Billionaires — they’re not just like us. No, something happens when you reach a certain level of wealth. The planes become private. The apartments become penthouses. And the parties, well, they get real epic real fast. When you have enough money to buy whatever you want and pay your way out of anything, it’s amazing what kind of trouble you can get into. From opulent orgies to secret cabals running the world, billionaire parties tend to be more Eyes Wide Shut than “I’m in charge of the iPod.” There’s just one rule when it comes to partying with a billionaire: Don’t talk about partying with a billionaire. Along with the $8,000 bottles of wine and 800-foot yachts, these folks pay top dollar for their privacy. Thankfully, a few details leak out from time to time, so let’s see what we can uncover about the party lives of the uber-wealthy.
BILLIONAIRE’S BIRTHDAY BASHES ARE BONKERS
You won’t find a lot of Carvel ice cream cake at a billionaire’s birthday party. Heck, Jay-Z and Beyonce dropped $200,000 on their daughter Blue Ivy’s first birthday party, which is about $199,990 more than most people spend. Ronald Perelman likes to celebrate his on a 188-foot yacht in the warm waters of St. Barts, often flying in famous folks like Barry Manilow to sing him happy birthday. Retail tycoon Philip Green once surprised 100 of his friends with a last-minute trip to the Maldives for his 55th. And that’s nothing compared to Jho Low, the Malaysian billionaire who turned his 31st birthday into the biggest bash Las Vegas had ever seen, even though no one was quite sure who he was. An arms dealer? A political power player? In the end, it didn’t matter. He was rich.
The unassuming businessman built what looked like an aircraft hangar on a vacant plot of land and then filled it up with some of the world’s biggest stars. Leonardo DiCaprio, Kanye West, and Kim Kardashian were there, along with a Ferris wheel, carousel, circus trampoline, and cigar lounge. Jamie Foxx hosted, with performances from Britney Spears, Q-Tip, and Chris Brown. To end the night, a giant fireworks show exploded over the Nevada desert. Robin Leach, the renowned connoisseur of the rich and famous, recalled of the evening, “We’re used to extravagant parties in Las Vegas, but this was the ultimate party. I’ve never been to one like it.”
ONE BILLIONAIRE’S SECRET SHAG LAIR
For most of us, our secret shag lair involves using incognito mode, but billionaires have enough money to turn their whole life into incognito mode when the mood strikes. Take Henry Nicholas, the founder of the tech company Broadcom, who turned a warehouse in Laguna Niguel, California into a neverending adult romp. The personal pleasure pad was reportedly stocked to the brim with cocaine, meth, and ecstasy, along with cutting-edge technology, making it the ultimate spot to hang with his friends and a neverending rotation of ladies of the night.
And when that wasn’t good enough, he allegedly hired a construction team to covertly connect the place to his home through underground passageways. This shouldn’t come as a shock to the folks who know anything about Nicholas, who used to secretly spike his colleagues’ drinks with ecstasy and who once smoked so much marijuana on his private plane that the pilot was forced to “put on an oxygen mask.” Unfortunately, at least for Nicholas, it all came tumbling down when he was arrested for his Caligula-like lifestyle, along with a laundry list of securities frauds. He was acquitted of all charges, but it’s not a great look.
THE ROTHSCHILDS’ EXCLUSIVE ILLUMINATI BALL
You wouldn’t think an event designed as the party of the year would have something to hide, but if you listen to certain conspiracy theorists, Marie-Hélène de Rothschild’s “Surrealist Ball” was not all that it seemed. The shindig was held at Château de Ferrières on December 12, 1972, complete with a who’s who of the rich and famous, including Audrey Hepburn, Salvador Dali, and supermodel Marisa Berenson, star of Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that this party has been listed as one of the inspirations for Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut.
From the invitations being written backward to the occult iconography — like a mock human sacrifice used as a table centerpiece — this party was either winking at Illuminati iconography or in the full thrall of it. Guests were welcomed to the party by being forced to puzzle through a maze. The host, Marie-Hélène, dressed in a full stag’s head with golden horns. Many of the other guest wore elaborate masks and headdresses, like Hepburn, who had a full bird’s cage atop her head. The estate itself was lit up in orange to mimic hellfire. You know, as parties tend to do. Who knows what was happening behind closed doors that night, but if the pictures are to be believed, it was one heck of a party.
