This week I was invited to sip champagne and compare fashion tips with model mum Rachael Finch.
Clearly that's because we have so much in common, and look so much alike we could be twins.
(Okay, I made that bit up).
Actually, it's because I'm a travel writer and blogger, and Virgin Australia are often kind enough to invite me to events or launches which they think might interest my followers.
On this occasion, Race Carnival ambassador Rachael Finch offically opened Virgin's hugely popular Hat Valet service with Australia's premier millener Nerida Winter at a swish event at their flagship Sydney Lounge.
Virgin offers the Hat Valet service as part of the Spring Racing Carnival, and is a tradition that is simply 'out of the box' in terms of travel in Australia.
Traveller and race fans adore the Hat Valet service, because it provide first-class handling of a girl's (or guy's) most important fashion accessory, the headpiece.
For now, the service is only available for Virgins customers travelling between Sydney and
Melbourne during this year's Spring Racing Carnival.
Virgin staff provide free boxes for hats and fascinators at Sydney and Melbourne check in, take care of them, and hand deliver them to passengers on arrival.
"So you don't have to worry about travelling with your hat or hair piece, or worrying about where to put it or if it will get crushed," explains Rachael. "And you don't have to worry about your hair getting messy, or your lipstick needing a touch up. It's all done for you, so you arrive race-track ready."
That's because during the Spring Racing Carnival, guests at Virgin's Sydney Lounge can also avail themselves of complimetary blow-dries and hair-styling, make up touch-ups, ModelCo make-up kits, and even shoe-shining provided by social enterprise franchise Buffed. But more on that later.
As I mentioned, I was invited to try out the services available to Virgin highflyers and Lounge guests in Sydney, with Rachael, Nerida, and other fashionable guests. But, in typical #daysofbronnie style, life intervened, and I had to content myself with a phone interview.
I must admit to feeling a bit peeved with a phone chat, knowing my
best friend interviewee
had been sipping champagne, having her luscious locks tended to, and her already-
perfect make-up touched up, just minutes before our chat.
To make matters worse, Rachael then experienced the magic of our regional phone line connections - or lack of them.
"Are you in a tunnel?" she asked, as our connection was first disconnected, and then I was forced to get up from my desk, walk around, put one arm in the air, stand on one foot, and then freeze,* lest we lose contact again.
"Your voice is echoing like you are in a giant room," she said. "Oh, I've lost you again. Okay, now that's good."
Once I'd found a sweet spot - country followers will be sooo familiar with my frustration - we continued.
We talked about the Hat Valet service, and how important it was for women, having invested in a good hat or fascinator, not to have to worry about irritating passengers by wearing their headpiece on the plane, but also, not to mess up their hair by taking it off. Instead, just being able to turn up at the airport and have their hairpiece safely and expertly looked after, AND having their hair and make-up fixed, takes a lot of the stress out of race day travel.
But a lot of my followers are men, who also travel a lot, and like a bit of pampering as well. And, I’ll be frank. Many of them are whingers. I am sorry guys, but you are. You’ll read this and say: “Why do women get everything? What about men? Why do we miss out?” So there were questions to be asked. And ask them I would ...
And let's be honest ladies, if we've gone to a lot of trouble to look good, the last thing we want is to be let down by a partner who turns up with a crumpled hat, untamed moustache, bad hair, or dirty shoes, when we have dressed to the nines.
So I wanted to know if the Hat Valet and associated Virgin Lounge services were available to men as well as women.
"So what about men?" I asked. "Did any men have any blow jobs in the lounge this morning?"
There was a momentary silence, and as I wished for the ground to 'swallow' me whole, Rachael, the publicist, and I suddenly burst into fits of laughter.
I apologised profusely, as I earnestly explained I meant blow dries. Blow Dries! (Seriously, what was I thinking?)
"I've never actually been asked that question before," Rachael laughed, putting me at ease by admitting I'd made her day.
And to set the record straight, men did and can use the Hat Valet service, to ensure their hats arrive in style, and many of them also use the hair (and make-up) touch-up service. And even have blow dries!
"When you consider Australians spent around $50 million in race wear for the Spring Racing season last year and retail stores like Myer can see up to one headpiece per minute fly out the door during the busy pre-racing season period, we know how important this accessory is to race-goers," says milliner Nerida Winter. "They want to be able to wear them again.
“I know some of my clients love Virgin Australia’s Hat Valet service and look forward to using it on their trip to Melbourne every year.”
As for the Buffed service, it is now permanantly available in Virgin's Sydney Lounge for small fee for $8, which goes to the Buffed artisan.
Virgin Australia Group Executive, Public Affairs, Danielle Keigher said the enterprise supports homeless, displaced or marginalised Australians, who are excluded from mainstream employment. Buffed gives them the skills, location, equipment and the environment to set up a business as shoe and leather treatment artisans.
The Hat Valet services are exclusively available to all Business Class guests, Platinum, Gold and Lounge members through the premium kerbside entry of Virgin Australia’s Sydney Lounge until and including November 7.
In the meantime, Rachael has exclusively shared her trips for this year's racing season with Maid In Australia:
"Monochrome is always a safe 'bet', she advises. "If in doubt, you can never go wrong with black and white.
"But the seventies look is really big this year. I like a fitted dress that sucks you in and shows off your figure as much as anyone, but you can't breathe, and you can't eat.
"I love the longer sleeves, the floaty hemlines, and feminine fabrics that are in this year. It's a modern take on a 1970s vibe and you feel a lot more relaxed when you're wearing something like that."
Something a bit more for the non-model mums like me, I suggested.
"It's whatever makes you comfortable," she says. "If you feel comfortable and you can move around, you'll look good. And the look is a lot more forgiving if you actually want to eat and drink. And who doesn’t?”
And if you're wondering if Rachael will be taking her own child along to the Melbourne Cup, this year it's a firm 'no'. That's not because she's got anything against children at the races, but because, as she points out, it's an individual thing depending on the child, the parent, and the venue.
"Some race days cater for children, and even have Fashions On The Field for kids," she says. "And some children are fine at these events. But Violet is two now, and she's delightful, but I think parents will understand when I say she can be a bit of a handful. At this age, I don't think race days are the best place for her. She wouldn't enjoy it, and I couldn't relax. Maybe when she is older."
As for selfies, Rachel isn't a fan of the duckface or this year’s current race trend, the poking out of tongues, and then posting of tongue-pics on social media.
“Oh no, I don’t like that at all,” she said. “I’m a fan of keeping your tongue firmly in your mouth. My best selfie tip is to grab someone, and put a big cheesy grin on your face. And just have fun and enjoy the moment.”
Advice I could have heeded earlier!
More details about Virgin Australia's Hat Valet Service and Race Carnival Lounge services are here.
Have you ever made a slip of the tongue? Wished for the ground to swallow you whole? How did you recover?
*Okay, I made that part up too. But I did have to walk around and stand in one spot for the rest of the interview, or we lost the connection …