When Oprah stepped off the gangway of the cruise ship Norwegian Gem as it docked in Malta early on Friday, she gave only a quick, jaunty wave and a ‘Hi’ to waiting paparazzi and locals. For once, the doyenne of talk wasn’t giving interviews. Oprah was then whisked away in a chauffeured mini-van. But where did she go?
Well, for the best part of her time on shore, Oprah was touring and lunching at Palazzo Parisio, Naxxar, with a group of around 14 family and close friends. Oprah Show staff and their families, for whom the 10-day Mediterranean cruise is a holiday gift from Oprah, were meanwhile on island tours. Oprah, quite rightly, chose the private, secluded setting of the elegant 17th century Palazzo and its gardens to chill out in, well away from the glare of the public.
Her arrival at Palazzo Parisio was a closely guarded secret. Even the mother and daughter duo who run the palace – Christiane Ramsay Scicluna, Baroness of Tabria, and her daughter Justine Pergola – were given only a couple of hours formal confirmation of Oprah’s visit on the day itself. “Oprah arrived around midday at the Palazzo, and just walked in casually, like one of our regular visitors. She was immediately struck by the tranquillity of the setting and was keen to just relax in our gardens,” says Christiane.
Apparently, the Baroness and the talk show queen were chatting as if they’d known each other for years and just catching up on their acquaintance: “We went round the gardens, which I have to say are my first love, and Oprah commented on a Mexican-origin plant she recognised as the same as one she has in her garden back home”. Oprah then ordered champagne and a Mediterranean-style buffet of antipasto and relaxed over a long lunch with her group.
Later, Oprah sought out some choice gifts in the Palazzo Parisio shop which specialises in Italian fragrances; unique, handcrafted jewellery from Mediterrenean designers; and fine Porcelain. “She took great delight in choosing individual pieces for her closest friends and staff. I would think it’s a novelty for Oprah to actually do what we all do – a spot of holiday shopping,” comments Justine.
Oprah felt at home at palace, and for obvious reason: though billed as Malta’s mini-Versailles for its glittering interior, Palazzo Parisio still very much feels like the family home of the Ramsay Sciclunas.
But its role today in Malta as a thriving business in a carefully restored historic palace is down to the work of the Baroness and her daughter. In fact, the thought that a self-made, Forbes-listed billionaire woman should choose to visit a palace-business inspired and run by two driven women wasn’t lost on Oprah.
The superstar’s final words in the guest book sum up how much she enjoyed her time at Palazzo Parisio: “What a fantastic day, thank you Christiane, we are so grateful for this experience. Blessings to you and your family and business success…”
Visiting Palazzo Parisio
Victory Square, Naxxar
The Palace and Gardens are open every day throughout the year (with the exception of Good Friday, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day) from 09.00hrs to 18.00hrs with the last admission at 16.30hrs. For more details, see the palazzo’s website.