Sheila’s Oprah-size nuptials

  • The Washington Examiner
  • |
  • August 26, 2005

by Karen Feld

Even second weddings can be lavish, especially if you happen to be the country’s first African-American female billionaire – and when you hire Oprah’s wedding planner. Who could expect less?

We’ve dug up some details about how dynamo Sheila Johnson, 56, and Virginia Circuit Court Judge William Newman plan to celebrate their upcoming Sept. 24 nuptials. Judge Newman – Sheila’s future husband – granted Johnson her divorce from Bob Johnson after 32 years of marriage.

The Johnsons founded Black Entertainment Television in 1980, which they sold to Viacom in 1997 for $3 billion. Sheila, a concert violinist, is now living in Middleburg, Va., where she’s funding a performing arts center and building a 100-plus-room French country inn on the old Pamela Harriman estate. Johnson plans to market her own line of linens and open Market Salamander, a working chefs’ market. It’s been a long haul, but Middleburg has finally approved her plan for the Salamander Inn and Resort. She is streamlining the plans, which originally called for a spa, and hopes to break ground soon with an opening projected in two years.

She’s also bought the Washington Mystics and Ticketmaster from Abe Pollin, and is involved in many philanthropic causes.

Wedding of the year

Nevertheless, Johnson is taking time out to plan a big wedding weekend the likes of which Washington hasn’t seen in a while. Here’s an advance peek: The rehearsal dinner is planned under a tent at Equinox downtown on Sept. 23. It’ll be a casual Western hoedown for 150. The groom favors a traditional steak-and-chicken dinner, so that’s what he’ll get, albeit more upscale than traditional – even if there will be cowboy steaks, pork ribs and braised greens on the grills, not to mention the rustic homestyle desserts. Knowing Todd Gray, Equinox’s owner-chef, who will be in charge of the restaurant at the Salamander Inn, nothing will be “ordinary.” He’s known for his innovative, fresh, local cuisine. To fit with the casual theme of the rehearsal dinner, plans call for live bluegrass entertainment.

No wedding crashers here

Todd is also catering the wedding for 750 in Middleburg on Sept. 24. He’ll prepare his version of chilled lobster salad in green gazpacho sauce. There will be themed food stations serving oyster sands, mini-crab cake sandwiches, grilled goat cheese with truffles, caviar and shellfish, Virginia ham and chutney, dry aged beef tenderloins with foie gras – a favorite of Sheila’s – and chanterelle mushrooms.

Classic moments

Sylvia Weinstock, Oprah’s cake designer in Manhattan, N.Y., has been hired to bake the custom cakes – individual ones for each guest. And no party is complete without entertainment. R&B star Patti LaBelle will take on that task.

If guests are still hungry, Gray is catering the Sunday morning brunch as well. That’ll include smoked country sausages and house-cured bacon.

Kondracke proposes in Paris

And speaking of marriages, Roll Call executive editor Mort Kondracke, 66, and America’s Promise CEO Marguerite Sallee, 59, plan to marry next year. Kondracke’s wife, Milly, lost her 13-year battle with Parkinson’s disease last year. The author of “Saving Milly: Love, Politics, and Parkinson’s Disease” and his fiance live in Georgetown.

End-of-summer taste of champagne

The new I SPA, offering 25 different treatments, opened at the Willard Hotel last week. Guys, there are special treatments for you. Jet-lagged? Try the Body Champagne treatment. You’ll be wrapped in seaweed to replenish minerals, and then champagne is poured over your body to rejuvenate the skin and give an anti-aging effect. Would former President Ulysses S. Grant have ever dreamed of this when he coined the term “lobbyist” at that very spot?

White House spikes eBay listing

We broke the story about the White House quitclaim deed/covenant for sale on eBay in this column on Wednesday. The bidding reached $15,100 before the White House shut it down, according to Canadian author David Jenneson, who listed on the auction site the only known legal document relating to ownership of the White House in an effort to promote his book “Night of the Realtors.”

Through the troops’ eyes

There’s lots of favorable buzz about “The Sandstorm: Stories from the Front,” a very timely and powerful show at MetroStage in Alexandria. The play’s monologues, written by wounded veteran Sean Huze, give a first-person view of the war in Iraq. The playwright served with the Marine Corps’ Second Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion in 2003 during the invasion of Iraq. It plays through Sept. 25, and members of the military in uniform will be admitted free of charge.

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