With John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, Cate Blanchett, Melissa George, Peter Fonda
One of the most lauded personalities at the fourth annual Penfolds Icon Black Tie Gala Saturday night at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Los Angeles was not there – Steve Irwin.
However, his presence was felt strongly throughout the evening, both in words and with a short film of Irwin’s many adventures, where he was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Also honored was Russell Crowe and Naomi Watts with film awards.
The Gala has been held for the past four years as part of the G’Day USA: Australia Week celebration of trade and commerce between Australia and Los Angeles, with Aussies galore streaming over the ocean to promote their businesses, meet other businessman and hey, just have a laugh and a beer.
One of the most glamorous evenings of the week, the Gala was presented by Australia.com, Ausfilm and Qantas; and produced by the L.A. and NYC offices of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Tourism Australia and Austrade.
Guest Master of Ceremonies Richard Wilkins started the evening off by saying it was a humbling experience to be there, and that he felt like Peter Allen – “bi-coastal!” He then introduced the Qantas Girls Choir, who sang the U.S. and Australia national anthems.
Australia’s Consul-General John Olsen was next, mentioning that the week highlighted the diversity of Australia and also that the week-long G’Day event had reached out to 100 million people last year in the U.S., and that this year was even better – over 150 million people!
Wilkins took the stage again and mentioned some of the celebrities in the audience; John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, Cate Blanchett, Terri and Bindi Irwin, Melissa George, Peter Fonda, Poppy Montgomery, Rachel Griffiths, Ridley Scott, Sacha Baron Cohen, the Wiggles and the team from “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”, among many others.
The first award, a Lifetime Achievement Award, went to Steve Irwin and a short film was shown with Irwin interacting with gorillas, crocodiles (of course!), an elephant, a cheetah, lizards, snakes and even a penguin. John Travolta presented the award to Terri Irwin, saying, “when Kelly and I met Steve last year, we were so impressed that he was exactly what you saw on screen.”
After a standing ovation, Terri, looking elegant in a long black evening gown, said that Steve was always excited and impressed when he came back from G’Day USA.
She spoke a little more about Steve and his use of the word “Crikey!” and then said “I came to Australia as a tourist; and I fell in love with the country before I fell in love with the man. Australia is the most beautiful place on earth!”
The Veronicas then came on stage to do a few of their hit songs (“Revolution,”4ever”), and then it was time for John Polson to introduce Naomi Watts to receive her award. His monologue was one of the comedic hits of the night, as he stated, “I must be the only one in this room who has made out with both Naomi Watts and Russell Crowe” scoring big laughs from the audience.
“I was also in Naomi Watt’s first film – which became hugely unknown – largely unknown by film lovers all around the world!”
On a more serious note, Polson said that only a handful of people in the room knew the “true Naomi, loyal, she would do anything for a friend; and she is completely unaffected by her success.” Clips were shown of Watt’s career, from films such as Flirting, Mulholland Drive, 21 Grams, The Painted Veil and King Kong.
He then presented Watts with an Excellence in Film Award, and she said “the first thing you notice about yourself (onscreen) is how big your nose is! I feel incredibly lucky for all the success I’ve had in the past few years and it all started in Australia for me.”
Watts also thanked her first agent in Australia, her other friends, lawyer and team of people, as well as “my sweetheart, Liev (Schreiber)” and Russell Crowe and Steve Irwin.
Next up was Michael Mann, the great film director, to introduce Russell Crowe (Mann directed Crowe in The Insider).
“There are difficult places where an actor must go, and Russell goes all the way!” he said. Mann then presented Crowe with an Excellence in Entertainment Award.
Crowe took the stage, and broke the audience up by joking “I don’t want to talk too long, because the longest I stay in any public place, the more dangerous it is for all of us!”
He then did a “knock knock” joke which brought a few groans from the audience and he said “Nicole Kidman accused me of being lame!” when he had told the same joke to her earlier.
Crowe then became serious and said a thank-you to “a country that provided me with mentors that nurtured me” and “I want to encourage anyone here with a product to keep going forward.”
The Qantas Girls Choir were brought back up again and sang “America the Beautiful” and “I Still Call Australia Home” – all in all it was a fantastic time, another success for G’Day USA and Australia. And a big thanks to Tourism Australia on helping coordinate such a great night!
– LISA CARROLL