"SURPRISE ITO," said the text invite for Willie Revillame's 50th birthday bash.
But last night, January 29, Willie's staff was bowled over by the early arrival of the controversial TV host.
Instead of 7:00 p.m., the doors to the grand ballroom were opened at 8:30 p.m. "Bilin po ni Sir," was the polite spiel of the Makati Shangri-La receptionists.
Undaunted by the order of the birthday boy, talent manager Lolit Solis went inside to watch the rehearsal. "Akala ko ba, Willie, surprise? Bakit kumakanta-kanta ka riyan?"
The Willing Willie host just smiled and quipped, "Siyempre, surprise, e."
THE PARTY TURNED INTO A CONCERT. A stage had been set up in the middle of the hotel's Rizal Ballroom where the celebration was held.
In the lobby were the buffet tables and an ice carving of the letter "W" placed in a prominent position.
A staff of the hotel related, "Ang aga pong dumating ni Sir. Nakaayos na lahat kaninang 5:50 [p.m.] kasi 7:00 [p.m.] yung start, e. Pero pagdating niya, pinabago niya po. Nagpadagdag siya ng tables at upuan."
The program turned into a concert with Nico Maca + Playground serving as front act.
At past 10:00 p.m., while people chatted over drinks, Willie emerged onstage.
"Mamaya na kayo mag-interview. Hello, excuse me! Ako ang importanteng tao sa gabing ito. Birthday ko," he said, half-serious and half-joking.
The comedian, who turned 50 last January 27, officially opened the program with his hits "Ikaw Na Nga" and "I Love You."
Guest performers that evening were Concert Queen Pops Fernandez, Asia's Queen of Songs Pilita Corrales, Pop Diva Kuh Ledesma, balladeer Mark Bautista, plus, the Pinoy Pop group XLR8 and the WW.Girls.
One of the most-applauded performances was the reunion of '80s hit singers Raymond Lauchengco, Gino Padilla, and Dingdong Avanzado.
The trio dished out songs they described as "panahon ni Willie," such as Spandau Ballet's "Gold," Naked Eyes' "Always Something There to Remind Me," Busted's "Build Me Up Buttercup," JoBoxers' "Just Got Lucky," Van Halen's "Jump," Depeche Mode's "Just Can't Get Enough," Starship's "We Built this City," among others.
The Golden Boy also played the drums, jamming with jazzers Richard Merck and Boy Katindig, as well as with Mr. Pure Energy Gary Valenciano.
THE SCENE. The stage glittered with performers, but the sidelights were decidedly more interesting.
Willie's ex-wife Princess Punzalan arrived with Caridad Sanchez, and they shared the table with the celebrant's mom, Mrs. Myrna Buendia.
In town for a brief visit, Princess received an invitation to Willie's party and decided to attend.
"Wala. Ngayon pa lang kami magkakausap," she said when asked if she's constantly in touch with her ex-husband.
Her wish for Willie: "Sana makita na niya ang love of his life."
Her message for him: "Personal ko na lang na sasabihin."
Meanwhile, Senator Bong Revilla dropped by with good friend Phillip Salvador.
The senator spotted Lolit Solis and said, "'Nay Lolit, sa party ko di ka nagtatagal, pero dito, stay ka talaga."
The reason for the talent manager/host/columnist's delayed departure arrived a few minutes before 10:00 p.m. Looking lovely in a black dress, Shalani Soledad met Manay Lolit at the entrance of the ballroom.
"Hoy, bakit ka late? Ngayon lang ako nagtagal sa party..." the Startalk host greeted Shalani in her usual mataray tone.
Inside the main venue, Shalani passed by Princess' table, where the two women cheek-kissed.
Meanwhile, Isabel Oli had arrived and was introduced by Viva's big boss Vic del Rosario to the chairman of TV5, Manny Pangilinan.
The Kapuso actress sat beside Veronique del Rosario, lady boss of Viva Artist Agency. When asked if Isabel is one of her talents, Veronique answered, "Hindi. In-invite lang ni Kuya [Vincent del Rosario] dahil muntik nang maging co-host ng Willing Willie, di ba?"
The same thing happened to Pops, who was introduced by Annabelle Rama to MVP, nickname of the Kapatid Network's big boss.
But the scene-stealer was Rico J. Puno, who talked about two things that night — the rift between Willie and John Estrada, and his upcoming show on TV5.
Addressing Willie, he said: "Mahilig kang mang-away, inaway mo si John. Pero dahil mahilig kang mang-away, nagkaroon tuloy ako ng show sa Wil Productions."
The breakup of good friends John and Willie was witnessed by Willing Willie viewers last January 26.
When Willie found out that John had accepted the offer to host ABS-CBN's noontime show with Randy Santiago, the 50-year-old TV host became upset.
Feeling hurt and betrayed, Willie told John: "Magsolian na tayo ng kandila" and "Maghanap ka na ng ibang best man sa kasal mo!" (CLICK HERE to view video.)
THE WELL-WISHERS. At his birthday celebration, Willie hardly felt John's absence. The party was filled with supporters in and out of the business.
Vice President Jejomar Binay, Senator Manny Villar, and former Senator Ernesto Maceda were there. Former beauty queens Gloria Diaz and Ruffa Gutierrez, Kapamilya actor Gabby Concepcion, socialite Baby Arenas, veteran stars Eddie Gutierrez and Daisy Romualdez, Maxene Magalona and non-showbiz boyfriend, Vandolph and wife Jenny, and Rufa Mae Quinto were also present.
Talent manager Annabelle Rama brought her wards—Madrigal sisters Ehra and Michelle, who came with boyfriend Jon Hall, Raymond Gutierrez, Bubbles Paraiso, Carla Humphries, Danita Paner, and Nicole Anderson.
Likewise, talent manager Arnold Vegafria arrived with talents Jessa Zaragoza, Cheska Garcia, Cesca Litton, Jeffrey Hidalgo, Frank Garcia, and Mark Solis.
Sexbomb dancers' manager Joy Cancio also showed up, and even joined Anna Feliciano, the choreographer of WW.Girls, on the dance floor.
Quietly observing the festivities and—from time to time—chatting with his guests, Willie looked unbeaten, confident of weathering any storm.
Is his life complete?
"Hindi pa. Marami pang dapat gawin," he told PEP (Philippine Entertainment Portal).
How about his love life?
"Hindi pa siya ready. Hurt pa siya," referring to his co-host Shalani.