On the trail of celebrities with paparazzi tour guide Keith Jordan

Celebrity tours have been snooping on the A-list for decades but a brand new interactive Los Angeles excursion, courtesy of gossip site TMZ, promises passengers can get closer to the real Hollywood hotspots then see the fruits of their labour go live on the web the very same day. Professional star spotter Nick McGrath hops on board to test the claims…

For those not in the know, the Thirty Mile Zone – or TMZ as it’s now better known – is the area within a 30 mile radius from LA’s entertainment epicentre, located precisely at the junction of West Beverley Boulevard and North La Cienega Boulevard in central Los Angeles.

Originally devised in the early 20th century by entertainment unions to keep shooting costs down (movies filmed outside the zone had to pay workers higher rates) it’s now also the name of Time Warner’s agenda-setting gossip website TMZ.

Paptours Hollywood signCelebrity spotting in Hollywood - not as easy as you might think!
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Infamous for being first on the scene of any celebrity misdemeanour (they were the first news outlet to report Michael Jackson’s death in 2009 and to publish video footage of Britney Spears’ scalp-scything implosion) the phenomenally popular site has become the virtual destination of choice for gossip hungry consumers since its 2005 launch and it’s now allowing fans to experience the TMZ scandal-gathering operation at first hand from the confines of an open top jeep, under the whip-smart guidance of host Keith Jordan, who conducts the tour with his long lens camera at the ready in case of any impromptu celebrity encounters.

Paptours Santa Monica signWelcome to the Thirty Mile Zone; the epicentre of Hollywood gossip
Nick McGrath

On a recent tour a chance Rodeo Drive encounter and subsequent roadside interview with P.Diddy ended up later that day on the TMZ website but would today’s passengers, including me - eagerly wielding my digital SLR - witness such a thrilling star-spangled spectacle, and ultimately see our snapshots published in all their grainy glory?

The answer in short is no.

Perhaps the local glitterati have got rapidly wise to TMZ’s aspirations and are keeping a permanently low profile or maybe a 24-hour celebrity bug was peaking on the day I joined them but the truth is that celebrities were conspicuous only by their absence.

According to wise-cracking presenter Keith – part stand-up comedian part salacious ringmaster – “The TMZ tour is awesome. The other tours are less awesome.”

And herein lies the problem with this tour.

Like a boxer vowing to flatten his opponent in the first round or a politician promising to stick to his election manifesto, smart-Alec Keith sets the bar tantalisingly high – “we’re going to divulge some serious show business secrets to you today folks,” then resoundingly fails to deliver.

Paptours handprints in concreteMany actors' hand and footprints are immortalised in concrete outside Grauman's Chinese Theatre
Nick McGrath

Admittedly there are some quirky celebrity facts that might be news to even the most seasoned gossip fan and I’ll certainly be regaling my friends for months with the earth-shattering revelation that Paris Hilton once locked herself inside a tanning booth in the same beauty salon where Britney Spears very publicly shaved all her hair off or the startling admission that Brad Pitt is particularly partial to chicken nuggets.

But way too much of this tour is seriously old news, freely explored by many other LA celebrity tours or easily available online, including the exact location (the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Courtney Avenue if you’re interested) where Hugh Grant so famously, err, lost his head for $60, or the spot (on the pavement outside Johnny Depp’s The Viper Room club on Sunset Strip) where River Phoenix fatally overdosed.

And the interactive paparazzi element simply didn’t materialise.

There are some genuinely intriguing disclosures, like the fact that the much-hyped stars on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame actually cost the recipients $30,000 to, ‘accept,’ and the (perhaps less surprising) news that Demi Moore failed to graduate from Hollywood’s Fairfax High School where Phil Spector was a star student.

Paptours Mel's Drive-inDrop in for some classic American fare at Mel's Drive-in on Sunset Boulevard.
Nick McGrath

But the shock outing of Katy Perry and Eva Mendes as members of a posh LA gym (who’d have thought it?) or the shameless identification of the store where Tom Cruise and Katy Holmes once spent $350,000 on baby clothes for Suri failed to stir the excitement of the expectant celeb-watchers, waiting for something a little juicier.

And where was P Diddy on this sunny Californian afternoon? Or any other celebrity for that matter? Nowhere to be seen. At least not on increasingly uneasy looking master of ceremonies Keith’s route.

Perhaps it’s just because I’m a typically reserved Brit and not a high-fiving, whooping American, but personally I found Keith (not sure if the sun, the mounting pressure or his oft-mentioned hangover was causing him to sweat so profusely) more excruciating to watch than one of the later Police Academy sequels, and the participatory element (win a TMZ T-shirt by correctly guessing if a minor star on a clip played on the in-car video monitor waves congenially or ‘flicks a finger,’ at the TMZ cameras) was about as inspiring an Oprah monologue.

There were a few specks of light relief punctuating an otherwise relentless barrage of futility including the news that Elton John and husband David Furnish have apparently recently bought a second $13 million two-bedroom penthouse on the swanky Sierra Tower - directly adjacent to their existing property - to house their clearly space-guzzling baby Zachary. And I’ll certainly sleep more soundly now that I’ve seen the exterior wall of the salon where Jennifer Anniston’s iconic ‘Rachel,’ haircut was originally created. Mind blowing stuff.

Grauman’s Chinese TheatreThe tour takes in all the famous sights, starting with Grauman’s Chinese Theatre
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In a city built on smoke and mirrors (and an interminable overkill of psychic charlatans, pet parlours – including one baffling, ‘doggie disco,’ - and junk-peddling pawn shops) the TMZ tour is an appropriately artificial introduction to the seamier side of LA, starting at the frankly grubby Hollywood Boulevard directly outside the underwhelming Grauman’s Chinese Theatre then meandering through the city’s scandal-strewn underbelly through Beverley Hills, LA’s gay district surrounding Santa Monica Boulevard, past the painfully quirky stores on Melrose Avenue and the ostentatious boutiques on Rodeo Drive.

It’s a whistle-stop sashay from C-list calamity to reality star mishap via vanity-fuelled, drink and drug-addled catastrophe.

But on the bright side I learned a valuable lesson about myself. I’d always assumed that when it came to shallow superficiality and insignificant celebrity knowledge my thirst was unquenchable.

I guess I was wrong.

For more information on the TMZ tour visit www.starlinetours.com.

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