As the back to school rush settles in, it’s clear for all to see that we’ve already waved goodbye to warmest season of all, and in Cuba’s case the summer curtain has closed on a parade of celebrities who made the island part of their seasonal holidays.
The last trimester has seen quite a fine selection of the world’s rich and famous calling at Havana and making the city their unadulterated, filter-free catwalk without need of a red carpet. Madonna was the latest to pay a visit, and she came with a special mission, to celebrate her 58th birthday in Cuban style.
Now let us look back and reflect on which celebrities came to Cuba this summer 2016, how they enjoyed their time on the island, where were they spotted, how long they stayed and whether they uttered any promises of being back anytime soon.
Jon Bon Jovi – planning a future concert
The first of celebrities to make it to Cuba this summer, the legendary band leader of Bon Jovi, mostly known by his artistic name, Jon Bon Jovi, landed in Havana in late June and instantly rumours circulated that he was testing the ground to plan a future concert in the capital, following in the footsteps of Rolling Stones with their May concert at the Latinoamericano baseball stadium.
On 19th June, Jon Bon Jovi’s surprise visit to the island was made public and the secret let out as the most popular and iconic of all Cuban “paladares”, La Guarida, shared a photo of the American rocker posing with the restaurant staff and posted it on their Facebook account. News channels went wild and speculation began to fly regarding the purpose of the musician’s visit.
Throughout Jon Bon Jovi’s short three-day stay in the Cuban capital, which he enjoyed in the company of his wife, he packed his itinerary to the brim mixing business with pleasure, gathering information and meeting up with Cuban counterparts to organise a 2017 concert, while making time for chilling out at some of the capital’s most coveted haunts. He managed to liaise with local musicians like David Blanco, party at extremely popular nightlife venues like FAC where he mingled with Cuban fusion rocker X Alfonso and his wife. It was at this point that he shared his first personal snap of his Cuba visit and uploaded it to his Instagram account with the caption:
“Cuban recording artist and amazing new friend X Alfonso with me, his wife Sandra, and Dorothea in Havana!!!”
He later followed this image with an evocative photograph, in which he posed against an old and faded (yet grandiose) colonial mansion, whilst making reference to his upcoming album “The House is not for sale”. He captioned this last picture with the words:
“THIS house is not for sale…Havana Cuba”
Will we be seeing him back in Cuba soon? It seems highly likely as he revealed to Cuban sources before he left that he would be returning with all of his band to stage yet another historic concert in Havana. We can only wait.
Jason Isaacs – a low-key affair
Jason Isaacs, British actor who many may remember for incarnating the silver-haired Lucius Malfoy, father of Harry Potter’s arch-enemy, Draco Malfoy, also made it to Cuba in June, only a few days after Jon Bon Jovi’s departure. Although his visit was a more low-key affair that went, for its most part, unnoticed, we did manage to pick up on his visit thanks to a short article on Vistar magazine, a local online publication specialising in showbiz news.
The source revealed very little about Mr Isaacas’ presence in Havana, few details were unveiled about his visit other than the fact he enjoyed a meal at La Guarida (no star seems to leave this ultra-famous paladar out of their itinerary); so our guess is that he was enjoying some private downtime touring the capital’s landmarks on a trip that was strictly pleasure.
However, the British actor didn’t miss the opportunity to share his Cuba visit with his fans as he revealed on a series of Tweets, two of which read:
“Hola! Been in amazing, seductive, inspirational Cuba where the internet was as medieval and inconsistent as Trump’s putrid ramblings..”
“…and the news was so horrendous - Orlando, Jo Cox, Euroyobs – that I preferred to hide under a digital duvet and salsa till dawn…”
Yet he posted no personal picture of his visit to accompany his Tweets and the only one that pays testament to his time in Cuba was the one published by La Guarida on their Facebook account.
In a way La Guarida has been the main (and at times the only) source of many news revealing the presence of a star in Havana, with the restaurant often beating official local media to it, or simply being the only ones with the scoop or, at the very least, an image. Sometimes the paladar’s staff take only minutes to upload the picture of a celebrity’s visit, which is quite something when you take into account the fact that Cuba’s internet access is very limited and very poor speed-wise.
