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Robin Leach's Sin City caviar dreams

Now that so much of TV has become 'Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,' the showman is intent on rebranding himself in the glitziest city on Earth.

October 26, 2003|Paul Brownfield | Times Staff Writer

Las Vegas — A scrum of tourists waited haplessly for a table at Spago in the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace when Robin Leach came strolling up.

He was wearing tan slacks and loafers, rumpled Tommy Bahama jacket and sunglasses, and his easy walk indicated an A table was in his immediate future. Once seated, Leach removed his sunglasses and ordered a bottle of the Nautilus Sauvignon Blanc. Several staffers came over to pay homage, like a choreographed scene out of Scorsese. The last to arrive was David Robbins, Spago's head chef. Leach apologized that he couldn't stay for a proper dinner; he was due to join friends at Bradley Ogden, a newer, and thus trendier, bistro in the casino. Robbins returned with some starters -- a salmon pizza, a porcini mushroom risotto. There would also be berries and sorbet but no check.

Two decades removed from "Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous," the syndicated TV series on which he breathlessly itemized the toys of conspicuous consumption, Leach, 62, is being Robin Leach these days in Las Vegas, where it is always the go-go 1980s, and his tastes -- wine, women, food -- are a continuous, movable feast.

Since coming here in 1999 to wrangle star chefs for the newly opening Venetian Hotel, Leach has set his "champagne wishes and caviar dreams" image in motion, becoming part of the Strip celebrity circus as surely as Celine Dion (maybe more surely).

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday November 16, 2003 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part E Page 2 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 56 words Type of Material: Correction
Head chef and Britney Spears -- In an article in Sunday Calendar on Oct. 26 about Robin Leach, head chef David Robins' last name was misspelled as Robbins. In the same article, it was incorrectly reported that Britney Spears performed at Skin at the Palms Hotel; she actually performed at the nightclub Rain in the Desert.

Having fallen into the kind of obscurity that involves selling your image to home shopping channels, Leach is back scaling the mountain of bigger and better things. Granted, Vegas isn't Hollywood, but it is a place where he can legitimately compete with other resident celebrities and share in the largess that comes their way. You have to have a sense of irony to mingle well here, and Leach, to be sure, has always had a canny understanding of his image. . Beneath the public Leach is another one -- rumpled, dry-witted, a self-made hustler in on the wink. Leach grew up in a London suburb, lower-middle class, the son of a vacuum cleaner sales executive. He came to New York in 1963 and sold shoes before throwing himself into a career covering the showbiz world, as a newspaperman. Then came TV and you know the rest.

Now here he is, all these years after hobnobbing with Joan Collins, trolling the Strip in a Lincoln Town Car, its ashtray well-stocked with cigars. Leach and the Strip are similarly themed: glitz-promoting and appetite-fixated, but also innately transient. Leach, by all appearances, is enjoying the good life here. He says he's still a millionaire "several times over" and owns a Moroccan-themed home in a walled-off community miles from the Strip. But it is also a life that involves many nights in which he is essentially eating great food with strangers, being "Robin Leach" one more time, in a city that doesn't want you to know the day or the hour.

Leach says he doesn't gamble; Vegas, for him, is rather a new and strangely perfect stage on which to engineer new opportunities.

"Las Vegas has gone from being a gaming city to the world's No. 1 resort city," he said. Maybe it's the British accent, but you believe him. "My business is resorts, my business is food, my business is TV. The thing that I love about Vegas is, you are within 45 minutes of Hollywood without having to deal with the 405 and state taxes and [automobile] fees."

It is no coincidence that Leach has blossomed in a city staging its own renaissance, moving away from family tourism to high-end excess. It's a guy's world of cigars and airplane-hangar-sized gentlemen's clubs and $40 steaks.

Leach works this world in various capacities, all of which tie neatly back to the image he minted on "Lifestyles."

Much of what he does involves being seen, out and about, as Robin Leach. He hosts charity auctions. He is a hotel and restaurant "consultant" (though he says "competitive reasons" preclude him from specifying which hotels employ him). He is a fledgling TV producer. He is an entertainment reporter for the local Fox TV 5, serving the greater Henderson-Las Vegas area. Where one Leach ends and another begins is hard to tell.

Thanks to a tip from his pal Gavin Maloof, whose sports-franchise-owning family also owns the trendy Palms Hotel, he was the only reporter at the hotel's pool, Skin, when Britney Spears performed an impromptu concert recently.

"He's one of these guys that came to Las Vegas and revived a career," said Anthony Curtis, publisher of the Las Vegas Advisor, a consumer newsletter. "Everyone equates Robin Leach with wealthy and powerful, and that's what everyone comes to Las Vegas to do, to be wealthy and powerful and get girls. I think the guy's brilliant. He's accessible, he talks to people. He pushes his brand. He's the quintessential branded human being."

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