Just Who Is Maria Papadakis?

The daughter of the late Drexel president Taki Papadakis is the city’s new It Girl. Is she a budding Philly power player, or just another pretty face?

A few days before Feastival, Maria tells me to meet her outside the Symphony House on Broad Street, where she lives. We’re headed to the platonic ideal of a “Philly famous” event: Maria has been selected to compete in a celebrity golf putt-off in Lafayette Hill along with 6 ABC anchor Matt O’Donnell, Eagle wife Julie Dorenbos, and former Eagle wife Susie Celek, our chauffeur today.

At 12:30 p.m. I open the door to the Lexus and squeeze into the backseat next to an oversize Louis Vuitton handbag. In front of me, Susie immediately begins applying eyeliner, which worries me, because she’s also playing with her GPS, making cameos in Maria’s iPhone selfies, and driving the car. I scribble “It feels exceedingly dangerous” in my notebook. “One thing you’ll notice about me is I love to multi-task,” Maria announces while composing a tweet, apparently speaking for both of them.

Maria has a habit of introducing me as her “friend”—perhaps residual confusion from her relationship with HughE—so I quickly make it clear to Susie that I’m a reporter. “Wait, hold on—so do I have to say things like ‘Off the record?’” Susie asks bemusedly. We swerve into a discussion of the disappointingly non-scandalous elements of Maria’s life, including her tame bachelorette party in Atlantic City the weekend before last Halloween. Susie says she had no need for a risqué costume: “I dress like a hooker on a random Wednesday. I make bad choices all year round.”

Though Susie rotates through the same substrata of Rittenhouseworld that Maria does, the difference between the two is stark. In February, Susie made out with an intern during a segment on WIP; in her Twitter profile photo, she’s wearing lingerie and crouching behind a tiger. Maria seems sheepish about the exhibitionist tendencies demanded of a budding “media personality” here.

“They’re telling me to dress more youthful, and sexier,” she told me earlier that morning after doing a promo spot for Feastival on the Preston & Steve Show on WMMR. (Maria is a close friend of Marisa Magnatta, a producer on the show whose fame is truly mysterious.) “And I’m like, ‘I want girls to know that if you have a great personality, you’re funny, people enjoy you, you can wear a trash bag and people are going to watch.’”

Maria, who professes a deep love for Disney World and drops Dickens references, doesn’t quite carry herself the way one might expect of a stilettos-and-hair-extensions debutante. “I think that just from the surface of Maria, you would think that she would be stuck up,” says Sabrina Tamburino, another social-circuit regular and HughE’s first muse. “Like, she’s so not what people probably think she is, like ‘You know she thinks her shit doesn’t stink.’” Indeed, Maria is almost painfully eager to please, asking incessantly, “Am I boring?”

She was thrust into the spotlight by two colliding forces. First, there was Taki, hired by Drexel in 1995 for the presidency of a crumbling institution. “It was like 13th grade before he got there,” says journalist Paul Davies, who covered Papadakis for the Daily News. In his 13-year tenure, Taki added a law school and a medical school and brought U.S. News & World Report glory to Drexel. By the time of his unexpected death, Davies says, he was basically the “Greek Ed Rendell.”

Though Taki and Eliana were outsiders, they soon secured A-list status here. Maria went to Baldwin; Eliana threw extravagant parties. Taki’s political skills were the stuff of legend. As a result, the Papadakises took on an unlikely old-money cachet—the kind that attracts people like HughE Dillon.

HughE is a 50-year-old former paralegal who’s instantly recognizable by his trademark black garb and impressively symmetrical rotundity. He has more or less monopolized the business of deciding the city’s who’s who. For decades, Philadelphia society “was whoever made the boldface names in the Sunday paper,” says former Inquirer gossip columnist Michael Klein, who now writes for Philly.com. That “sort of fell by the wayside five years ago—there really wasn’t any society coverage. So I guess HughE came along at the right time.” HughE’s first project was Tamburino, whose mother was of middling political importance. When Sabrina married a man 25 years her senior in 2009, HughE needed a new girl. At Sabrina’s wedding, he met a friend of Maria’s who suggested they meet. The rest is, well, on display at PhillyChitChat.com.

