The most luxurious party on earth was held next to ancient ruins in the desert of Iran.
It is estimated that the celebrations at Persepolis cost around £ 300 million, making it undoubtedly one of the most expensive parties ever to be held.
When you think about the most luxurious party ever held, what locations come to mind? Hollywood? Monte Carlo? Rio de Janeiro? A private island in the Pacific? Well, it might come as a surprize to you that the most luxurious party on earth was actually held next to ancient ruins in the desert of Iran.
It was organized in 1971 by Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, the last king (or Shah) of Persia (known at the time as the Iranian Empire). He ruled from 1941 until he was overthrown during the Iranian Revolution of 1979. As the last ruler of Iran, he is commonly simply known as the Shah. He assumed many extravagant royal titles that almost sound divine, such as “King of Kings” and “Light of the Aryans.”
During his reign, he was dedicated to one goal: restoring the glory of the Persian empire, successfully effectuating the rapid industrialization and modernization of the country. He granted women the right to vote in elections (a right they would lose after the Revolution) and spent billions of pounds improving the country’s education system and healthcare. With his overthrow in 1979, the Iranian monarchy was formally abolished and the country was transformed into an Islamic Republic. The Shah would eventually die in exile in Egypt in 1980.
But by 1971, the Shah had been as unpopular among the Western youth of the time as the war in Vietnam, with student movements in the West protesting his rule. A visit to Germany just a few years earlier had sparked riots in Berlin. But that year, 1971, was the 2500th anniversary of the founding of the Persian empire, and the Shah was determined to mark it in style. He announced that from 12 to 14 October of 1971, he would host the biggest and most luxurious party on earth, in an attempt to show to the world the face of an advanced, free and modern Iran. The celebration was aimed at highlighting Iran’s pre-Islamic roots and promote its founder, Cyrus the Great, as a universal hero.
The party was to be held at the ruins of Persepolis, the first capital of the Persian empire. All in all, the preparations would take a whole year. The Shah hired French architects, interior decorators and couturiers to design 50 tent-like suites for the royal guests right next to the ruins and very close to the tomb of king Cyrus the Great. Each of the tent suites had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, an office and a lavishly furnished salon able to accommodate up to 12 people. A tapestry with a picture of the head of state who was staying there, hung on the wall of each tent.
He called his tent city “Golden City.” Next to the tent city the Shah had an airfield built, and also constructed a 1000-kilometre motorway from Tehran to Persepolis. Various trees were planted in the desert in an attempt to recreate how Persepolis would have looked back in its heyday.
As preparations for the party was gathering steam, newspaper headlines around the world described it as “Billion-dollar camping,” “the party of the century” and “the mother of all parties.”
For the party, the Shah flew in 50,000 songbirds from Europe. The catering service was provided by the Maxim’s restaurant in Paris, regarded as the world’s most famous restaurant at the time, and which had to close up shop for two weeks so all of its staff could dedicate themselves to serving at the Shah’s party. All the food, except for the Russian caviar, was flown in from France. The dinnerware was all made from Limoges porcelain. 250 red Mercedez-Benz 600 limousines were used to chauffeur guests from the airport and back. The Iranian military had to fly in 150 tons of kitchen equipment over 5000 kilometres all the way from Paris.
The festivities were broadcasted to the entire world by means of satellite television. It officially started with a speech by the Shah at the mausoleum of Cyrus the Great on the 12th of October, in which he paid homage to the first King of Persia. Because the Shah was such a controversial figure, people around the world was paying close attention to who was paying their respects to the Shah and how.
According to the protocol, the most prominent guest was the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie who, accompanied by his daughter and his dog, never left the Shah’s side. The US was represented by vice-president Spiro Agnew. Queen Elisabeth, having been advised not to attend for security reasons, had sent her husband, Prince Philip and her daughter, princess Anne in her stead. Other notable guests included the king and queen of Denmark, the king and queen of Belgium, the king and queen of Nepal as well as the king of Norway. Cardinal Maximillien de Fürstenberg represented the Vatican.
The dinner table in the main tent, reserved for the guests of honour, was almost 70 metres long. 125 women had spent six months embroidering the tablecloth. Everything was equipped to perfection, except for the coffee machine, which could only make two cups at a time. Thankfully, the co-organizer Felix Real had organized for 20 kg of Nescafé to be brought along from his native Lichtenstein, and they ended up mixing big kettles of it.
It is estimated that the celebrations at Persepolis cost around £ 300 million, making it undoubtedly one of the most expensive parties ever to be held. For the Shah, however, this celebration was more than just a means to show his wealth. It was an affirmation of his and Iran’s international status as one of the world’s leading nations. The pre-Islamic theme was itself a means of asserting his dominance over challenges posed to his authority by Iran’s Muslim hierarchy. Unfortunately, however, this strategy would come to haunt him less than a decade later, as the Islamic revolutionaries who eventually managed to overthrow him rhetorically employed this famous party against the Shah as an example of his excessiveness.
Paul Russell is co-founder of Luxury Academy London, a multi-national training company with offices in London, Mumbai and Visakhapatnam. Luxury Academy London specialise exclusively in the luxury industry and deliver training in leadership, communication and business etiquette training for companies and private clients across the globe.
Prior to founding Luxury Academy London, Paul worked in senior leadership roles within luxury hospitality. A dynamic trainer and seminar leader, Paul has designed and taught courses, workshops and seminars worldwide on a wide variety of soft skills.