Lifestyle & Culture

Romain who? Dispatches’s guide to European celebrities for newly arrived expats

When I was a youngster in France in the late 1970s and early 1980s, one of the most interesting aspects of the culture was reading all about their often unfathomable celebrities in Paris Match and France-Soir as well as in the low-end gossip mags, trying to improve my French.

One, in particular, intrigued me … an American-inspired rocker named “Johnny Hallyday.” In the ’70s and ’80s, there was no bigger star. Hallyday (a French/Belgian who borrowed his nom de rock from an American uncle) was constantly in every French celebrity magazine and society tabloid. But his fame never crossed the borders to non-French speaking countries, even in Europe.

Hallyday was, as the French liked to say, “le rock star le plus connu que vous jamais connu pas.” “the most famous rock star you’ve never heard of.”

But ooh-la-la, what a life he led, at least according to the tabloids. Hallyday was married to the singer Sylvie Vartan, and the couple was always jetting off to St. Moritz or Gstaad. When they weren’t, he was often caught canoodling with some much younger movie star or pop singer in the great tradition of French cads. (The weird thing was, he tried to embody American macho, and you can still get wallpaper for your desktop featuring Johnny’s face alongside an eagle with the Stars and Stripes superimposed over its head!b9a3355eede65b70e003341aade9274e_large

Was he any good? Well, the French thought so. More importantly, his antics were great fodder for conversation with my new French friends. And that, my fellow expat, is why you really need to know who your neighbors and future friends like talking about.

Now, there’s a whole new generation of stars you’ve never heard of if you’ve been living outside Europe … who haven’t quite garnered American fame in the manner of David Beckham or Adele.

Yes, American, British and Australian movie stars and musicians translate well worldwide. Same with some Bollywood celebs such as Aamir Khan and Sonny Leone. But part of the fun of becoming someone new is embracing aspects of life that are unique and about which your friends at home have no clue.

Obviously, we can’t include every celeb from every country. So we went with the “torn from the headlines” approach, with a curated list of stars who’ve made headlines or movies lately. (We’re not including all the Formula One stars, soccer players and glamorous golfers such as Rory McIlrory because the list would be like “War & Peace.”)

And may we say it was kind of déjà vu when our thorough research showed France still seems to lead Europe when it comes to producing Beautiful People.

Tory Burch and Pierre-Yves Roussel. Talk about Power Couples … there is no comparable combination in the U.S. to Tory Burch and Pierre-Yves Roussel. Burch, the Pennsylvania born fashion designer, is worth at least $1 billion. She’s still managing to marry up as she’s about to wed Pierre-Yves Roussel, chairman and CEO of the Fashion Group, part of  LVMH, arguably the most powerful luxury goods conglomerate on earth.

• Charlene de Carvalho-Heineken. Pick up Quote Magazine’s annual list of the 400 wealthiest people in the Netherlands, and you can be sure Charlene de Carvalho-Heineken will be No. 1. Well, you could until she got bumped last year by  Randstad staffing company founder Frits Goldschmeding. The daughter of the legendary Freddie Heineken, she inherited his brewing empire – No. 3 in the world in revenue – in 2002. She and her husband, Citi Private Bank Chairman Michel de Carvalho, are worth about $12 billion. Charlene de Carvalho-Heineken, unlike her father, is very private. But when you have the sort of wealth and influence she has, she’s going to get public scrutiny whether she wants it or not in a country that celebrates business success.

• Jean Dujardin: Dujardin, 43, won an Oscar back in 2011 for “The Artist.” But in France, he’s known as a comic, a favorite for the “OSS 117” spy parody films. He’s George Clooney tall-and-handsome, and actually starred with Clooney in the World War II adventure film “The Monuments Men.” Celebrated as a serious actor and director in the rest of the world, in France, Dujardin’s life is tabloid fodder as you can read in this France Dimanche exposé!

Romain Duris is the extremely versatile, if quirky, star of such international hits as “Populaire,” “Chinese Puzzle” and “L’Auberge Espanol.” Duris is no Alain Delon. Duris is handsome enough in an Everyman way, which is what makes him endearing. And he’s also pretty darn good, though in “Chinese Puzzle,” he works awfully hard at speaking English. That, and he’s 4-feet tall.

0616_FL-lapo-elkann-rainbow-suits_2000x1125-1940x1091Lapo Elkann, 38, is the heir to the Fiat/Ferrari fortune. Elkann’s grandfather was Fiat mogul Gianni Agnelli. Lapo seems to have inherited the old man’s mogul tendencies.

He owns Juventus football club, and has his own line of luxury clothing in a partnership with Gucci. The guy is celebrated for his non-stop lifestyle, promoting his various companies and enterprises, which range from movie production to distilling vodka to customizing luxury cars, aircraft and boats. The entrepreneurial lifestyle apparently is a substitute for Elkann’s former drugs-enhanced life as one of the last of the international playboys.

