Vienna: ‘Ruby’, the young woman at the heart of a sex scandal involving Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, was the star turn Thursday at the Vienna Opera Ball, a highlight of the Austrian social calendar.
The Moroccan-born pole dancer Karima El Mahroug, nicknamed ‘Ruby the Heart Stealer,’ joined entrepreneur Richard Lugner in his box alongside former ‘Dallas’ actor Larry Hagman -- who had swapped his usual cowboy hat for a top hat -- and attracted frenzied attention.
Dressed in a gold evening gown, the 18-year-old hogged the media limelight with photographers jostling to photograph her.
A debutante even asked her to autograph her bouquet.
In recent years, the 78-year-old Lugner, who briefly starred in his own reality television show, secured the company of Baywatch stars Pamela Anderson and Carmen Electra, striptease queen Dita von Teese, and US socialite Paris Hilton.
This year however, Austrian tabloids chronicled his failure to get his first two choices as guests before picking US actress Bo Derek, whom he then dropped after she apparently made too many demands.
Opera Ball organiser Desiree Treichl-Stuergkh quickly hit out at Lugner`s latest guest.
"This is the biggest embarrassment that Mr. Lugner has ever made. It`s sad, humiliating and disrespectful," she said, threatening to cancel his box next year.
Opinions were also divided among ball guests, some praising Ruby`s beauty, while others deemed her presence at this society event a "catastrophe."
The young lady herself did not seem bothered by the massive attention and simply described the ball as "beautiful."
Among the other prominent guests at what is technically the official state ball, attended by the president and top members of the cabinet, were Chinese pianist Lang Lang, singer-activist Bob Geldof and Russian star soprano Anna Netrebko, this time not performing.
A very traditional affair featuring dozens of debutantes in white dresses with their partners in tailcoats, the Opera Ball also saw a premiere this year as the Vienna Philharmonic took part in the event for the first time.
Further cultural highlights included a ballet performance featuring ballet director Manuel Legris himself, and Latvian mezzo Elina Garanca, who performed two arias to great applause.
The highlight of the Viennese ball season, the Opera Ball is an expensive treat, with a simple ticket costing 230 Euros ($320) and boxes around 17,000 Euros.