Celebrity safari | EW.com


Celebrity safari

Thanks to a tour company in Los Angeles, you can now spend a day with a veteran paparazzo as he hunts his prey. Bring your camera. Leave your inhibitions

At 11:04 a.m., we spot Nicky Hilton jogging on Doheny Road in Beverly Hills. But the Canadian couple in the backseat are skeptical. ”That’s not really Nicky Hilton, is it?” the wife asks the paparazzo behind the wheel as he swings his black Jaguar into a U-turn and pursues Hilton up the street. The husband is even less convinced. ”It doesn’t look like Nicky Hilton,” he says, grabbing his Nikon just in case he’s wrong. ”I’m sure that’s not her.”

It’s Nicky all right. And she turns out to be an extremely good sport when she discovers she’s being ambushed by Rolling With the Paparazzi, a new service in Los Angeles that lets out-of-towners, such as Rick and Michelle Wysocki, spend three hours chasing after celebrities in and around Beverly Hills with veteran photographer Rick Mendoza as their guide. (Mendoza is the shutterbug whose foot was famously run over by Britney Spears’ Mercedes in 2007.) Playing pretend paparazzi set the Wysockis — attractive thirtysomething parents of three originally from Toronto but now living in Washington, D.C. — back $150 each. But the souvenirs they’ll take home, including a shot of Michelle with her arm around Nicky Hilton that her husband snaps in front of Hilton’s driveway? Priceless.

”My heart is racing!” Michelle gushes as we all climb back into Mendoza’s Jag. ”I can’t believe we just did that.”

Using paparazzi as L.A. tour guides seems like such a natural fit for our tabloid-crazy culture that it’s amazing nobody ever thought of it before. Rolling With the Paparazzi is the brainchild of Cheryl Anker, president of Off’N Running Tours, a company that’s been giving jogging tours around Beverly Hills and other celeb-filled spots since 1994. ”While we were on the running tours, we kept seeing these packs of paparazzi,” says Anker. ”Every day there’d be 20 of them outside the Ivy restaurant on Robertson. And they would wave to us and pretend to take our pictures as we jogged past. Then, last summer, I bumped into Rick Mendoza on the street and we started talking…”

Mendoza, 43, a onetime shooter for TMZ, is so skilled at his job that he not only knows the colors and models of stars’ vehicles but has also memorized the first three digits of their license plates. ”Black Bentley — that’s Meg Ryan,” he says. ”White G-Wagen — that’s Hilary Duff.” For the moment, Mendoza is the only paparazzo working with Rolling With the Paparazzi, which started up in December. But Anker plans to expand. ”I’d love to have a whole fleet of paparazzi,” she says. ”After all, millions of tourists come to this city every year hoping to see a celebrity. It’s one of the city’s big tourist attractions — movie stars. To me, it’s like whale-watching. You take people where celebrities might be, and they’re either migrating that day or they’re not.”