Paris is taking Vienna by storm.
Hotel heiress and celebutante Paris Hilton is on the guest list for next week's elegant Opera Ball, the society event of the season, and her impending visit is the talk of the town for all the wrong reasons.
Hilton's swing through town for the lavish Feb. 15 ball the hottest ticket in Vienna comes just a few weeks after she pleaded no contest to alcohol-related eckless driving, then sued to stop a Web site from peddling personal photos, videos, diaries and other items.
"This makes a farce of the Opera Ball," sniffed Barbara Kroth, a retired real estate agent who said she always looks forward to the annual affair at the 137-year-old State Opera House "because of the quality it represents."
Hilton is not the first celebrity whose presence at the poshest of balls has caused a stir.
Her ball date 74-year-old married construction magnate Richard Lugner, who each year invites a famous actress, musician or other personality in the past has brought "Baywatch" stars Pamela Anderson and Carmen Electra and former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell.
Lugner rushed to Hilton's defense and dismissed her detractors, telling reporters: "Look, there are probably three or four nude photos of me, too, stashed away somewhere."
Last week, a U.S. federal judge in Los Angeles issued a temporary injunction against ParisExposed.com, a Web site hawking items that Hilton once kept at a storage facility. Hilton sued the site last month, accusing it of exploiting her private personal belongings for commercial gain.
The subscription-based Web site, launched in January, claims to have footage of Hilton in a "sexy bubble bath" video and various shots of the 25-year-old socialite in "racy situations."
Since Lugner announced that Hilton would be his 2007 date, Austrian media have followed her every move, including another judge's Jan. 22 decision to fine her and place her on 36 months' probation after she entered a no-contest plea to the alcohol-related reckless driving charge.
Hilton was arrested Sept. 7 after allegedly being seen weaving on a Hollywood street in her Mercedes-Benz.
Elisabeth Guertler, a Vienna hotelier and leading socialite who oversees the ball, shrugged off the fuss.
"I've never asked any other guests what they do in their private lives," Guertler told a news conference. "If they respect the house rules and don't disturb the other guests, then there's no problem."
"The ball has never been better. I honestly couldn't say what we could possibly improve," she said.
Hilton's Bel-Air, California-based publicist, Elliott Mintz, did not immediately return a message left Tuesday by The Associated Press.
The Opera Ball, which is broadcast live on national television, draws about 4,500 well-heeled Austrian and foreign celebrities, dignitaries and socialites.
Tickets often sell out months in advance, and entry does not come cheap. It costs Ђ215 (US$280) per person, although with extras such as gowns and tuxedos, flowers, limousines, high-end champagne and lavish pre- or post-ball dinners, the night typically runs EUR 1,000 (US$1,300) or more, reports AP.
Boxes, and Lugner always reserves one, cost a cool EUR 16,000 (US$20,700).
After another controversy emerged over reports that Hilton might use the venerable Opera Ball to publicly endorse a canned Austrian prosecco she was hired last year to promote, she issued a statement insisting she would never do anything to sully the ball's reputation "because I respect the institution of the Opera Ball too much."
Hilton told the Austria Press Agency she just wanted to enjoy the magic of the ball.
That, and dance.
"I learned the waltz when I was young," she said. "All I really have to do now is practice my steps."
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