LONDON - The athletes and the Olympic torch have arrived in London — and so has the party.
For those keener on celebrity-spotting or dancing the night away than medal counting, the British host city has plenty of action to offer during games time. Away from the track and field, Hollywood royalty such as Brangelina and Nicole Kidman will be rubbing shoulders with diplomats and businessmen at the city's glitziest clubs and grandest historic buildings. Meanwhile, Dizzy Rascal, Snow Patrol and other musicians will keep crowds entertained at outdoor concerts across the capital — though there won't be cocktails and canapes.
The party vibe kicks off Saturday with the sold-out "River of Music" festival, which features six stages along the Thames, each named for a different continent. Musicians from the Americas, for example, are taking over London's iconic Tower of London, headlined by a gig by the Scissor Sisters. Other performers from across the globe include Baaba Maal, Wynton Marsalis and the Kronos Quartet.
One of the most glamorous bashes in town will be a charity gala dinner at the Victoria & Albert Museum on Wednesday, two days before the Olympic opening ceremony. Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Christopher Lee and Bob Geldof are expected to attend the black-tie event, which is organized by the charity Sports for Peace and held in honour of boxing great Muhammad Ali.
Others reportedly attending include Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Prince Harry. The organizers did not immediately confirm the reports, but judging from the list of celebs sitting on the charity's committee — George Clooney, Catherine Deneuve and Hilary Swank, to name a few — there will definitely be no shortage of VIPs.
In Soho, London's buzzing restaurant and nightlife district, luxury watchmaker Omega, the Olympics' official time-keeper, will be hosting its own A-list soirees in a specially-refurbished townhouse until the end of the games on Aug 12. Kidman is expected at a launch party on July 28, while a space-themed bash on Aug. 2 will feature American astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Gene Cernan and Tom Stafford. A publicist said other guests will include swimmer Michael Phelps and Bollywood star Abhishek Bachchan.
Other celebrities will make appearances during the games — but only on video. "Harry Potter" stars Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson, actress Helen Mirren and boxing star Amir Khan are among those who recorded a "goodbye" video that will be played on screens as fans leave the Olympic venues at the end of each sports session.
It's not just the celebrities who know how to party.
The Russians are planning to bring Moscow nightlife to a VIP pavilion in Kensington Gardens, which for the duration of the Olympics will be home to all things Russian. Not on the guest list? "Russia Park," as it is called, will be free to enter during the day, and the public can enjoy the country's food, music, or have a go at ice curling.
Dozens of other countries will set up their own "national hospitality houses" across London, and several are open to the public. Casa Brasil at Somerset House will showcase Brazilian culture and sport — and promote Rio's hosting of the 2016 Summer Games. Beer lovers should focus on the German House's party held on the cruise liner MS Deutschland, the Irish House at a pub at King's Cross, and the Netherlands' "Heineken House" at north London's Alexandra Palace.
The Olympic opening and closing ceremonies will also be focal points for celebration in London. On the night before the opening ceremony, a concert at Hyde Park will mark the arrival of the Olympic torch with performances by Dizzee Rascal, The Wanted and DJ Mark Ronson. The park will continue to host outdoor concerts throughout the games, with Snow Patrol and Stereophonics headlining on July 27, and Amy Macdonald and Alyssa Reid among the scheduled performers in following days.
Sylvia Hui can be reached at http://twitter.com/sylviahui