THE SECRET SIDE OF CANNES
The Cannes Film Festival is a lot of things, from a glamorous party to an over-the-top trade convention. Hollywood heavyweights cut deals between parties and schmooze with their favorite movie stars. But for the working girls who fly in, it’s the “biggest payday of the year.” According to Lebanese businessman Elie Nahas, who was busted for running a prostitution ring at the festival in 2007, the only thing you’ll see more of than the movies is the sex. According to him, thousands of women flocks to the fest every year, from high-end call girls charging $4,000 a trick to streetwalkers plying their trade for 50 bucks. But find the right john, and you can hit it big. Some of the women have been known to make $40,000 a night.
As Nahas described it to the Hollywood Reporter, “Every year during the festival there are 30 or 40 luxury yachts in the bay at Cannes, and every boat belongs to a very rich person. Every boat has about 10 girls on it; they are usually models. … It’s drugs and drink and beautiful women. Go out on one and you’ll see. The girls are all waiting for their envelopes at the end of the night. It’s been going on there for 60 years.”
BILDERBERG PLOTS A NEW WORLD ORDER … MAYBE?
Are members of the Bilderberg Group, an annual gathering of the richest and most powerful men in the world, really the puppet masters of our planet? Are these titans of industry and business really the rumored lizard people, secretly pulling the strings of the human race? Is Alex Jones, the noted conspiracy theorist and crazy person, right when he says, “We know you are ruthless. We know you are evil. We respect your dark power.” Well, according to English politician and Bilderberg member Denis Healey, um, maybe? “To say we were striving for a one-world government is exaggerated, but not wholly unfair,” he told the author Jon Ronson for his book Them, leaving the rest of the world wondering what exactly goes on behind the closed doors of this extremely exclusive club for the crazy rich.
The party itself was founded in 1954 by a group of North American and European power players, as, according to the Independent, an “endorsement of Western free market capitalism over the years.” Former attendees include Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, Princes Charles and Philip, Bill Clinton, and Bill Gates, who may or may not be lizard people.
A WALL STREET BACCHANAL
“Good evening, Exalted High Council, former Grand Swipes, Grand Swipes-in-waiting, fellow Wall Street Kappas…and worthless neophytes!” And so began the 2012 Kappa Beta Phi dinner, a secret gathering of Wall Street royalty. Designed as an ultra-exclusive financial community fraternity at the dawn of the Great Depression, it serves as a “sort of one-percenters Friars Club,” according to New York Magazine. The party is a chance for some of the richest men in the world to shut the doors and let loose. It may be the only place you can see literal billionaires perform sexist and homophobic skits, dress up as dirty liberals, and sing lame song parodies about how rich they are.
As Kevin Roose, author of Young Money, put it, “Here were executives who had strong ideas about politics, society, and the work of their colleagues, but who would never have the courage to voice those opinions in a public setting. Their cowardice had reduced them to sniping at their perceived enemies in the form of satirical songs and sketches, among only those people who had been handpicked to share their view of the world.” When said author was discovered having snuck into the 2012 festivities, none other than Wilbur Ross, the exceedingly elderly Secretary of Commerce at the time of writing, acted as a one-man bouncer and dragged him out. This black tie dinner isn’t for prying eyes, considering these are the men who wrecked the global economy in 2008 essentially having a laugh about it.
BURNING MAN FOR THE RICH
Burning Man may be full of trust fund kids and millionaires, but it’s always gone out of its way to shun showy signs of its own wealth. Not so for Further Future, the offshoot festival designed for and by the uber-wealthy. If you’ve always wanted to be a Burner but also have access to top notch lavender lattes, this is the spot for you.
It’s website lists “unabashed luxury” as one of its primary goals, and its guests won’t be disappointed. Beyond the VIP fencing sit Airstreams and “Lunar Palaces” going for thousands of dollars a night, often fully staffed with personal valets and private chefs. If that’s not good enough, Nobu offers $250-a-seat dinners, or you can just take part in something called a “smudging aura cleansing.” Saline and vitamin transfusion are available, and there’s a beer and foie gras torchon tasting, because of course there is. Dressed in the “steampunk futurism” style that’s the official aesthetic of the festival, entrepreneurs and tech billionaires mingle, cutting deals between wellness panels. “It’s the Burning Man 1 percent,” said Charles, a documentary filmmaker who made the trek. So let the Burners eat cake; this is where the powerful come to play.
SAUDI ROYALTY BREAK ISLAMIC LAWS IN PRIVATE
As the great Mel Brooks once said, it’s good to be the king. In Saudi Arabia, it’s good to be one of the kingdom’s 10,000 princes, flush with cash and a lack of concern for their family’s oppressive rules. Why else would a deeply religious theocracy and a feared religious police force look the other way as its royal class hosts decadent parties, breaking every law in the books?