Zoe Saldana – a special birthday celebration and a fashion photoshoot
Accomplished Dominican actress, Zoe Saldana landed in Havana almost at the same as Jon Bon Jovi, but the two followed very different trails during their time on the Pearl of the Caribbean. Like Jon, Zoe came with a mixed work+pleasure schedule, combining a fashion photoshoot for the cover of People en Espanol, with an intimate birthday celebration held at Cuban paladar, La Fontana, yet another popular dining venue among celebrities in Cuba, including the likes of Rihanna, Katy Perry, Jay Z and Beyonce.
She only spent a few days in Havana but she certainly knew how to make each minute count and how to enjoy some downtime with her young family, which she brought with her. In the company of husband, Marco Perego and her toddling twin boys, Zoe ensured to make the most of the visit, something she had been anticipating with great expectation for most of her life - as she later revealed on her interview for People Magazine.
When asked how it felt to be in Havana, Zoe replied:
“It’s a dream come true for me. I lived close to Cuba [in the Dominican Republic] until I was 17 years old, and grew up with Cuban friends and family. I’ve always been curious to know what it was like to live there. I remember that my cousins would vacation there with my aunts and uncles but we couldn’t go because [we had US passports and] it was the nineties and things weren’t easy. So when I was offered this pilgrimage I said yes.”
Between the fashion photoshoot sessions which would go on to grace the cover of People en Espanol’s September 2016 issue, Zoe did manage to take a couple of personal snaps and upload them to her Instagram account. One of these shows her cuddling up to her husband on La Guarida’s famous staircase, now an icon of the city where all stars seem to be lining up to take an obligatory snap or selfie.
Speaking about how visiting Cuba was very special in a touchingly unique way for her and how it was a trip she would cherish and hold close to her heart, Zoe Saldana added:
“My husband [Marco Perego Saldaña] and I wanted to bring our children because we wanted to tell them in the future that they were here. We hope to come back when they are older so that we can have conversations about Cuba. Now that I’m here, it makes me happy to see the dignity and spirit with which Cubans live their lives.”
Cuba was so special for Zoe in fact, that she decided to celebrate her 28th birthday here and a sweet video of the actress singing a birthday song in Spanish and blowing out the candles was also shared on Instagram. Following up on this, on 12th August Zoe uploaded a video of her Cuba visit to her Instagram account with the following caption, written both in English and Spanish;
“Thank you @peopleenespanol for capturing my time in Cuba so beautifully.”
The September 2016 issue of People en Espanol is out now, and in case you can’t get your hands on one, some are likely to be posted on the magazine’s online platform later.
Madonna – a birthday party of epic proportions
As is expected with the Queen of Pop (it’s no secret to anyone that she does have a tendency to do things in a big way), who is known for celebrating things with a bang and going all out, her Cuban birthday celebrations were no exception. Full of pomp and flair but with a subdued, glamorous elegance to it, the veteran singer/actress hosted a large private party on the terrace of La Guarida, with the evening serenaded by Isaac Delgado and his salsa band, the same Cuban singer who had staged another private concert for Katy Perry during her visit to Havana in October last year.
But partying wasn’t all Madonna did during her time in Cuba. During her three-day visit she toured the sights in the company of her friends and offspring, posting several pictures on her Instagram including one where she and three friends are seeing enjoying a drink with the caption reading: “Pina Coladas in Loma del Angel!”
She documented her visit with a series of personal photographs and videos she then uploaded to her personal Instagram account, in fact she posted so many of them it leaves no doubt she had an amazing time in Cuba. In one of the three videos them you can see her enjoying the city views from a convertible classic car next to son David Banda, whilst capturing the caravan of old classic cars that surrounded her as part of her entourage which included long-time dear friends like Debi Mazar. In the edited video you can hear Madonna’s excited shrieks as she shouts out: “Cuba, Cubaaa, Viva Cuba” to the sounds of perhaps Cuba’s most internationally renowned band, Buena Vista Social Club.
Madonna didn’t just hop from elegant bar or restaurant to the next during her Cuba visit, hiding inside a car or shielding herself to go unnoticed. Instead she was out in the streets, walking at leisure whilst saluting fans and absorbing the folklore. One of the places that seems to have left its mark on the starlet was the town of Jaimanitas, where Jose Foster’s unique and colourful street art are at full display. She posted two pictures of her time here, and in one of them she is seen being heart-warmingly embraced by son David Banda next to the caption:
“2 rebel hearts admire the art in Havana!” @Fusterland. In the other she stands on a rooftop against some painting in the background that reads “Viva Cuba”.
