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  • The Diva Andrea Simakis Talking Tennis In Her Latest Story

    [caption id="attachment_4340" align="alignleft" width="158" caption="Andrea Simakis"]Simakis[/caption]

    The Diva Andrea Simakis is here to discuss Andy Roddick, Elton John and tennis icons Martina Navratilova and John McEnroe in her latest story from The Plain Dealer:

    The Diva engaged in a little pack journalism this week when she swept into downtown's Public Hall, along with the rest of her leathery, black-winged colleagues in the media, for World TeamTennis Smash Hits, a gala to benefit the Elton John AIDS foundation and the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland.

    Smash Hits is the brainchild of Sir Elton (though the Diva has learned he prefers just "Elton") and longtime friend Billie Jean King. Over the past two decades, the duo and a collection of tennis royalty, current superstars and up-and-comers have raised more than $10 million to fight AIDS by going into the trenches -- traveling the country, putting on exhibition games in places like Cleveland and selling signed T-shirts, tennis rackets and other desirable swag.

    Before the main event, when "Team Billie Jean" would take on "Team Elton" in center court, the big names gathered for a mercifully short press conference -- really, how do people who have homes in Boca, Geneva, Kailua-Kona, Nassau and New York City honestly answer the question, "So, what do you think of Cleveland?"

    Martina Navratilova, looking fit and fabulous at 55, arrived a few minutes late, as she was "interviewing Elton for AARP." (Martina allowed that she lived in town for a few months in the 1970s while playing for the now defunct Cleveland Nets, a World TeamTennis League franchise that also boasted Bjorn Borg on its roster. "I learned to cook in Cleveland!" she said.)

    Joining Martina on "Team Billie Jean" were Jan-Michael Gambill, named one of the "50 Most Beautiful People in the World" by People in 2000, an assignation the Diva totally supports; 19-year-old Coco Vandeweghe, who has been alive as long as King and John have been tromping around the country raising money for AIDS; and John McEnroe.

    On "Team Elton" were new pro and Gates Mills native Lauren Davis; Mark Knowles, a five-time Olympian for the Bahamas; French sensation Amelie Mauresmo and Andy "Rock Hard Abs" Roddick. (When Elton arrived for the Q&A to find Roddick hunched glumly in a chair, the old flirt saucily knocked the Lacoste baseball cap off the U.S. Open champ's head).

    Next, some 300 guests in Burberry, Michael Kors and Missoni -- the real stuff, not the Target kind -- paid $1,000 a ticket to attend a reception and auction that was so packed, your usually pickled scribe couldn't find the open bar. Mayor Frank Jackson even made an appearance, a woman in his party sporting a generous Louis Vuitton bag.

    And they say Clevelanders don't know how to party with the glitterati.

    The auctioneer was none other than Pam Shriver. The former champ is now a commentator on ESPN, but, more important, she is the fourth cousin of Maria Shriver and the ex-wife of one-time Bond actor George Lazenby. At an Amazonian 6-foot-2, she dwarfed Billie Jean and Elton, who sat on a small makeshift stage behind her. Much like couples who have been together for decades, Bill and El have begun to resemble each other, which is to say they looked like a pair of adorable garden gnomes.

    Mysterious callers phoned in double-digit offers, driving up the prices, with guests straining to see the tennis greats.

    On the block were two piano benches signed by Elton (sold for $5,500 apiece); a 2012 Wimbledon package including Billie Jean's personal Centre Court seats ($32,000); a 45-minute hitting session with Navratilova ($16,000); and another with Roddick ($20,000, with two big spenders paying $10,000 apiece for a little one-on-one with Andy -- one of whom was almost the Diva, when she mistakenly pushed a strand of hair behind her ear). But the promise of a master class with the 67-year-old Billie Jean kicked off a bidding frenzy -- "Can you play for 45 minutes?" Elton ribbed -- concluding with two donors each kicking in $17,000 for a total of $34,000.

    Despite a hobbled economy, Clevelanders shelled out some $500,000 -- half of what Rush Limbaugh paid Sir Elton for crooning at his June 2010 wedding -- including the nearly 3,500 ticket holders who filled the hall to watch some of the world's most accomplished athletes grunt and sweat for charity. The AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland raked in an impressive $182,000, the most raised in a single night in the organization's 27-year history, said spokesman John Farina. (The rest flowed to Elton's foundation.)

    It's an established fact that proximity to the famous brings out the well-heeled as well as the wackos.

    Read more at The Plain Dealer

    Filed under: Entertainment, Forest Hill News & Events
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