I waited. And waited. I craned every inch of my body in her direction, listening with my entire being. Not even a slightly interesting word was exchanged. I even swam some lengths in the infinity pool, alongside Antonio Banderas (despite heavy celebrity fatigue, I confess it was a thrilling moment; the man is preternaturally beautiful).
Cameron rubbed sun cream onto Justin's back.
What if I spilt my drink on Jennifer? Or prodded her with a sun umbrella? After all, the one thing I knew from two years working this beat was that I couldn't introduce myself as a journalist -- not in this place; not now. I'd be thrown out in a flash -- and none of these stars were hardly going to unburden themselves to the sudden questions of a random "tourist."
Was my behavior so far despicable? Probably. When I first joined the gossip world I refused to publish anything I'd heard if I hadn't first identified myself as press. When, for instance, singer Pink kissed "Terminator 3" actress Kristanna Lokken in front of me at a private party after the Monte Carlo Music Awards, I told no one. I felt I'd be "crossing a line." But you watch, you learn and in time your heart hardens.
Still, at Cannes, none of this was at the top of my mental agenda. Perhaps I felt that stars living off the press and enjoying a multi-million dollar promotional junket for career enhancement were fair game. The problem, as I saw it at that moment, wasn't the ethics of my situation, but the fact that this fair game was proving to be no game at all.
The photographers snapping away while perched on rocks half a football field away were having more success than I was. My cell phone was signaling that my boss had repeatedly been calling, and eventually I snuck off into the bushes to answer. He was livid. "What the hell are you doing out there?" he barked. "This is simply not good enough, Rebecca." If I didn't come up with the goods, he assured me, he'd count the trip as vacation.
I watched the Big Names eat lunch I couldn't afford, and sat there in parched frustration until they packed their designer accessories into designer totes, and left.
Plan B: back to the parties. Loitering at the pool bar, I befriended a promoter who gave me tickets to the "Kill Bill Vol. 2" premiere. It was the third I had covered, and already I'd asked Quentin Tarantino every provocative question I could think of. But, what else could I do?
On the way in I met some other gossip hacks as bored, desperate and tired as I was -- two women in their late 20s had spent the afternoon in tears; one of the showbiz team from my paper had enough and decided to quit when she got home.
We crossed a Japanese-style wooden bridge into an arena adorned with silk canopies, floating flowers and waitresses bearing sushi; undoubtedly fun if you were there with, perhaps, a boyfriend, and it wasn't your 200th such night in a row. We made our way to the edge of the VIP area, in case anyone interesting arrived. It was dark and gently drizzling. I sat down on a rock. I was there five hours. Nothing.
Fortunately, my promoter acquaintance came through for me a second time, and slipped me a ticket to the "Vanity Fair" party, the event of the week. It was harder to get into than Fort Knox, and the house photographer, a jaded chap, gave me a silently impressed thumbs up. But if you're a nobody drinking cocktails alongside a major celebrity with something to sell, the directors that might employ them, and the money-men that might fund their movies, you have a snowball's chance in hell of landing a cozy chat.
By the end of the trip, I'd spent five days and sleepless nights pounding the red rugs and carefully laid-down sands of Cannes. I'd listened to the woes of countless strangers, each weaving fictions of their own; I'd lived mostly off bar snacks, spent a week's wages, and held the hand of a tearful Swedish model who'd been abandoned by a hip hop singer; I'd been groped and insulted in the name of my page.
And for all this, what was the crowning story, the end product the reader back in England would see? My best scoop from Cannes, this glorious, immortal year?
"It's so difficult knowing what to wear for these things," Cameron Diaz confided at a festival bash. "Do you go with the skirt and the belt, the jacket and the belt, or just the belt by itself? It's so hard to know."