Anna Nicole Smith’s tabloid saga and the accompanying media invasion has been a boon for some in the Bahamas and a curiosity for others.
Hundreds of islanders and tourists crowded behind barricades Friday for a glimpse at Smith’s private funeral, while others traveled in taxis and rented scooters to the gated, waterfront home where the late pinup lived.
Francina Clerke, a Ministry of Tourism employee, said she was saddened by the reality TV star’s death and concerned about the fate of her baby daughter, but was quick to add that the media spotlight has been positive for the island chain.
“This has certainly turned out to be good business for us. It’s also been a good opportunity to showcase the Bahamas because there has been so much interest,” Clerke said, in between directing tourists to Smith-related spots. “I think people here are amazed at how much interest there is.”
Few islanders had heard of Smith before her son died of apparent drug-related causes in Nassau last year, bringing in large numbers of reporters from the United States to an island chain unaccustomed to mass media events.
Some have viewed their presence as an opportunity.
One local resident set up scaffolding near the cemetery where Smith was to be buried and offered to rent space to the media for $500. The owners of a shopping mall adjacent to the church where the memorial was held had initially insisted on charging $5,000 for camera crews looking to broadcast live and $2,000 for taped coverage from the scene. They later abandoned the idea amid protests, but urged reporters to include their development company’s name in coverage.
Others tried simpler forms of commerce, selling food and drinks to reporters staked out for long hours outside the cemetery or church or in previous days at the Bahamas courthouse. A downtown tattoo shop offered Anna Nicole tattoos.
Since her death on Feb. 8 in a Florida hotel room, tour buses and taxis that rarely venture to the exclusive eastern corner of New Providence Island where Smith lived have been shuttling tourists to the street outside the estate, called “Horizons,” to pose for photographs.
Tour operators have been steadily booking an excursion spanning most of the roughly 24-mile-long island of Nassau to take visitors to the gated mansion, the cemetery and the hospital where her son died and her baby was born.
At the church where Smith’s memorial service was held, a police commander reminded officers, clad in crisp uniforms, that the Bahamas was in the spotlight for Smith’s funeral and mistakes could cause embarrassment due to the heavy presence of TV cameras.
The media invasion coincides with the high season for tourism, so it was not clear if Bahamian hoteliers were helped or hindered by the journalists. But tour operator Sidney Ifill recently said the Smith business was “like our Christmas.”