Rag trade tycoon flies 450 guests to charity party in St Petersburg

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Mr Caring, 55, a clothing supply multimillionaire and one of the richest men in the country, is staging the extravagant three-day event in aid of the NSPCC. Among the celebrities and businessmen attending, and paying £5,000 each for the privilege, are Philip Green, the billionaire owner of Top Shop and Bhs, Allan Leighton, head of Royal Mail, and Sir Tom Hunter, the entrepreneur.

Many of the guests flew to the city on privately chartered jets yesterday afternoon for an evening reception at the Yusupov Palace. The main event is a banquet and ball this evening at the historic Catherine Palace, where Sir Elton John is to provide the entertainment.

Mr Caring, whose clothing company supplies many of Mr Green's outlets, as well as shops including Marks & Spencer and Next, is said to have arranged individually fitted Russian period costumes for all the guests, ready for their arrival. It is not known whether they were prepared in the Far East, where most of his products are made. Invitations are said to have been hidden inside a series of Russian dolls.

The NSPCC said they had no involvement with the organisation of the event, but were aware it was taking place. Nick Booth, director of its Full Stop campaign, said: "Money raised from this event will go towards our work fighting child sexual abuse. This is a horrific crime which has a devastating impact on the lives of those who suffer it.

"We are delighted that new funds will be made available for our work in this area, enabling us to make a real difference to abused children. Everyone at the NSPCC is deeply grateful to Richard Caring for his amazing support."

A spokesman for Sir Elton John firmly rejected suggestions that he was being paid £1m for the appearance. "This is a charity event, for which Sir Elton had a private contractual arrangement which enables him to give his services to charity. He gives an enormous amount to charities."

Viewed by many as more important than even his friend and associate Mr Green in controlling the high street, Mr Caring is famously low-profile. His emergence into the public eye came earlier this year when he bought Caprice Holdings, the company behind the group of London restaurants which includes The Ivy, Le Caprice, Daphne's and J Sheekey, all noted for their celebrity customers. He has since bought the Strada chain of upmarket pizzerias.

Despite his business and social activities - and the fact that he lives in one of north London's grandest private homes in Hampstead - Mr Caring is determined to remain out of sight. His company, International Clothing Designs, last night said that nobody was available for comment on the weekend's events.

However, it may be that between him and Mr Green, there is a little one-upmanship going on in relation to their parties. A few years ago, Mr Green flew a measly 200 of his friends to Cyprus for his 50th birthday party, with a Roman toga theme. And they had to make do with Rod Stewart to provide the entertainment.