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SYDNEY — Last June, it was Nicole Kidman’s wedding to Keith Urban that dominated headlines Down Under for a week. Now, almost a year to the day later, Australia is gearing up for another megawedding — and this one’s not even on home turf.
At sunset on Wednesday, James Packer, Australia’s richest man, is expected to marry model-turned-singer Erica Baxter. Like last year’s Kurban wedding, these nuptials will be staged against a seaside backdrop. But unlike Kidman’s choice of Sydney’s quaint Manly Beach, the Packer-Baxter nuptials will occur on the glamorous Côte d’Azur, with guests and a media pack assembling there at press time. They include Kidman’s ex, Tom Cruise, a Packer confidante and fellow Scientologist, who was winging his way with wife Katie Holmes as early as this Tuesday or Wednesday, according to a source close to TomKat.
With a week’s worth of planned festivities — including Monday’s meet-and-greet party, Tuesday’s beach bash-cruise and the wedding — Sydney’s fashion set has been agog for months. “The ladies I’ve dressed are really dressing,” said eveningwear designer Jonathan Ward. “All I know is I need lots of frocks,” noted one guest who, like several others WWD spoke to, claimed to be in the dark about most of the wedding details.
Baxter will wear John Galliano for Christian Dior haute couture — an ivory and white version of a strapless, embroidered, flamenco-style tiered gown with a train from the spring collection, and an embroidered silk veil. Price is no object when your future husband boasts a net of worth 7.25 billion Australian dollars, or $6.32 billion at current exchange, according to the BRW Rich 200 list published in May — only weeks before Packer sold a further 25 percent of his PBL company to private equity firm CVC Asia Pacific, ceding control over his family’s historic media empire in order to concentrate on its interests in gambling.
The Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat and the Hôtel du Cap- Eden Roc each report having been booked out by one mystery client from June 16 to 23. A shipboard civil ceremony on Packer’s Arctic P superyacht is one mooted scenario — ditto a separate Scientology “celebration.” In France as in Italy, where Cruise and Holmes celebrated their already-sealed union in November, a Scientology ceremony alone would not be legally recognized. But although a Nice, France-based Scientology minister told Sydney’s Daily Telegraph that a large Scientology wedding in the region is imminent, with a senior representative flying in to officiate, he was unable to elaborate on speculation that Cruise himself might perform the ceremony.
It is believed Packer and Cruise met in 1999 in Sydney, with Packer reportedly turning to Scientology following his One.Tel business fiasco in 2001 and his separation in 2002 from his first wife, model Jodhi Meares. When Packer’s father, the legendary tycoon Kerry Packer, died on Dec. 26, 2005, Cruise and Holmes flew out for the memorial service. Packer and Baxter attended the TomKat wedding, with Packer loaning the newlyweds the Arctic P for their honeymoon in the Maldives.
Other anticipated guests at the Packer wedding include his mother Ros, sister Gretel and Monte Carlo-based step-grandmother Lady Florence Packer; Lachlan and Sarah Murdoch; former Nine Network chief executive officer Eddie McGuire; broadcaster Alan Jones; cricketer Shane Warne; Baxter’s parents, Michael and Sheelah Baxter; her model agent Priscilla Leighton-Clarke; makeup artist Noni Smith, and close friend, model/designer Jonathan Pease, who recently cohosted “Australia’s Next Top Model” alongside Packer’s ex-wife.
The whole event is expected to cost an estimated 6 million Australian dollars, or about $5 million. While that’s steep, it’s only about half that of Packer’s first wedding in 1999, attended by 700 and at which Elton John sang.
“It’s very exciting and they’re a lovely couple,” says Leighton-Clarke, who spotted the now 29-year-old Baxter on a train station platform 15 years ago. “I know where I’m flying to, but we’re being picked up and whisked off somewhere — it’s a major secret. I’m sure it will all be gorgeous.”