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Celebs sign up for gag orders on nannies

By rediff Entertainment Bureau
July 26, 2007 17:58 IST
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Indian ingenuity meets Hollywood need - and the outcome is a nanny gag.

In the age of UTube, where any cell phone is potentially a spy camera, and your best kept secrets are liable to be splashed on video-sharing websites, Hollywood celebrities have figured out the solution: a non-disclosure agreement, binding on nannies, gardeners, domestic servants and pretty much everyone else they let into their closely guarded lives.

The agreement asks that you do not videotape, photograph, or even talk about what you may see or hear while performing your domestic duties -- and a growing list of celebrities from Angelina Jolie through Eva Longoria and Diane Keaton are making haste to sign up.

Ram Katalan, president of the Los Angeles based NorthStar Moving, is on the cutting edge of the latest winkle in the defense of personal privacy -- and increasingly, he tells the LA Times, even non-celebrities are rushing to sign up.

The company's privacy protection services go way beyond getting domestic help to sign forms. 'We've even had divorced couples, where one spouse doesn't want the other to know where they are moving,' Katalan's partner, Laura McHolm, is quoted by the LA Times as saying.

The company thus sends out decoy trucks, starts moves at 2 am and employs other stealth tactics to prevent snoops, and/or the paparazzi, from finding out where their client is moving to.

The LA Times points out that in Southern California, home of the rich, the famous and the beautiful, gossip has greater value than gold; juicy celebrity stories can be traded to an ever-hungry media for all the money you can demand.

The non-disclosure agreements serve another purpose -- once you sign them, you cannot even talk of any hanky-panky that you might spot in course of your duties. The LA Times points out that when Broadcom co-founder and former chief executive Henry T Nicholas III was last week sued by an assistant who alleged drug use and debauchery at Nicholas' Newport Beach home, the billionaire hit back by pointing out that the assistant was bounded by confidentiality agreements, and thus could not talk of what had been witnessed.

The problem is two-fold: the beautiful people in the region prefer sprawling estates; the larger your home and grounds, the higher you rate on the social index. The problem though is such expansive estates offer much cover for gossips to hide in, and snoop.

The other, related, problem is technology. 'Any plumber or gardener can use a cellphone camera to film a husband and wife fighting, or a child having a tantrum, or a client getting out of a shower, and then download it anonymously to YouTube,' the LA Times quotes California attorney Paul Nicholas Boylan, a specialist in NDAs, as saying.

The NDAs, attorneys point out, can help ensure that tell-all books don't hit bestseller lists again with the impact Suzanne Hanson created with her 2006 bestseller 'You'll Never Nanny in This Town Again: The True Adventures of a Hollywood Nanny.'

In the book, Hansen recounts the less than savory anecdotes pertaining to stars like Debra Winger and Danny de Vito, and power couple Michael and Judy Ovitz, for whom she had worked through the late 1980s and '90s.

'I could never have written it if I had been working today,' Hansen is quoted in the LA Times as saying. 'Now everyone has such elaborate confidentiality contracts.'

NDAs are not, however, foolproof -- as celebrity couple Victoria and David Beckham found out to their cost a couple of years back.

The Beckhams' former nanny Abbie Gibson signed multiple NDAs, but then spoke at length to News of the World about David's alleged infidelities and the problems in the Beckham marriage, for a fee of 125,000 pounds.

The Beckhams sued; a British court ruled in favor of Gibson, finding that as public figures by choice, the Beckhams didn't have much right to privacy.

The trick, experts in the field say, is to focus on the money, not the privacy. The LA Times quotes attorneys to point out that if the Beckhams' case had been that they owned the information about themselves, and therefore the nanny was essentially committing robbery when she sold it to third parties, the case would have had a different outcome.

That, the LA Times reports, is what Hollywood's most sought-after couple, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, did when Hello! Magazine published pictures of their wedding taken by someone in the guise of a waiter.

The couple argued in court that the wedding pictures were their property, that they had sold the rights to another publication, and that the magazine had effectively robbed them of valuable property. They won.

The details of the NDAs are as closely guarded as the secrets the celebs wish to protect. However, the LA Times discloses that when Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman were still married, an employee signed an agreement that stipulated steep penalties for photographing, filming or otherwise disclosing 'any aspect of any activity occurring at, in or about any home or other property owned, occupied or used by the Employer or any member of the Cruise family.'

Damages for violation of the agreement ranged from $20 for each copy of a newspaper or magazine that published the information (with a $1-million minimum total payment), $2 million per non-network U.S. broadcast outlet, and $5 million per network broadcast.

Meanwhile, Ram Katalan is a story in himself. 12 years ago, NorthStar Moving Corp was nothing more than one tiny office, one rented truck, and one employee: Katalan himself.

A high degree of professionalism and favourable word of mouth has seen it grow to where it now ranks 17th on the San Fernando Valley Business Journal's list of the 50 Fastest Growing Private Companies.

The influential trade journal Franklin Report describes the company as the 'guiding light in a sea of moving companies'. Katalan today supervises 40 trucks and over 200 employees, and the company is increasingly the go-to operation for people (Jolie, Keaton and even Antony Hopkins figure on the client list) who wants to move -- locally, across the country or even abroad.

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