LOUISVILLE, Ky — It’s sometimes hard to tell whether a celebrity attends a major event such as the Kentucky Derby because he’s actually interested in horse racing or because the special treatment he receives reminds him of his own fame. The result is the kind of mixed lot at this year’s race at Churchill Downs: Tara Reid, Usher, Kid Rock, Jerry O’Connell and Rebecca Romijn, Tom Brady, Matthew Fox from “Lost,” Josh Groban, Andrew Firestone of “The Bachelor” and Tori Spelling.
Almost all of them were the guests of Patricia and Priscilla Barnstable, the former Doublemint Twins. They threw a lavish $1,200-per-buffet-plate pre-Derby party on Friday night, an occasion Patricia started 17 years ago with the idea of raising money to find a cure for diabetes. (Her husband died from the disease two years ago.)
“We want the party to have the feel of Christmas Eve,” said Patricia, who lends her home out for the evening, though she locks her bedroom door by 2 a.m. “There’s the anticipation and the excitement the night before the big race.” Not to mention an opportunity to gape at guests as diverse as Z.Z. Top, Smokey Robinson, Jamie-Lynn DiScala and Dennis Hopper with his wife, Victoria.
“Go up the driveway, and don’t walk fast,”said Willie Barnstable, the twins’ mother, who was greeting guests while locals snapped pictures of celebrities with their camera phones from behind barricades. “This party is nothing so classy as in New York.”
Willie was right. In years past, the Barnstables have outfitted their driveway as if it was the field of poppies in “The Wizard of Oz.”Last year, the theme was Egyptian, so Priscilla painted her driveway blue like the Nile and imported camels and a 70-foot-high pyramid. This year, her theme was “The Beat Goes On.” Besides an incongruous hot-air balloon, child performers dressed up as Elvis, Dolly Parton (with fake breasts) and Tina Turner were lip-synching to some of their greatest hits. “Our reward is that we get free T-shirts and [get] to sing great music,” said one of the young girls who was dancing to the songs of the Jackson Five.
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More professional entertainment was found inside. Kid Rock has performed at the end of the night for the last five years; this year, Usher and Boyz II Men also lent a hand before they headed over to Jillian’s, a local sports bar, with Nelly for Stuff Magazine’s party here.
“I continue to be amazed that all these people perform at my house,” Priscilla added. “It’s like I’ve got a Grammy show going on in my backyard.”
Though the race itself is obviously thrilling, what one finds going to big events such as this is that part of being a celebrity is really just following the party. At least Spelling had her stylist help her find a vintage Chanel hat for Derby Day, while DiScala showed off a specially made Eric Javitz hat for Grey Goose vodka that is being auctioned on eBay.
In Louisville, even the lowest-wattage celeb gets treated as if he were Tom Cruise, which may be part of the city’s charm. Rumor has it that nearly every celebrity attendee was offered a police escort for the weekend. Reid was followed by one for nearly all of Saturday. He sat with her at dinner at the local Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and spent the rest of the evening at the Red Cheetah, a megadance club, where the actress partied till the wee hours of the morning.
“I love my policeman,” Reid said in the Louisville Marriott lobby as her guard for the night went off to fetch her a pack of cigarettes. The local cop seemed to similarly appreciate the company.