If you haven’t met Priyantha De Silva, there’s still a good chance you’ve encountered him, perhaps when he was pretending to be someone else: cherubic cocktail chaser, uncredited Academy Award-winning producer, conspicuous Condé Nast editor, philandering philanthropist, ICM agent or the creator of the Kardashians. Some say that if you put your ear to a martini, you can almost hear his overdone debonair voice: “What do you mean I’m not on the list? Don’t you know who I am?” Priyantha De Silva was that really, really sweaty guy of Sri Lankan descent who successfully crowbarred his way into progressively higher social circles, ultimately crashing down into of Manhattan’s most closely guarded venues: Rikers Island.
With pockets too shallow for his $7,500 bail, the equally diminutive De Silva was forced to spend his last weeks leading up to trial behind bars. SCENE contacted the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, who was more than happy to provide us with Priyantha’s most recent misdeeds:
1. PL170.25 Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in the Second Degree
2. PL155.30 (1) Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree
But how does one man go from annoying social gnat to convicted felon? As it turns out, the acceleration was rather exponential.
De Silva took to the streets in 2006 after registering the surprisingly clever domain name http://www.CondeNastOnline.com, which, as any coffee addled, sleep deprived PR intern can attest, might allow a phony RSVP to sneak by the virtual velvet rope on its way to a guest list database, granting De Silva unfettered access to those gilded elbows that he so desperately wanted to rub against. PR veteran Cristina Civetta had more than one of his business cards thrust at her. “Each time was a different story, once he was a music industry executive, next time it was a talent agent, then the inevitable magazine editor. We caught on to the guy pretty early on and put his picture on every clipboard in sight.”
Nadine Johnson, one of the most powerful publicists and event planners on the planet, echoed Civetta’s strategy. “We all have guests’ photos on iPads. We had the ‘Zkipster’ programmer build a special field for this. They peek at the list and try to read a name aloud which is very hard to do with iPads. A big favorite is ‘I work with Russell Simmons’ or that notorious RSVP that comes from a fake LVMH address in Paris.”
Gawker managed to wrangle a first hand account from a savvy bartender at the after party of the New York Surf Film Festival in 2008: “He drank vodka straight all night like it was water, and sweat like he was on fire. After learning that I was an actress, he gave me a professionally printed business card claiming him a Managing Partner of Red Wagon Films and said, ‘We can get you a SAG award, you’re very pretty.’ Several vodkas later, he asked for my email address so that he could take me to the premiere of Changeling on Wednesday.”
As most guys will admit, drunkenly scamming on pretty girls doesn’t exactly qualify as a game changer. What does set De Silva apart however, is his almost sloppy The Talented Mr. Ripley meets Catch Me If You Can’s bombed Frank Abagnale Jr.’s ability to assume new identities, a talent that caught the attention of actor/legend Tony Danza at a recent cocktail party SCENE attended. “I love guys like this, they fascinate me—it’s almost a perverted art form,” he began, instantly remembering a tale from his past. “There was this shmuck running around town for years pretending to be my brother. He would use it everywhere, you name it: nightclubs, cocktail parties, industry stuff, he even used it to get into a hospital I was in just to say he did it! The best part though, he called himself Jeffrey Danza. I mean, come on, Jeffrey Danza? I think they locked the guy up years ago.”
It’s pretty ballsy to strut up to an event uninvited, it’s really ballsy to strut up to an event uninvited and pretend that you’re a loved one of someone inside, or in Cinema Society founder Andrew Saffir’s case, the partner of the guy throwing the party: “A really swift crasher came to the door and told my team, who have heard it all, that he was Daniel Benedict [Saffir’s longtime partner]. They looked at him and laughed and basically said, ‘You picked the wrong name to crash with.’”
When an invented title failed to pass the litmus test, De Silva would often result to brute force: “Do you know who I am? I could destroy you!” Journalist Jennifer Wright would recall in an exchange she overheard between De Silva and an unassuming door girl, adding, “I used to run into him occasionally at parties and he would mention that he made Slumdog Millionaire. For a second I always paused and wondered ‘Is this what Jay Gatsby would do? Is this the 21st century equivalent of saying you hunt tigers on the Bois de Boulogne?’”