“I could see that the Papadakises were accepted by society,” HughE says over lunch. “So she was that socialite that I really wanted. … Everyone in the social registry, everyone on the Main Line, knew who she was.” HughE says that former Daily News gossip columnist Dan Gross once asked him why he always took pictures of nobodies. Now, Maria would be his rebuttal.

In 2010, Maria was identified in a Klein column simply as Taki’s daughter. By 2011, “socialite” found its way into a piece by Gross. By 2012, she was hosting gigs and webisodes. Her November marriage to Main Liner Brendan Kent—it prompted lavish spreads in the Inquirer and Philly Mag’s Philadelphia Wedding—was an announcement that she had arrived.

Back in the car en route to the golf course—HughE is already there, waiting for us—Susie brings up the wedding out of the blue. “You know what I used for my coffee cup this morning, girl? That teacup I got from your bridal party or whatever it’s called.” After some negotiation over what that thing is actually called, she adds: “Fuck, that was fun! I’m so glad you got married for that alone.”

“Well, as long as it was a good party and everybody had a good time,” Maria says.

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  • Robert Higgins

    This girl is everything that is wrong and bad about Philadelphia. First, she isn’t that pretty. She needs her teeth shaved down and her hair style that she walks around town with on a normal basis looks like the girl who works at the local Jersey diner HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Funny about the one poster on this, but she has baba booey teeth. In fact, my friends are going to start calling her Baba Booey. Just another way to make fun of this girl who really does nothing and means nothing. It’s sad that Philly Mag has shrunk so low that they feel that this girl is worthy of an article inside of their magazine.The fact that the writer is making fun of her and her Mom, this girl is too dumb to see that. She’s the female Arthur Kade. Another low-life loser. If Philly Mag wants to do an actual newsworthy article about pseudo philly wanna-be celebs, you should find out how Arthur Kade actually has any money (or makes any money). While HugeE Dillon is a really nice guy in real life, he doesn’t get or understand that people are using him, as he’s probably using them too. Wasn’t it a few years ago that Sabrina Tamborino was the Philly “it” girl. . At least Sabrina is actually cool . Maria from what I’ve been told by multiple people was a really fat girl for the longest time and then dropped some weight and now considers herself pretty. I’m sure her husband, errr, I mean ex-husband (of 6 months) has some interesting stories. Philly Mag, you should tell your writer to dig deeper for the better story. How happy can her Mommy be of her to have a $300,000 wedding to have her daughter end the marriage 6 months later. My father would KILL me. But of course, the wedding wasn’t about them, it was about the “look at me” that her mommy installed. The writer did a good job of showing that and does make that clear.
    The world of Philadelphia doesn’t need Maria. The world of Philadelphia doesn’t want Maria. I’m sure if HugeE told Maria, “look hon, I’ve been paid $50K to not mention your name in any press or take a pic of you for 1 year” she’d drop him like a hot potato. Basically, fake friends. Self-promotion at it’s finest. Maria, take Webster and the whole Papakapolis family back to Drexel and please don’t think that you are newsworthly. You are a joke in Philadelphia. All the real power players and real people who have real meaning in this town know it. They either don’t even know who you are, talk behind your back, or they quickly shuffle away from you when you walk by. HugeE and Philly Mag, at least have a hot-ass chick like that Christina Honickman as the Philly “it” girl. At least, she’s hot to look at.

  • Amy

    I graduated Drexel with Maria. The way she was treated was insane. She had 5 majors, an entire floor of a dorm hall to herself and every teacher was scared to death of her. During graduation they stopped the whole ceremony just so she could walk on stage and get her diploma from her dad. No one liked her and she was very heavy. She is hardly an it girl….I agree there are better candidates out there.

  • Eileen Siways

    Philly Mag, you must really need readership and your desperation is showing. September’s issue featured ‘The Dead Girl in The Bathtub” and now in this issue you are trying to hype up pseudo Philly celebrities that are non-existent. Why don’t you act like a top tier magazine and start producing more substantive stories rather than this crap.

  • Chuck

    HughE Dillion a “Society Photographer”? Oh, Please.