The captioning next to it aptly says:
“At the Fuster Museum!! (…) Best Birthday Ever! Viva Cuba.”
She also devoted some snap time to capturing her half-Cuban daughter during their time in the city, with one photograph making reference to her daughter’s Cuban roots and captioned: “La Cubanita es Bonita”.
But the one place in Cuba that takes the crown in Madonna’s visit to Cuba is certainly La Guarida, where her official evening birthday party was celebrated, and of which the music star posted four videos. In one you can see her two sons, Rocco and David, approaching her with a cake that reads “Feliz Cumpleanos” whilst clad in traditional Cuban attire, wearing two white “guayabera” shirts. On another you get an aerial view of the Queen of Pop shaking to the sounds of Cuban music whilst dancing with a Cuban salsa partner. On another of Madonna’s Cuba videos, edited to summarising her visit with her best moments, you can hear her voiceover:
“It was always my dream to come here and I finally made it; and I feel blessed to be here in this beautiful country, where there’s so much music, art, talent, architecture…”
La Guarida extensively covered Madonna’s visit posting videos of the private party she enjoyed on the terrace, where she requested all guests to dress in white and where she danced, laughed and partied until the wee hours.
Waving goodbye to the land that had welcomed her with open arms, Madonna finalised her visit with another post, stating:
“Nothing like Havana!! Unique and Inspiring. I never wanted this car ride or my birthday to end. Viva Cuba!"
Where did Madonna stay during her time in Cuba? At the Saratoga Hotel, of course, revered as Havana’s chicest and most fashionable hotel as of late, where all the stars choose to rest their heads in style, including Beyonce and The Rolling Stones. Madonna certainly made sure her stay was nothing short of grand by picking the hotel’s most expensive $714-a-night suite. The grand entrance of Madonna, her offspring and her whole entourage at the Saratoga was well-documented by local fans snapping away with their phones as well as official press and paparazzi aficionados. The award-winning Saratoga is the only one in Cuba to have featured on Conde Nast Traveller’s list of the 25 Best Hotels in Latin America and the Caribbean and its modern décor with 1930s glamourous touches surely doesn’t go unnoticed by celebrities looking for the exceptional and magnificent.
The A-list celebrities visiting Cuba this summer certainly wasn’t without precedent, as just months (and in some cases weeks or days) earlier other stars were warming up the capital’s red carpet. Such was the case of the Kardashian Clan, who took Cuba by storm during their visit in May, saturating the internet with their many social media videos, selfies and photographs. It wasn’t just Kim and Kanye making waves in Havana, it was most of the family, including sisters Khloe and Kourtney in the company of Kourtney and Kim’s children.
Also in May, but flying much more under the radar, Robert de Niro had called on Cuba to sample its gastronomic offer and explore the island’s filmmaking industry. He visited La Guarida not once, but thrice during his two-day stay in the island. Be it for the iconic restaurant’s landmark status, its ambience and setting for being the location on which Cuba’s only Oscar-nominated film was shot or, for the quality of food and service, he certainly let himself be seen here in more than one occasion. Not much else is known, or been made public of his trip to Cuba, except for his fondness for the most popular of Cuba’s dining venues, quite predictably.
Oh, and we can’t forget that also in May, Chanel’s head designer and directive creator, Karl Lagerfeld, descended in Cuba with a full entourage of celebrities, including Gisele Bundchen (who marked her modelling comeback during Chanel’s Cuba fashion show), Tilda Swindon, Vanessa Paradis and Vin Diesel, who was also there shooting the next instalment of the Fast and Furious saga in Havana’s atmospheric streets.
More to come?
No doubt, the seemingly unstoppable parade of stars arriving in Cuba, shows no sign of waning anytime soon, and, although we cannot tell you with certainty which celebrity will be next (as their Cuba travels are typically shrouded in secrecy and unveiled by the local paparazzi or the restaurant they dine at first), we can almost guarantee Cuba has not seen its most glorified moment yet, and I certainly predict and expect more stars from all walks of like making their way to the most interesting of Caribbean gems. Be it for curiosity, for its many peculiarities, because Cuba is the Vogue thing to do as of late, or, simply lured by the island’s undeniable magnetism, stars will continue raining down in Cuba for the foreseeable future. That’s my verdict.