Hollywood East

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 June, 2007, 12:00am

The whole Paris Hilton farce has been thoroughly entertaining, even on this side of the Pacific. The combination of a spoiled, self-centred celebrity and her legal transgression is a winning recipe for some rich schadenfreude. I'm not here to discuss only Hilton, or just how she got herself into jail, however. But have you noticed that more often than not, when famous people get into trouble, vehicles are usually involved.

In Hilton's case, she didn't realise driving under the influence would result in her licence being suspended. Compounding her first offence, she then continued to clamber behind the wheel after late-night partying and speed like the reckless airhead she is. The hotel heiress' subsequent arrest saw her forced to check into lodgings far more basic than her usual digs for 45 days. Honest mistake, right? Obviously, her incompetent personal assistant forgot to remind her she shouldn't be driving.

But Hilton is not the only celebrity bad driver. Famous faces from Halle Berry to Nicole Ritchie to Nicole Kidman have suffered the ignominy of very public fender-benders. Lindsay Lohan (Li-Lo to her party pals) has made car crashes a habit. Mad Max Mel Gibson had a drink-driving episode that led to some candid off-the-cuff comments. And let's not forget that memorable freeway excursion in that white Bronco by O.J. Simpson.

In the past few weeks, Asian personalities have shown they are no better behind the wheel either. Tony Leung Ka-fai, who was convicted of

drink-driving and an assault on a bus driver after an accident in 2002, was ordered by a judge to pay his victim about HK$40,000 in damages.

In a not-so-funny incident in Taiwan, singer Shino Lin Xiao-pei was charged with involuntary manslaughter when she drove drunk in the rain and killed a nurse on a scooter. Like Hilton, Lin didn't have a licence at the time, either.

Of course, celebrities don't need alcohol to make a mess on the road. There was the case of Nicholas Tse Ting-fung crashing his Ferrari early one morning in 2002 and then having one of his minions try to take the blame. That was when he was young and dangerous - not to mention stupid. Tse later wrecked a slightly less expensive car, an Audi, on Lantau island. The evidence is clear: cars and stars just don't mix.

On screen, they may give the impression of being fast and furious, deftly hugging the curves of our winding roads. But in reality, if a star is in the driver's seat, chances are they're out of control and about to crash through the railings. It's something of a metaphor for celebrity in general, don't you think?

Perhaps this is why limousines and chauffeurs are such a crucial part of so many celebrity's entourages. Maybe it's not massive egos and sheer indolence that encourage so many stars to hire private drivers.

Perhaps, instead, it's because their managers and agents are smart enough to keep their prized clients out of the driver's seat and away from the bad publicity and/or career-crushing prison term when they wrap their expensive sports cars around lampposts or plough into a car with a family of four inside.

In a way, it's not just about cars. Often celebrities who try to steer their careers end up stalling in first gear, too. That's why in Hong Kong, the transport of choice for many famous faces is neither a solid German sedan nor a sleek Japanese limo. Instead, entertainment groups shuttle their synthetic stars around in customised minivans. You know the type: parked all over Central, with drawn curtains over the back seat windows, they're big enough to accommodate the teen idol, the assistant, the manager, the bodyguard and a couple of other lackeys whose job it is to do things such as fetch lunch or hold the phone.

There are no BMWs or Porsches for these pampered poseurs. For one thing, some of them aren't old enough to drive. For others, it's simply that they can't steer their own course even if their career depends on it. They sit, as they're told, quietly in the back seat.

Hong Kong's stars are relatively passive in letting their handlers dictate where and when they go, and how fast they travel. The windows are covered - not only so the public can't peek in but also to prevent the cosseted cargo from seeing the reality around them. It might be a cushioned and comfortable ride, but there's no feeling of wind in the hair, no thrill of spinning the wheel, no pleasure of exploring the untravelled road ahead.

Even if they can drive, usually their bosses won't let them. Sorry - as you might have guessed, I'm not really talking about transportation any more.