  • kg

    I only read 3 lines of this article and it was a waste of my time. The fact that someone got paid to write this is shocking- or not. It’s phillymag, it’s not supposed to be good, and I have to remember that.

  • MB

    I think people are missing the point here, Simon included. Maria is just at the beginning of her career and has a lot going for her. Part of what people are missing is that today, the media is always changing. There is no one way to do things anymore. So what she is doing and has accomplished is much different than what what people are use to. A regular 9-5 job is not the norm now-a-days, especially in the line of work Maria is in. Simon missed some key points in Maria’s current life like where she works and what exactly it is that she does. You don’t need a 9-5 job to be successfull in today’s world. Her charity work is just one part of who she is and God bless her for taking advantage of her resources and using that to not only help her grow as a person, but to keep her family’s legacy in this city alive. Not everyone is fortunate to be able to have such resources in life but if anyone is so greatful and appreciative, it’s Maria. And shame on those who took a stab at what she looks like. She needs to shave her teeth? Unreal.

  • Charlie D

    I am a fan of Maria’s show, I think she’s a riot, and the
    writer touches upon how ridiculously down to earth she is. I met her at a
    Flyers game she was taping at; she stopped her shoot so me and all my friends
    could talk to her when we asked for a photo. She was the nicest, funniest girl
    I’ve ever met. Wasn’t expecting that.

    I googled her after reading this article and I found out she interviewed the
    Dalai Lama and Christopher Reeves?! I had no idea, because it’s not in the
    article. So I see why the writer says she does more funny segments like they do
    on the morning shows. But Katie Nolan is my girl for that sole reason. And she
    is a kid, and with a great personality; I’d rather watch her be fun and that’s
    not a bad thing to me. I do like the title of the article on the cover of
    the magazine, “who doesn’t love maria papadakis”. I guess some
    commenters on here don’t though lol. Me and my friends fell in love with her
    after talking to her. I see why some dude proposed to her on a first date.
    Maria, will you marry me? Charlie from Lehigh you met at the Flyers game. I
    follow you on twitter: Go orange and black!

  • Shannon Maria

    At 28, I think she’s doing well for herself in a city that is known for quickly turning on its own. If she had five majors, then it sounds like she’s got a lot of interests, many of which are combined into her current ventures. Thanks to the internet and social media, the world is no longer 9-5. My hat is off to Maria for making a living doing what she loves and promoting a city that obviously means a lot to her.

  • Dana

    As a patron of many charities Maria is involved in, and having helped run a few myself, I’d like to better highlight her involvement to to help this be a more enlightening piece. Maria started working with one of the organizations I am involved with over 4 years ago (a childrens nonprofit theatre group), and she started half of the city’s young friends organizations for non profits before they became “the norm”. I have seen support these organizations through website revision, accounting guidance, and fundraising. There were no cameras or publicity in most of what I saw Maria do, but she still helped from the ground up. . Although her now “famous” name can garner a powerful team to help in many ways, I saw first hand how she just wants to make a difference, like her dad whom I adored. If that means a charity who normally gets little publicity may get some now because of her fame, God bless her and them. She wields the fact that a city “loves” her (which is the cover page title) and follows her to help others. The article somewhat showed that, but not in the humble way I know Maria to be. For me, there was too much about a gala or celebrities (though I get that is what people like to read). It just would have been been nice to read more about the many organizations she’s helped so much, like FringeArts- which is why she emceed Feastival mentioned in the article. Maria has depth and heart – as well as a beautiful face and personality.

  • AL

    She’s fat with a skinny neck & jawline.

  • anon

    I believe the point of the majors was that she had 5 majors and a dorm room floor for free……

    • Cassie F

      Oh come on that was a ridiculous comment, obviously untrue…if Chelsea Clinton can’t get a whole dorm floor, no one can. Student rumors also said she had a helicopter and a jacuzzi. Really? You don’t think anyone would have noticed a black hawk picking up people at the dorms. LOL…And 5 majors, don’t you think the writer would have mentioned any of this. Seriously guys lol?
      You guys just turned this into exactly the point the writer is making, our city’s fascination with celebrity. Our own TMZ and gossip!