Alone and filled with dread, Jillian Broadbent says she “dared not think that this could be the end” as she stayed with her long-term friend Carla Zampatti after the fashion designer had “catapulted” down the stairs at La Traviata on Sydney harbour, a fall which would ultimately claim her life six days later.
Former Wollongong University chancellor and a sitting board member of the Reserve Bank of Australia, Ms Broadbent gave an emotional account to Radio National on Thursday morning of her friendship with Zampatti, which had spanned many decades, and the circumstances of the fashion icon’s accident.
Ms Zampatti, 78, had arrived in her trademark glamour, wearing a navy evening gown set off with a dazzling pearl, aquamarine and diamond necklace.
An avid patron of the arts, Ms Zampatti had enjoyed the opera production and enthused to her friend during the interval as the women reclined on the harbour’s wall about how “beautiful the harbour and Sydney was and how lucky we were that people could come together again”.
But the evening was to take a devastatingly tragic turn after the performance ended as the women began to make their way out of the makeshift bleachers at Mrs Macquarie’s Point.
“I was holding on to her going down the stairs and I think she tried to get her heel out of the stair and just catapulted onto her head,” Ms Broadbent told host Hamish Macdonald.
“I was filled with dread … but I didn’t dare think it was going to be an end like that.”
Ms Broadbent said she stayed with Ms Zampatti waiting for an ambulance and was able to reach members of Ms Zampatti’s family “fairly quickly”, joining them at St Vincent’s hospital shortly after.