Glamour Goes to Their Heads

By Scott Maxwell | Sentinel Columnist
Posted December 7, 2004

It's not every Central Florida gala to which you can wear a screaming yellow and black-striped blazer and get away with it.

But that's exactly what Louis Paparella wore into the ballroom at Universal Orlando's Royal Pacific Resort on Sunday afternoon. And the event organizer was far from the most flamboyantly attired.

As a matter of fact, next to the fellow on stilts who had a 3- foot-tall NBC peacock emblem on his head (and a tiny gold thong down below), Paparella looked downright tame.

And so it went at the 15th Annual Headdress Ball, an event that celebrated the eye-popping while raising about $175,000 for the Hope and Help Center of Central Florida, which cares for those affected by HIV and AIDS.

"The event is so much fun and filled with so many crazy folks and outfits," said local lawyer and Hope and Help board member John Ruffier. "But behind all the glitz, glamour and exposed flesh is a really important cause that helps people who really have nowhere else to turn."

Sunday's event was actually a scaled-down version of the gala that was originally scheduled for Sept. 25 -- until Hurricane Jeanne scuttled the plans.

But those in attendance -- including WESH-Channel 2 anchor Wendy Chioji, Backstreet Mom Denise McLean (mother of A.J.), WKMG-Channel 6 general manager Henry Maldonado and defense attorney Mark NeJame - - seemed to enjoy the substitute cocktail party.

The headdresses were the highlight. Aside from the NBC/Universal- sponsored peacock, there was a golden dragon, made completely of painted pasta from Paparella's Bari Italian Foods. And then there was Watermark newspaper's tribute to the late queen of drag queens, Miss P, which involved a sequined letter "P" that stood so high above an oversized 17th-century white wig that it nearly scraped the ceiling of the ballroom.

And you can bet your glue gun that contestants take these costumes seriously. How seriously? Well, enough so that organizers have been forced to come up with rules such as banning headdresses taller than 15 feet, as well as open flames; limiting backstage assistants to two per costume; and insisting that bickering be kept to a minimum, urging: "Please keep in mind that this is a charity event."

"Keep in mind" they did, as the crowd of about 300 bid heartily on auction items that ranged from teeth-whitening treatments to a lobster-and-steak dinner party for 50.

Event chairman Keven Callahan said the group rose to the occasion -- his only complaint was that Chioji hadn't used her station's Doppler radar earlier to somehow fend off the storm.