Take Prince Faisal, a second-tier “Cadet” prince, as far from the throne as you can get, who still enjoys all the perks and privileges of princehood. His epic 2009 Halloween party, one we only learned about thanks to a leaked diplomatic cable, is still the talk of the town. “Alcohol, though strictly prohibited by Saudi law and custom, was plentiful at the party’s well-stocked bar, well-patronized by Halloween revelers. … It was also learned through word-of-mouth that a number of the guests were in fact ‘working girls,’ not uncommon for such parties.” The U.S. partygoers also reported, “though not witnessed directly at this event, cocaine and hashish use is common in these social circles.” A guest list determined who made it inside the exclusive affair, but once there “the scene resembled a nightclub anywhere outside the kingdom: plentiful alcohol, young couples dancing, a DJ at the turntables and everyone in costume.” Good thing Saudi Arabia just lifted its ban on female drivers, so next time he can invite even more single ladies.
THE BOHEMIAN GROVE SECRET SOCIETY SOIREE
According to a spokesperson for Bohemian Grove, the mysterious annual retreat of political power players, the club is nothing more than a chance to “share a passion for the outdoors, music, and theater.” Then again, this is where the early planning for the Manhattan Project took place, so it might not be all fresh air and camp songs. Bill Clinton once described it as “where all those rich Republicans go up and stand naked against redwood trees,” but no outsiders really know for certain.
In 2000, an intrepid reporter named Alex Jones (yes, the crazy one) did manage to sneak a video camera inside and record some sort of bizarre pagan rituals. It involved the organization’s members dressing up in ornate costumes, burning a coffin in effigy before a 40-foot owl statue. You know, typical camp stuff. Spy magazine reporter Philip Weiss also managed to sneak in back in 1989, reporting on the handful of rules he encountered. Basically, don’t do business, don’t pee on the trees, and always be drunk. Only the last rule was strictly enforced. Inside the campgrounds, he found powerful men making powerful decisions over copious amounts of alcohol. Reagan reportedly agreed not to primary Richard Nixon as the two mingled back in the summer of 1968.
THE WOMEN WERE THE SHOW AT PRIVATE LONDON EVENT
“Welcome to the most un-PC event of the year.” So opined Jonny Gould, the host of the 2018 President Club Charity Dinner, in what may actually be an understatement. Supposedly a fundraiser for a variety of English charities, the real purpose of this men’s-only gathering seems to be a bit more nefarious. British power players from the worlds of finance, politics, and business gather every year to throw their money around, imbibe, and leer at the scantily clad hostesses. In fact, that seems to be the main purpose of the party.
Hostesses are hired based on their looks and then ordered to wear black underwear to better match the skimpy outfits they’re given upon arrival. Once their phones are confiscated they’re given drinks to loosen them up and then paraded out for the men to gawk at — or grope, as many of the women reported to the Financial Times. Hands are slipped up skirts. Bottoms pinched. Drunken men dive in for kisses, and ask women if they’re actually prostitutes. The bathrooms are even monitored and the women are timed to make sure they don’t just go and hide. Keep in mind, this is a charity event, with prizes including lunch with former London Mayor Boris Johnson. The proceeds, some £20 million over three decades, go to places like a prominent children’s hospital. Or it was a charity event — in the wake of the Times report, future iterations have been canceled.
SEAN PARKER’S LORD OF THE RINGS WEDDING WRECKED THE REDWOODS
When you’re a billionaire, you don’t take no for an answer, especially not when it comes to your wedding. That’s how Sean Parker, the famous creator of Napster, found himself in the middle of the redwood forest back in 2013, celebrating the most lavish, over-the-top wedding this country’s ever seen. No expense was spared. Over months, crews built “an artificial pond, a bridge, rock staircases, the faux ruins of a stone castle, and a 20-foot-tall wrought iron gate forged with the couple’s initials.” The costume designer for the Lord of the Rings movies created Tolkien-themed outfits for all 364 guests, including Sean Lennon, Emma Watson, and current California Governor Gavin Newsom. Bunnies were handed out to cuddle with. Animal furs draped on chairs and full beds. Pigs were roasted on a spit, and Sting sang in front of a 9-foot-tall wedding cake. It was said to cost between $5 million and $10 million.
But then the bad press set in, and the legal issues started. One website called it an “eco-wrecking wedding,” and Parker was forced to write a mea culpa. The wedding was hosted at a campground/spa/inn, and the resort’s owners had failed to apply for the appropriate permits. But billionaires don’t get in real trouble, not for long at least. Parker paid a fine and agreed to design an app for California as restitution. Must be nice to be able to buy your way out of trouble.