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”]One DirectionCelebs from all across the world have flocked to Sydney in recent months.

The lovely Leo DiCaprio set up home over the summer to film scenes for The Great Gatsby.

In recent weeks Will.i.am and Paris Hilton were in town for the opening of Marquee, the city’s newest nightclub.

And this week we’ve been spoilt with Rihanna, Zac Efron and the latest boyband on the block One Direction all flying in for a visit.

Too much effort

It used to be the case that Sydney, as with all of Australia, didn’t get much of a look-in when it came to promotional touring or A-list attendance at events.

For a country of 20 million people and around a day’s travel time from the US or the UK, it was always easy for Aussies to be pushed off the list of important crowds to please – versus the effort, cost and time required.

Reading the celebrity pages of the newspapers and magazines when I first arrived here in 2010 I was struck by how distant everything showbiz seemed from this place. The duopoly of the UK and the US in terms of the celebrity world became so much more apparent since I wasn’t in either of those places, but rather somewhere else, looking over.

Giving the thumbs up

But now, the shift is happening.

Zac Efron – here for the world premiere of his new film (yes, a world premiere in Sydney!) gushed to breakfast TV on Tuesday morning about the surfing, the laid back lifestyle and his love for Australia. Rihanna was spotted taking snaps of the Opera House from her hotel bedroom. And those One Direction boys have been spending their days off cruising on the Harbour and this weekend plan on doing the infamous Bridge Climb.

And Aussies love this. They love that when the celebrities come to Australia they aren’t just hiding in the hotel room, but are checking the place out, just like a regular tourist. They are flattered and proud when an A-lister – in fact any visitor – chooses to come here and gives the thumbs up to everything that they find.

Australia can’t be ignored

So why has the shift taken place?

  • The rise of social media has no doubt had its impact. No longer can you ignore the Australian fans when that fanbase is so actively demanding attention through the likes of facebook and twitter. According to a Nielsen study last year, Aussies are topping the list of social media users in the developed world, meaning that a higher proportion of the population are speaking out via these mediums.
  • Celebrities who do come over get greater cut-through and exposure across all media platforms as there’s much less competition for coverage. I doubt there’s an Australian who doesn’t know about One Direction right now. Amongst everything else, they headlined the 7pm news here tonight and were interviewed at prime time on every breakfast show, both radio and TV.
  • Businesses and key influencers are doing everything they can to use their positions of power to bring celebrities to Australia. Australian tourism was hit hard in the last few years because of the strong Aussie dollar discouraging overseas visitors and because of natural disasters in key markets such as Queensland. Oprah back in 2011 was a highlight for Tourism Australia, and set the benchmark for others who know they need to do their bit. Australian Director Scott Hicks’ insistence that the world premiere of The Lucky One took place Sydney last week is another testament to that.
  • On the flip side, the economic crisis has not hit Australia as it has done in Europe. Those key markets for filmmakers and pop starlets are not quite as lucrative as they once were. Australia in comparison is doing very well. We’re now seen as the opportunity to fill the income gap for the music and film industry.

And finally. Let’s just state the obvious. Australia’s a beautiful place to visit with citizens who love making visitors feel welcome.  Maybe it’s not that complicated a reason after all. Maybe it’s just that the celebrity world is finally getting it.

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My first Christmas in Oz was always going to be a little bit different.

Everything I expected had been learnt from English daytime TV – December’s obligatory ‘let’s film ex-pats on Bondi Beach in Santa hats having a barbeque’ – just as I’d be tucking into my porridge, pulling on two pairs of socks and cursing another frosty journey to the office.

An Australian Christmas brings sunshine, beaches and barbeques and that’s exciting enough. But it’s more than just the novelty of the big day itself in the sun, Christmas is a different kind of celebration entirely. With the children on long summer school holidays, offices on shutdown, and the party season in full swing, the months of December and January join together to form one long hazy summer of celebrations, holidays, the great outdoors and quality time spent with friends and family.

  • Christmas Day TV

Australians don’t share such a special relationship with the TV on Christmas Day as us Brits do. By 3pm when you’re settled down with a TV guide you pulled out of the paper weeks ago, arguing over whether to watch Eastenders or SkyPlus Corrie, the Aussies won’t even have given a second thought to turning on their TV set. Christmas Day is instead seen as a day of the year when the networks predict low viewing figures and as such, will resist from ploughing millions of aussie dollars into securing a film premiere or planning a special of a TV favourite. Open up the guide for this year’s TV and schedules were pretty much as usual – a couple of festive film favourites for the kids, a showing of Titanic thrown in, and the Australian Broadcast Corporation’s (ABC) prime time slot was given to an episode of Extras from 2007.

  • “Christmas isn’t Christmas without…..”

So they’re not watching TV, but I can pretty much guarantee some turkey in Australia. You’ll be pleased to hear traditional fayre on the big day is a roast dinner, although barbeques and seafood (particularly on xmas eve) are popular replacements, and most families indulge in not only a turkey but a ham as well.

Red cherries for ChristmasBut as I watched a TV advert from supermarket giant Coles, I realised there are also some surprising additions to the Aussie shopping trolley. “Christmas isn’t Christmas…” says the presenter Curtis Stone (an Oz version of Jamie Oliver)…. “without…..cherries!” Cherries? Yes indeed, this was his actual line in the advertisement and I soon discovered it’s not just this rosy number that finds its way to the Aussie Christmas table. Some of the other ‘festive’ treats you might encounter include Mangoes, prawns, other seafood, and pavlova.

  • Creating your own tradition

It’s a strange situation when you hear a Christmas song played in Australia for the first time. You’ll most likely have just entered a large department store, desperate to get out of the heat in the street, and as you burst through the air conditioned doors you’ll hear warbles of Winter Wonderland and Jack Frost nipping at your nose. I hope I’m not alone in coming over entirely confused and wondering if it was July and the CD was being played by mistake. Even as the big day draws closer, it’s hard to get used to the wintry lyrics of the British/American songs when you’re standing in flip flops. Let’s face it, have you ever heard an Australian Christmas song? Somehow, Santa on his surfboard doesn’t have quite the same appeal.

There are just some things about Christmas that don’t fit with the warmer climate in Australia at this time of year. Poor santa is sweating out in the street in his woollen suit and beard, Starbucks doesn’t get quite the same demand for its festive Gingerbread Latte and you’ll puzzle at the window displays of children throwing snowballs at each other underneath a Christmas tree bathed in a blanket of white snow.

Traditions in Oz haven’t been created for Christmas, there really aren’t any Christmas songs worth mentioning, and it all becomes very confusing….I hope next year I’ll become a better ex-pat.

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