As a former editor at InStyle, I’ve found myself invited to some swanky celebrity parties and inside some fabulous superstar homes over the years: Beyoncé, Mariah Carey, Stevie Nicks. But the biggest diva during my decade at the magazine? Hands down, Prince. The year was 2005, and it was a good one for the artist. After all, the recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee presented on the 77th Academy Awards in February and, the following month, he was honored with the Vanguard Award at the 36th NAACP Image Awards. What better excuse to party?
And that is exactly what Prince did: Twice, in fact, after both events. Sure, you knew he was a legendary performer, but entertaining at home was another of Prince’s passions. At the time, the artist was renting an enormous crib in the Hollywood Hills, which reminded me of the one in Eyes Wide Shut. This was long before Uber, so as an ex-New Yorker, I took a taxi — I had a feeling that I would be in no condition to drive home once I left the party.
How did I know when I arrived at the right place? Well, for one thing there was an illuminated purple “Love Symbol” — Prince’s unpronounceable alias of choice — hanging over the pool (and the backdrop of downtown L.A. glittering in the background). I still have a photo of me and my then-23-year-old nephew standing in front of it on my Motorola RAZR flip-phone, which back then I thought was the height of chic.
Of the two legendary house parties, the Oscar after-party was the more memorable in my mind. At one point, I remember walking into the kitchen and seeing at least half of the ceremony’s notably diverse presenters (among them, Sean Combs, Samuel Jackson, Penélope Cruz and Salma Hayek) not to mention host Chris Rock gathered around a kitchen table topped with a chocolate fountain — imagine the Vanity Fair party but infinitely more exclusive. (A chef was busy preparing an array of late-night snacks with the notable exception of pancakes, contrary to the classic sketch by Dave Chappelle.) It was one of the most surreal moments of my life and, of course, the night only got weirder as the party progressed.
When I was least expecting it, the petite Prince practically materialized in front of me to introduce himself. I recall that he was wearing skintight pants, what appeared to be a pretty, pale pink blouse and a shy but friendly smile. I thanked him for the invitation and gushed uncontrollably about how lucky I was to see him as well as his musical peer, Madonna, perform at Madison Square Garden just a month apart the previous summer. Suddenly, his face went blank and Prince stared down at his high heels — I realized too late that he was offended to be mentioned in the same sentence with Madonna. Yes, I had done the worst thing imaginable: Insulting Prince in his own home.
I quickly changed the subject to the Oscars and how cool I thought it was to see diversity represented for what seemed like the first time ever on the Academy Awards. “Yeah,” said Prince, perking up and smiling once again. “It looked like America,” he added. Crisis averted.
Later that night, Prince put on an unforgettable jam session — in his living room, mind you — with the likes of Christina Aguilera, Stevie Wonder and Sheila E., who belted out her hit “The Glamorous Life.” As I glanced over to see my nephew dancing in between Penélope Cruz and Salma Hayek, it was readily apparent that my life would never be that glamorous ever again.
Not surprisingly, nobody left until after the sun came up, including Joni Mitchell, who was chain-smoking on Prince’s patio at 8:30 a.m. when I finally headed out the door — only because I had to get my ass to the office and edit InStyle’s Oscar coverage. “Wasn’t that incredible?” Joni said to me in her unmistakable gravelly voice, puffing on her cigarette and exhaling a thick cloud of smoke into the blinding L.A. sunshine. I could not agree more. But at that particular moment, I was rendered starstruck and temporarily speechless.