Top Trumps: Party People
No self-respecting billionaire wants to be seen as mean when it comes to celebrating a birthday, but they need to dig deep, says Genevieve Roberts
It's not easy being super-rich. Spare a thought for the poor old plutocrat Sir Philip Green, who celebrates his 60th birthday this weekend. Like his fellow billionaires, he has had to negotiate the tricky business of separating real mates from fair-weather friends. Now he has to entertain them all, and in some style, because his rivals – who know how to throw a party – will be watching.
Champagne and haute cuisine are standard, exotic locations preferable. With most celebrations lasting at least a weekend, a one-day party looks like not trying. The hotel heiress Paris Hilton celebrated her 21st birthday across five time zones, while the Sultan of Brunei's 50th birthday clocked up 15 days of revels.
The entertainment is crucial. The bar stands at about a million dollars for a romp through the greatest hits by Rihanna, Beyoncé or anyone else too famous to need a surname. Then the host has to throw in an A-list actor or two and an internationally renowned flying circus troupe, because a Spotify playlist and bit of chat is not going to make the grade.
Rich kids are raising their expectations, too. The Israeli defence contractor David Brooks paid Aerosmith and 50 Cent more than £1m to perform at his daughter's 13th birthday party.
Last, but not least, there must be presents for everyone: the goodie bag arms race seems to escalate with each event, although the Sultan of Brunei has yet to be outdone with his gift of gold medals for 60,000 guests at his "golden birthday" in 1992.
As Sir Philip and friends enjoy a four-day thrash, The Independent on Sunday considers how his revels compete with some of the biggest and brashest of recent times.
Financier: Leon Black, 60th birthday last year
The founder of the US private equity firm Apollo invited 200 guests to his estate in the Hamptons for his 60th birthday last year, where he transformed his backyard into a "faux nightclub". Sir Elton John ended his £600,000 set with "Crocodile Rock", performing to guests including the businesswoman Martha Stewart, the television host Howard Stern and the New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, while seared foie gras, crab cakes and steak featured on the menu.
Sultan of Brunei: Hassanal Bolkiah 50th birthday in 1996
For the Sultan's self-proclaimed 'golden birthday' in 1996, rather than a party bag, the 60,000 guests – who included Prince Charles – were surprised with a gold medal as their going- away gift. Michael Jackson performed three concerts, at a cost close to £10m. The celebrations continued throughout Brunei for 15 days.
Model: Naomi Campbell, 40th birthday in 2010
The venue was the Hotel du Cap Eden Roc in Antibes, the transport Dolce & Gabbana's superyacht, the occasion Campbell's 40th. Guests included Eva Herzigova, Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony, Sarah Ferguson and Princess Beatrice, and Grace Jones. The cocktails on offer were the Campbelltini, made from vodka, cranberry, lime and Triple sec, and the Naomito, a rum, soda water, brown sugar and fresh mint concoction.
Hotel heiress: Paris Hilton, 21st birthday in 2002
When the heiress turned 21 in 2002, she didn't celebrate only once. Or twice. Instead, she had six parties, in New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, London – and two in Tokyo, flying round the world to celebrate in different time zones. The great-granddaughter of Conrad Hilton took care of the bill, which reportedly amounted to £45,000 per guest. Her high point: the 21 birthday cakes at her New York party at Studio 54.
Financier: Nat Rothschild, 40th birthday last year
Montenegro turned into Chelsea-on-Sea for Nat Rothschild's three-day 40th birthday bash last year, celebrated by 400 close friends, including Lord Mandelson, the tennis player Novak Djokovic, the Ukrainian supermodel Sasha Volkova and Tony Hayward, the former boss of BP. A 215ft infinity pool at Porto Montenegro's marina, decorated with giant disco pools, was the 'centrepiece'. Guests drank Tattinger and Bellinis, and danced until sunrise.
Ukrainian steel magnate: Victor Pinchuk, 50th birthday in 2010
The Ukrainian steel magnate treated 300 guests to a holiday in the French ski resort of Courchevel for his 2010 birthday bash. The slopes were not enough to mark his half century: Cirque du Soleil was flown in to perform, and the local schoolchildren had the surprise of watching the circus troupe rehearse its acrobatics. Alain Ducasse, who has 19 Michelin stars across his restaurants, cooked a gastronomic buffet.
Retailer: Sir Philip Green, 60th birthday this weekend
The Topshop boss is celebrating his 60th birthday as his daughter Chloe celebrates her 21st. Like any other family, they are marking their milestones with a party to remember. Only in their case their 150 guests, including Kate Moss, Simon Cowell, Gwyneth Paltrow and Katherine Jenkins, were jetted off to a mystery location – which turned out to be Mexico – to stay in a five-star hotel of private villas and pools. With separate performances from Rihanna, Bruno Mars and Stevie Wonder, reportedly costing a total of £3.1m, rooms at £1,500 each, flowing Pol Roger champagne and feasts of sushi and Thai food, there was no scrimping. As for surprises, a firework display ending with a pyrotechnic portrait of Green, at £150,000, took the place of a slice of cake in a party bag.
President of Chechnya: Ramzan Kadyrov, 35th birthday last year
With acrobats, fireworks, a laser display, a performance by the violinist Vanessa Mae costing £320,000, and appearances from Hilary Swank and Jean-Claude Van Damme, who ended his speech by yelling: "I love you, Mr Kadyrov", it was a celebration to remember. Coinciding with Kadyrov's birthday last year, he insisted it was a celebration of the Chechen capital, Grozny, and threatened to fire any official who gave him a birthday present. But the party left a bitter aftertaste as human rights groups accused the Chechen warlord of torturing and murdering opponents.
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