Vogue's Billy Norwich Tells Us What Really Goes Down at the Met Ball

What we now know as the Met Ball--the over-the-top celeb-saturated red carpet spectacular--began quietly 65 years ago when superstar publicist Eleanor Lambert thought up a "Party of the Year" to raise money for the newly formed Costume Institute at the Met. Until recently, the party was a society event and a celeb siting was rare. Today, it's a massive media event. It happened a week and a half ago and we're still talking about it. In today's short-attention span media cycle, that's quite a feat. In response to the increased interest in the Met Gala, Vogue is, for the first time ever, releasing a special edition devoted to all things Met Gala. The issue is on newsstands now. In it, Billy Norwich, a Vogue contributor whom you probably know best as the host of Vogue's Met Gala red carpet livestream, pens a piece called "A Night at the Museum" which is meant to be a "bird’s-eye view behind the scenes of some recent Met-Ball standouts." What it is, in fact, is a surprisingly dishy tell-all about some of the near-disasters (one of the peacocks flew his golden cage hours before the gala in 2007) and incredible celebrity diva moments that have gone down at Met Balls past.
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What we now know as the Met Ball--the over-the-top celeb-saturated red carpet spectacular--began quietly 65 years ago when superstar publicist Eleanor Lambert thought up a "Party of the Year" to raise money for the newly formed Costume Institute at the Met. Until recently, the party was a society event and a celeb siting was rare. Today, it's a massive media event. It happened a week and a half ago and we're still talking about it. In today's short-attention span media cycle, that's quite a feat. In response to the increased interest in the Met Gala, Vogue is, for the first time ever, releasing a special edition devoted to all things Met Gala. The issue is on newsstands now. In it, Billy Norwich, a Vogue contributor whom you probably know best as the host of Vogue's Met Gala red carpet livestream, pens a piece called "A Night at the Museum" which is meant to be a "bird’s-eye view behind the scenes of some recent Met-Ball standouts." What it is, in fact, is a surprisingly dishy tell-all about some of the near-disasters (one of the peacocks flew his golden cage hours before the gala in 2007) and incredible celebrity diva moments that have gone down at Met Balls past.
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What we now know as the Met Ball--the over-the-top celeb-saturated red carpet spectacular--began quietly 65 years ago when superstar publicist Eleanor Lambert thought up a "Party of the Year" to raise money for the newly formed Costume Institute at the Met. Until recently, the party was a society event and a celeb siting was rare. Today, it's a massive media event. It happened a week and a half ago and we're still talking about it. In today's short-attention span media cycle, that's quite a feat.

In response to the increased interest in the Met Ball, Vogue is, for the first time ever, releasing a special edition devoted to all things Met Ball. The issue is on newsstands now.

In it, Billy Norwich, a Vogue contributor whom you probably know best as the host of Vogue's Met Gala red carpet livestream, pens a piece called "A Night at the Museum." The piece is meant to be a "bird’s-eye view behind the scenes of some recent Met-Ball standouts" but what it is, in fact, is a surprisingly dishy tell-all about some of the near-disasters (one of the peacocks flew his golden cage hours before the gala in 2007) and incredible celebrity diva moments that have gone down at Met Balls past. Or as Norwich so elegantly puts it, "It only takes one person—or peacock—to go diva, though you’d be correct in assuming that, given the sheer number of hothouse flowers, the chances of this happening are rather high."

There are lots of fun tidbits. Like the time, in 2009, when Kanye West performed for the first time (he performed again this year), and decided the Sunday before the Gala that the stage was not to his liking and that he wouldn't perform until it was redesigned. (Kanye ended up performing, so...) But my favorite little gossip nugget is the story about why Lady Gaga performed nearly an hour late at 2010's gala. Flashback to that night and guests are getting tired of waiting, the wine is running out, and some folks are headed for the door.

"She went to Sacred Heart—which is on 91st street, just 10 blocks away," Norwich tells us of that night. "So she hadn't been in the neighborhood since she became Lady Gaga. And here she is, now in the place that was like the Buckingham Palace when she was growing up and she got a little faint of heart and it lasted. So yeah, that's what happened."

The Met's president, Emily Rafferty, begged Gaga to take the stage, but to no avail. This is when the Met's party designer, Raúl Àvila apparently called in the reserves: Oprah. "Well, if anyone can get out the truth it's Oprah," says Norwich.

Gaga ended up performing of course, so here's what happened next, according to Norwich:

As for what Oprah said to Lady Gaga, it went something along the lines of “Cut the crap and get out there—you’re a pro now.” Which, when Oprah took the stage to introduce the performer, was expressed as: “The reason we are delayed here tonight is because Lady Gaga and her team are praying. Because she understands that what they are doing is more than just art—this is somebody who is saying to the world,‘Be the best that you are.’ What she represents,” Oprah continued, “is the best in all of us—our ability to be able to look inside of ourselves and not say, ‘I want to be like you, I want to be like you, I want to be like you,’ but ‘I want to be more of myself.’ ”

Norwich has been to every Met Gala since 1985. He remembers when the party shifted from a society event to the celebrity blockbuster it is today. He can remember when Cher was a fascination as the only celebrity attendee at a Met Ball back in the '80s, to today, when controversial self-made celebrity Kim Kardashian finally got her turn on the red carpet.

Photo: Getty

Photo: Getty

"I think that if she was going to be there, this was her year to be there," Norwich says. "Because she's in a place where she's a little older, she's not a junior anymore, and she really knows fashion. You know, she's very influential in fashion."

And as for those rumors that Kardashian wasn't invited before? "I don't believe that Kim Kardashian was not invited in the past," Norwich says. "It's not how people are. I don't think there was a campaign to get her uninvited." Norwich actually requested to interview her during the red carpet livestream because, he says, "I was always told that to meet Kim Kardashian is to see a person of such beauty--that's why she's so popular." Unfortunately it was Norwich's co-host, Hilary Rhoda, who ended up interviewing Kardashian during the livestream. But Norwich got his chance later on. "It's true," he says of meeting her. "She's an exquisite person. She's a total lady."

Norwich did, however, get the chance to interview the godmother of punk, Vivienne Westwood, at last week's gala. His interview with Westwood became the source of some controversy, as it appeared that Norwich cut her off mid-speech while she was promoting Wikileaks's Bradley Manning. Internet outcry followed. Norwich says there was even a Twitter campaign to cyber bully him.

"I feel terrible about that," Norwich says. But what it really came down to, Norwich explains, is a production snafu. "There she was, I was thrilled," Norwich recounts. "She's remarkable, she's still punk. Anyway so we're talking away and in my earpiece they're like, 'toss to Hilary, toss to Hilary!' and it gets so loud that, of course I can't hear what's going on--I assumed that there was some amazing moment going on elsewhere. So I said, 'Miss Westwood, I'm really sorry. We've gotta go.'"

Plus, he says, Westwood was happy about what went down. Westwood assumed the interview would be edited and censored. She didn't know it was live. When Norwich told her their interview (or the part that did get aired at least) went out live to millions, "she goes, 'Oh my god, I'm so happy, because my whole point in being here tonight was to talk about Bradley Manning.'"

So, there you have it: A few Met Gala cases closed. On to next year's...

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