Every Italian woman wants him. Every Italian man wants to be him.



Eva Green. The French vedette, Bond Girl and model of Jewish descent is one of the most striking women in the world, with her pale skin and naturally light hair usually freshly dyed some hue of black. “Last Tango in Paris” director Bernardo Bertolucci once said Green is “so beautiful it’s indecent.”

Last summer, Paris Match had a long Q&A with Green talking mostly about her hair, which French girls imitate the way American girls used to imitate Farah Fawcett. Paris Match calls her la plus hollywoodienne des actrices françaises ….” She calls herself “une vampire,” apparently a reference to both her role as a “day walker” in HBO series “Penny Dreadful” and her signature brunette on pale skin look.

• Robert Geiss and the Geiss family

– The Geiss clan is sort of the German version of the Kardashians. Famous for being famous. Since January 2011, Robert is one of the main characters in the reality TV series Die Geissens – Eine schrecklich glamouröse Familie. (The Geissens – A Terribly Glamorous Family.) To be fair, Robert Geiss got his reality TV show because he was already rich and famous for creating the casual clothing company Uncle Sam, which he sold to German department store chain Kaufhaus.



• Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis. German Princess TNT has been famous nearly her entire life. Well, at least since she married the late Johannes, the 11th Prince of Thurn und Taxis back in 1980. He was 53 at the time. She was 19. A legendary wild woman, she and the prince led a retinue of famous friends including Mick Jagger and Elton John who closed down the most fashionable clubs and parties from Manhattan to Gstaad. Unfortunately, she’d racked up about $1 billion in debt by the time her husband died. Now, Princess TNT is a devout Roman Catholic and has cleaned up her life. But she’s still famous, celebrated recently in Vanity Fair as an astute businesswoman who’s turned around her finances and saved her family’s Palace of St. Emmeram in Southern Germany.

• Princess Madeleine of Sweden. Another princess, but at the opposite end of the frisky royalty spectrum. Princess Madeleine and her British/Austrian financier husband Chris O’Neill are sort of Sweden’s version of Prince William and Kate Middleton, they’re that glamorous of a couple. Princess Madeleine is a regular on Swedish/Norweigan interview shows and is a Hello magazine favorite.

• PewDiePie. He has never made a movie or had a hit single. But the 26-year-old Swede – born Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellber – is a teen idol just the same. He’s become a global celebrity – and very wealthy – just being himself on Youtube, where his channel has 40 million subscribers. Last week, PDP announced he’s developing his own web video network called Revelmode with the backing of Disney. According to the Revelmode website, his 8-person “talent squad” of YouTube personalities will come together as a group. So, what we’re trying to say is, the guy is the future of video entertainment, which doesn’t seem to necessarily include conventional television. PewDiePie also just made Forbes’ debut list of Europe’s 30 under 30 rising stars. Of this list, he’s probably the closest to being a household name in the U.S.

• Kristaps Porzingis. The 20-year-old, 7’3″  NBA star is in fact a native of Latvia. On the sports side, he has all the skills … shooting, rebounding and – most of all – dunking the ball over more established American NBA stars. A New Yorker profile last September calls him “the most popular person in Latvia.” In his home country, rappers immortalize him in beats.

• Carice van Houten is famous in the U.S. and the UK for her role as Melisandre in “Game of Thrones.” At home in the Netherlands, she’s also famous for being the girlfriend, then wife, of Dutch actor Kees van Nieuwkerk. And then, famous for tabloid headlines about her relationship with “Thrones” co-star Guy Pearce. Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 3.58.13 PM

Van Houton broke into films in her native Netherlands with  “Zwartboek(“Black Book”). While Van Houten is a star, we should mention that it’s Famke Janssen’s (“How to Get Away with Murder”) face you see on the celebrity mag covers at the local supermarket in Holland when you’re checking out.



• Conchita Wurst, 27. The Austrian drag queen and pop star took the world by storm when she won the Eurovision 2014 contest. Wurst’s alter ego is Thomas Neuwirth. Neuwirth uses masculine pronouns when referring to himself and feminine pronouns when talking about his Wurst character. As Conchita, she gets front page celebrity mag headlines from Austria to Australia. And yet, she hasn’t really gotten much pub in the U.S. Though Wurst has been singing since he was a kid, he didn’t become a super star until he let his beard grow as part of the Conchita character.

Now actual women are cashing in on the phenomenon, with Miss Universe contestant Amina Dagi appearing as Conchita a few weeks ago!

We’re sure by now you’re thinking,”But wait … they don’t even have Celebrity X, Celebrity Y or Celebrity Z.” And you’re right. So smarten us up. Send us the names you think we missed and why they should be on the list at: [email protected].



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Co-CEO of Dispatches Europe. A former military reporter, I'm a serial expat who has lived in France, Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.

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