Factious Fiction: Ros Reines Brings The 80s Back in The Social Diary

Bahar Etminan

Founder and Editor of RESCU.com.au

Yes, yes, I go to politics, to important issues of the week… Then I’m straight to the Sunday social tell-alls. We all are. And if you’re going to read tattle, Ros Reines, the gossip breaker in The Sunday Telegraph, has been the columnist to watch for nearly 20 years.

Billionaires are scared of her, socialites pretzel themselves to get in front of her camera, with one cryptic line she can blow the lid off clandestine affairs and the kind of glossy dirt that makes a city draw breath mid-croissant. Now she’s written her second book, the semi autobiographical The Social Diary, set in the high excess of Sydney in the 1980s, and I had to know (don’t be coy – you do, too):  What’s fiction and what’s so fabulously true you wouldn’t believe it? She tells all…

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RESCU: Does Savannah, the book’s protagonist, accidentally Sydney’s top gossip columnist have any similarities to your own path?
ROS REINES: Absolutely, I was inspired by the craziness of my own journalistic career. I started as a music writer in London but, unlike Savannah, I spent years doing news stories as a casual reporter. My first job in Sydney newspapers was The Sydney Morning Herald, where I wrote for nearly every section of the paper from state politics to the Good Weekend. However, it was only when I was asked to start a gossip column called Chums in [Sydney’s] now defunct Eastern Herald that I really found myself most often on the red carpet.

RESCU: The story is set in the heady atmos of 80s excess and social climbing. How have things, in reality, changed post-GFC in a city like Sydney that loves to show off?
I think that the parties were definitely more lavish in the 80s. We had become obsessed with glamorous hotels like The Regent (now the Four Seasons) and the Intercontinental. When The Regent opened, it was one of the best parties that Sydney had ever seen, with the French champagne flowing all night long and guests wandering into various public rooms dedicated to chocolate, cheese, oysters… One night, at the ‘Intercon’, they built a racetrack on the ground floor and held a mini car race. Caviar was served in huge bowls. There is a famous scene in The Social Diary in which one socialite, Queen Bea, almost falls into one when she becomes too greedy for caviar. Towards the end of the decade, the Cointreau Ball started – guests were taken by limo to a secret destination and suddenly found themselves negotiating a giant slippery dip to get into the party or riding around in dodgem boats or dodgem cars. The 80s was when the city really discovered champagne and firework displays.

RESCU: As a Gossip Columnist who’s seen it all and knows so much about so many, what makes you chuckle about human nature?
ROS REINES: In the beginning, people were willing to forgive even an unflattering write-up as long as they got their picture in the paper. The Sunday social pages were like the Holy Grail and everyone had to be there. Now people are taking selfies and all that matters is that they have a decent amount of followers to be able to show off in style. When it comes to hard gossip, everyone wants to read about it but nobody wants it to be about them.

RESCU: Do you ever have any regrets about the aftermath of stories you publish?
Yes, there have been several occasions when I have suddenly woken up on Sunday morning and thought, “What have I done?” But, mostly, it is unsettling if I have written a really dull column because my first duty is to my reader. One aspect of gossip column writing, which is highlighted in the novel, is the pressure that columnists are under from their bosses to come up with the goods. It’s a highly competitive area, so if someone else breaks a great story, it can be difficult facing your editor afterwards.

RESCU: What makes someone newsworthy enough to appear in your pages?
ROS REINES: Well, people make themselves newsworthy when they start to sell stories about their engagement or their new home to one of the weekly magazines. Once they have put their private lives on the public record, they can safely be written about. But, generally, people have to be famous, very beautiful, very odd or, of course, very rich.

RESCU: The Social Diary is fiction, but I was trying to read between the lines! Can you reveal the inspiration behind any of the characters?
ROS REINES:  A lot of my characters were based on real people I had met in the course of my job –  especially the old charity heads, the entrepreneurs from all over Australia with their private planes and their love of wearing white shoes, and then there is the fabulous fashion designer who once kitted out drag queens. Many will recognise him and there are also some people who are still around today, although they have been pretty well disguised. It’s also interesting to note that some of the scenes in The Social Diary actually happened.

RESCU: Who do you think are Sydney’s hottest social influencers right now?
ROS REINES:  I love bloggers because of their unique take on fashion and lifestyle. Sydney also has a breed of affluent, beautiful women – you don’t see them all the time but just at the most chic events. Pop culture is more important than old establishment money. There is so much more energy and creativity in the social scene now.

RESCU: If you could go back, would you have traded the fun and champagne for a tougher journalism gig?
ROS REINES:  I had the traditional path of doing news stories and reporting on politics, but I’ve always understood that, when it comes to getting ahead in journalism, it pays to specialise. I have had an absolute blast and it has been a privilege to have been invited into places and events that I would otherwise not have experienced.

RESCU: What’s next for Savannah? A sequel?
I can’t give too much away, but the sequel is set in current time and Savannah is still working as a gossip columnist, but with very different challenges [than] the 80s. I’m really enjoying writing this new book as well. It starts off with a cataclysmic event…


The Social Diary ($29.99, Allen & Unwin) is out now.

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