The commissioner of the NSW inquiry into Crown Resorts, Patricia Bergin, described James Packer’s former right-hand-man Robert Rankin as “elusive” and his tenure as the casino company’s chair as “lacklustre”. Bergin mightn’t be the only person with a few choice words to say about Rankin, as he and his soon-to-be former wife Paula Boff divvy up their international property portfolio.

Since the investment banker’s spectacular refusal to appear before the Bergin probe following a request issued in July 2020, Rankin has been in the United Kingdom, where he is chair of Altero Capital.

Happier days: Robert Rankin and Paula Boff at a 2016 charity dinner London’s River Cafe.Credit:Dave Benett/Getty Images

According to sources close to the former Packer posse, Rankin and his wife have split. He was last sighted slumming it in the Old Rectory, a stylish seven-bedroom country house in The Cotswolds, while evading the NSW inquiry, which found the company he chaired was not fit to operate a casino licence. Meanwhile, a protracted divorce settlement has been under way with his estranged wife, Paula, who remains in Britain along with their son and daughter.

This has delayed one of the most highly anticipated real estate sales in Sydney: Woodlands, the eastern suburbs gem they bought in 2003 for $6.825 million from adman John Singleton. With an estimated $30 million price tag, it has been on the market for well over two-and-a-half years and, according to agent Ben Collier, despite many interested parties, remains unsold.

The family has never lived in the 1884-built mansion at Wallaroy Road in Woollahra except when they brought in some beanbags and mattresses and camped out for a short stint. Instead, it has been a high-end furnished rental, with tenants such as Sir Elton John, who rented it for about $50,000 a week for his family when he was on tour here in 2020. Last year actor Chris Hemsworth and wife Elsa Pataky chose Woodlands as their Sydney home, so children Tristan, Sasha and India Rose could splash in the pool away from the prying eyes of the paparazzi, thanks to the bougainvillea-covered walls.

Woodlands mansion in Woollahra, built in 1884, has been used as a high-end furnished rental.Credit:Fairfax Media

Actors Hugh Jackman and Deborra-Lee Furness have also rented the eight-bedroom house, which sits on a 1567sqm block, which is still maintained by groundskeepers and housekeepers. The home was once owned by TV royalty Bruce Gyngell, though the longest-term occupant was Clayton Utz senior partner and Liberal Party politician Sir Hector Clayton, who owned it for 60 years until his death in 1975.

One of the Rankins’ longest renters was Dial-a-Dump founder Ian Malouf, who was also believed to have been one of the parties interested in buying the property. That was until last year when he went on a spending spree, buying three properties for $110 million, including the $60 million penthouse in ANZ Tower, where he now lives. That is when he is on land, and not operating his super yacht charter business, the Ahoy Club.

As well as Woodlands, the Rankins own Gullbullana at Palm Beach plus an adjoining block, and are believed to still hold properties in United Kingdom, Hong Kong and the United States. No wonder dividing up the spoils is taking longer than a croupier at a Crown casino gambling table.

Back in the house

Still on Sydney’s favourite subject, real estate, the 14th series of Selling Houses Australia starts this Wednesday on Foxtel. It was launched at the heritage-listed Hinchcliff House in Sydney’s CBD; the former wool store has been transformed into a four-level dining and wining venue, including Lana, Grana and Apollonia restaurants.

Returning host, British-born real estate property expert Andrew Winter (whose posh tones recall a poor man’s Kevin McCloud from property show Grand Designs) is joined by design expert and former House Rules judge Wendy Moore and former rugby league player Dennis Scott.

Andrew Winter, Wendy Moore and Dennis Scott at the Selling Houses Australia launch. Credit:James Gourley/Foxtel

Since retiring from NRL in 2006 Scott has become a carpenter, landscape gardener and even studied journalism, so was a perfect fit for the new role.

But what the new hosts could not have envisaged when they signed up was the 2021 COVID lockdown, which trapped the Queensland-based Winter and Scott in NSW for five months, first as neighbours in temporary digs at Chatswood while filming the TV series, then as roomies in Winter’s Gold Coast home when they returned to Queensland in November to quarantine together. Winter’s family moved to a hotel to keep the unlikely bromance alive.

The cast of Luxe Listings Sydney, real estate agents from right to left, Gavin Rubinstein and D’Leanne Lewis, buyer’s agent Simon Cohen, and new agent Monika Tu. 

Scott also lost 14 kilos while in NSW. “I went running with Wendy in the morning and walking with Andrew in the evening then we would meet for food and bonded in our bubble,” Scott said. “The friendship went next level on rugby league grand final night and we watched it together and Andrew even asked some questions.”

Mercifully, no one got COVID-19 in such close confines. Unlike your usual correspondent, Andrew Hornery, who this week finds himself felled by the lurgy.

Others who attended the show’s launch included social media personality Sean Szeps (husband of ABC radio presenter Josh), podcaster Mitchell Coombs, media personality Zoe Marshall (wife of former footballer Benji) and red carpet host Jus Hill.

Selling Houses’ competitor in the realm of real estate voyeurism, Luxe Listings Sydney, returns to Amazon Prime next Friday with new agent Monika Tu joining D’Leanne Lewis, Simon Cohen and Gavin Rubinstein.

Haunting show

Callum Francis, the UK-born actor best known for his portrayal of Lola in Cyndi Lauper’s Kinky Boots and fresh from starring in the Bob Dylan musical Girl from the North Country stars as Raoul, Vicomte De Chagny, in The Phantom of the Opera, which was set to open on Friday night on Sydney Harbour. He is also known to be something of a practical joker.

Callum Francis backstage for Kinky Boots.Credit:Simon Schluter

While playing Collins, one of the leads in Rent at the Sydney Opera House last year , he was notorious for trying to make other performers laugh at the most inopportune moments.

But the musicians took their revenge while he was singing his big, sad number I’ll Cover You (Reprise)at his on-stage partner Angel’s funeral. As Francis was looking straight out at the audience, drummer Cypress Bartlett and guitarist Nathan Barraclough did a strip tease on the conductor’s camera, seen only by the cast, to put him off.

“He was the consummate professional and did not break character. Then he came back afterwards and had a big laugh with us,” PS’s backstage spy says.

But with his husband Ainsley Melham (former star of Aladdin) and Phantom creator Andrew Lloyd Webber in the opening night audience, stripping and practical jokes were unlikely.

Of course, The Phantom of the Opera opening night could not help but be haunted by the memory of fashion designer Carla Zampatti. She tragically died after being knocked unconscious falling down stairs at the Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour red-carpet event for La Traviata last year.

The beloved icon, whose creations were worn by numerous stars including Cate Blanchett, Nicole Kidman and Princess Mary of Denmark, died aged 78 and is now buried in Waverley Cemetery.

Election wear

Despite no official date yet for the federal election, there is already party (not political) paraphernalia being produced for election night celebrations. In the vein of artist Shepard Fairey and the Barack Obama “Hope” designs he created for the 2008 US election, Brisbane-based graphic artist James Hillier is creating a line of #ozpol election wear – T-shirts, badges and vinyl stickers – under the brand Nordacious.

Antony Green apparel by Nordacious.

His “Sit down boofhead” T-shirt has been worn by Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese. But by far his most popular is a line of apparel featuring Antony Green, the ABC’s and Australia’s favourite psephologist.

“Following the wipeout of the Liberals in South Australia, it seems like a swing may be on. So I created an Antony Green design saying that because I was drawn to his nerdiness he is the David Attenborough of Oz politics. He’s more exciting to watch than a sporting event,” Hillier says. And the only sure winner on election night.

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