Pentagon itself.

We know this because Julian Assange was to tell us himself six years later in a book called Underground: Tales of Hacking, Madness and Obsession on the Electronic Frontier, published to great international acclaim in 1997. Written by Australian post-graduate student, Suelette Dreyfus, with Assange’s close co-operation, Underground lifted the lid on the exploits of this rogue sub-culture operating out of Australia’s second largest city.

Their maxim was: “Don’t damage computer systems you break into (including crashing them); don’t change the information in those systems (except for altering logs to cover your tracks); and share information.”

The book, in part a ghost-written autobiography of Assange’s early life, never actually revealed the names of the Melbourne hackers, but rather online nicknames such as Phoenix, Electron, Prime Suspect, Trax and Mendax.

Court documents and biographical details on the Wikileaks website would later show that Mendax was none other than Julian Assange. He’d chosen his moniker from Horace’s splendide mendax, meaning “nobly untruthful.”

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Heath Ledger

Two years after Heath Ledger scandalised sections of middle America with his near-miraculous performance as a gay cowboy, he would light up the screen with another tour de force, this time as the lovelorn, heroin-soaked poet, Dan, in the Australian cult movie, Candy.

Little known outside Australia, this film was based on a loosely autobiographical book of the same name written by Australian author, Luke Davies. In the film Ledger somehow managed to find his way inside the twisted, twilight world of the drug addict.

"Heath Ledger"

I pull the syringe from her arm and drop it on the table and hold my thumb down over the tiny hole I’ve made. I release the tie with my other hand. Candy looks down at her arm like a child who’s relieved that the innoculation is over. Then she says, mmmm, and her facial muscles relax and she lies back on the bed and says, that is heaps better. Heaps better. Fuck oh God. Fuck fuck fuck. This is the best. Oh God, this is awesome.

This was – as the New York Times commented of Ledger’s role – acting of the first order. “Ledger looks and plays the part of the scheming user exceptionally well. He’s deep in the character’s skin right from the start.”

Ledger and his co-star, Abbie Cornish – who recently appeared opposite Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth: The Golden Age – had received their tutoring from an expert, a heroin addict belonging to a Sydney group called “Proud Users.”

“Abbie and Heath got lots of lessons with a prosthetic arm on how to inject,” the film’s producer, Margaret Fink told Vanity Fair. “They had instructions from an expert … and Heath was as convincing as one could have been.”

In the wake of Ledger’s death last week in a New York apartment, it is tempting to now speculate that Ledger simply took his heroin classes too seriously. One Australian tabloid newspaper asserted as much by reporting that Ledger had spent several days at a drug rehabilitation facility battling an addiction to heroin following his separation last year from American actress, Michelle Williams.

At the time of writing there was no way of confirming this. What could be confirmed was that Heath Ledger’s death had shattered his family and closest friends, as well as the proud and close-knit Australian film industry.

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MERYL STREEP: The Greatest Actress of Her Time.

*Story First Published February, 2012.

There are certain privileges in life that should never be taken for granted and meeting Meryl Streep is one of them.

At this moment the woman whom fellow actress, Diane Keaton called “my generation’s genius” is sitting in her New York hotel room, more ethereal and elegant than even the most feverish imagination might have allowed for, discussing privileges of a different kind– her kind.

Like the favour of reaching old age (not that at 62 she is old yet, even though she feels it.) Like the dispensation of living an authentic life, a life of meaning. And, yes, as you might expect for an actress, the license to play full-blooded, complex women like whistle blower, Karen Silkwood, legendary chef, Julia Child and, most recently, The Iron Lady, herself, Margaret Thatcher.

“The opportunity to be these different women is a privilege, to imagine them and to open them up for view,” she says now. “And we don’t see enough older women in the movies.

“I feel I’ve gotten more chances than most actors to play really interesting characters. So to be given the chance is 90 per cent of the job and then to fill it out, and to live up to the opportunity … that’s where I try to live, in that little wedge. But to get the job is the big, big thing now. There aren’t that many places in acting, except in the theatre, for your convictions unless you produce films yourself, or write and produce them, which I don’t.”

By now most of us are aware that Meryl Streep has just managed to pull off arguably the most sublime performance of her career as Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first and only female prime minister, and that she is being widely tipped to win her third Oscar in 32 years.

What we are, perhaps, less aware of is that in playing Britain’s most successful post-war leader, particularly in these years where dementia has robbed Thatcher of her once iron-clad mental faculties, Meryl Streep has come to investigate both the rewards and ravages of old age.

“I see myself old everyday,” she says, laughing joyously. “And the weird thing is when you’re in the movies you see yourself young everyday and the contrast is shocking.”

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Dame Edna Wins Over Yanks – Her Last Shows Now Selling Out.

With Dame Edna’s last Australian tour about to get underway,  David Leser recalls the nights in Denver eleven years ago when Australia’s favourite pantomime dame brought the house down… 

*Story First Published 30.09.2001.

Denver, Colorado, is the “Queen of the Plains”, the largest city in a 1000 square kilometre area. For more than 125 years, it has been the cultural and entertainment capital of a vast region once known as the Wild West. It prides itself on its contradictions: part sleepy cow-town, part chic urban enclave.

Never before, though, has it witnessed anything quite like Dame Edna Everage. On a northern summer’s night recently, Australia’s most celebrated woman, the megastar from Moonee Ponds, the woman who once said that her interior decorator and gynaecologist were one and the same person, flounced on to the stage of the Denver Auditorium Theatre and slayed them in the aisles.

“It really is me tonight,” she declared in her trademark piercing falsetto. “In
person. In the flesh … I’m not a clone.
I’m not a look-alike. I’m not genetically modified. I’m real … and in your face!”

And so she was – in a shocking pink and black sequined dress, behind enormous harlequin glasses, under a bluff of wisteria hair – for the next two-and-a-half irreverent, malicious, uproarious hours.

“I’m a little bit nervous tonight,” she confided. “Isn’t it silly? Edna nervous … I’m more nervous tonight in this little tucked-away auditorium than I would be on the stage of a Broadway theatre … (pause) … in front of nicely dressed people!” (Bang. First blow.)

And then looking up towards the
mezzanine level: “Goodness knows what the paupers are wearing up there. Probably trash bags with holes in them … Hello paupies, hello … Listen to their wistful cries. I will glance up at you from time to time. I will. I will … (pause again) … In strict proportion to the amount you’ve paid!” (Bang. Second blow.)

The people in front of me are already shaking their heads in disbelief, while the woman behind is squealing with laughter, and an old man across the aisle is nodding vigorously into his breathing apparatus.

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