It would make sense that De Silva would seek out the Jay Gatsby model of the American dream: create your own myth, and then become it. But where Gatsby succeeds, De Silva fails. Gatsby is a lovable character that fills his summer evenings with fascinatingly beautiful people eager to be in his presence; he is charming, graceful, and yes, a bit mysterious. De Silva, on the other hand, is a man incapable of having a good time even at the parties he crashes. “They found him asleep on a table, somewhat disoriented. The guards offered him medical assistance, which was refused, and he was helped into a taxi,” a rep for the American Antiques Gala Preview told the gossip column “Page Six.”
So why even bother? What’s the point of sneaking into a bigwig party if only to pass out next to Martha Stewart? To help us put De Silva into perspective, we must turn our attention to an even more legendary party crasher: Steve Kaplan, aka “Shaggy.”
Hiding behind a massive mop of curly blond hair, Shaggy has been a fixture on the party circuit for more than a decade. The guy is rarely officially invited, with more than one press outlet labeling him the “world’s most famous party crasher,” a title he seems to wear with pride. One thing is for sure, when you saw Shaggy, he was there for a good time. Society publicist R. Couri Hay recalled one of the many, many interactions he had with the blond bombard: “Oh God, he was getting so bold. I remember one time he rolled up to a party, surely not invited, with three girls on his arm and a huge grin on his face, his hair a total mess.”
It would seem however, that a non-invited Shaggy has become the exception, not the rule. He’s been around for so long now that people look to him as something of a party barometer, and as writer George Gurley would describe; a good omen. “Shaggy slipped into my book launch party without us noticing, and all of a sudden the PR girl we had working the event ran over and picked him out of the crowd in disgust: ‘Do you want us to throw him out? He clearly wasn’t invited.’ I immediately recognized who it was, and informed the girl: ‘Shaggy can stay—if he’s crashing my book party, it’s somewhat of an honor!’” Gurley’s tale of pseudo-admiration for Shaggy is not unique; by all accounts our feather-haired friend is actually a fun party guest, exceptionally gracious, quick with a joke, even going so far as to be humble when being asked to vacate the premises.
SCENE wanted to like Shaggy as the somewhat lesser of two evils that he and De Silva represent, but the deeper we dug into the Internet gossip grave, the more skeletons we found. Shaggy, it would seem, has a thing for food: “He was devouring gnocchi with truffles at such a rate that the waiters could not keep up with him,” said a witness at the opening of La Masseria. “If Shaggy was at the party, he was there to eat. I remember catching him gorging himself at a buffet, practically lining his pockets with food, it was incredible how much this guy would try to eat in one sitting,” remembered Hay, who’d reminded The New York Times years ago: “There’s a very famous saying: Put out a lamb chop and they’ll all come.”
Gastronomic grievances aside, it’s not hard to wonder why the Elizabeth Seton Pediatric Center would have preferred Shaggy to Priyantha De Silva as designated crasher on the evening of November 11, 2010. The event was slated to be a grand fundraiser to aid the rehabilitation programs for gravely ill children throughout the hospital network. The location was set at the luxurious Harold Pratt House at 68th Street and Park Avenue. The theme: Going Gatsby.
November 10th was a gusty day, high 40’s—stay-inside weather.
One could almost picture a slovenly De Silva in a dark apartment, brooding over an ancient laptop, party photographer Patrick McMullan‘s website flickering across his screen. He looks down, dozens of crumpled business cards across the table, tiny trophies of evenings past. Back to the computer he digs through the online repository of pomp and circumstance, scouting potential guests, quickly scrawling out talking points, sketching together a spider web of social networks he’s all too eager to infiltrate.
He pauses to take a swig from a flask of bargain basement vodka; closing his eyes he briefly recalls a seminal Nick Carraway quote that he reads as directive: “I believe that on the first night I went to Gatsby’s house I was one of the few guests who had actually been invited. People were not invited—they went there.” He reaches into his pocket, running his fingers over the surreptitiously obtained Bank of America debit card, exhaling deeply. On November 11th, Priyantha De Silva would not be invited to the Harold Pratt House, but he would go there.
After a late lunch, Priyantha would return home to prepare for the evening. He would feverishly through his closet before settling on a red velvet smoking jacket. Reaching for a nearby lint roller he begins his ritual, pulse quickening with every caress of the sticky wand. Donning his velveteen casing he cracks open his laptop, remembering to scout the silent auction items online before heading out the door—and there it was: the leather Prada bag that was overheard to be destined for one of his many, many, young girlfriends. The very same leather Prada bag that would land De Silva behind bars, where he will remain for up to three years.
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