The real world rarely intrudes on the artificial playground of Dubai. And last night, the global financial collapse seemed far behind as one of the most outlandish architectural extravagances of recent times opened with a £15m celebration (See Images) in the company of A-list stars and a feast of 4,000 lobsters.
For the 2,000 guests, it was a heady cocktail of sunshine and as much champagne and oysters as they could wish for. Kylie Minogue was given her very own fiscal stimulus, a £2m cheque to perform at the party thrown by South African tycoon Sol Kerzner, 73, to launch the Atlantis Palm Jumeirah hotel.
Four Michelin-starred chefs masterminded the food, helped by 500 sous chefs and 1,000 waiters. To accompany Minogue’s performance, Kerzner laid on a £3m firework show, said to be seven times grander than that which marked the opening of the Beijing Olympics. Among the guests were Robert de Niro, Janet Jackson, Wesley Snipes, Michael Jordan, Charlize Theron, Mischa Barton, and Agyness Deyn. Sir Philip Green, Dame Shirley Bassey, Yasmin Le Bon, Jade Jagger, Lily Allen and Lindsay Lohan also joined the celebrations.
The 1,539-room luxury hotel is built on a palm-shaped artificial island. Kerzner has joined with Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem, executive chairman of Dubai developers Nakheel, to promote the resort whose launch, along with its party, could not have come at a worse time for its backers. Oil, once a wellspring of the emirate’s extraordinary wealth plummeted below $50 a barrel yesterday, the stockmarket has crashed, and the property sector has begun to falter.
“You have to remember this party was planned a year ago,” said Graham Frazer, a travel agent from London, who was among the first British guests.
Kerzner, who has hotels around the world, said: “We’ve built something that’s quite extraordinary, and we’ve got to tell the world about it.”
The singer Lily Allen had Atlantis staff shuffling nervously as she described the £1bn hotel as being “just like a posh Centre Parcs”.
The Atlantis has an aquarium big enough for 65,000 fish and a whale shark. A tank affords guests the chance to swim with a dolphin. Two suites, occupied last night by Theron and Lohan, stretch over three floors, with views directly into the aquarium. Prices start at £300 a room. Staff said since the hotel began business on September 24, it had enjoyed 80% capacity.
Oprah Winfrey bowed out of the party to coordinate efforts to rescue her estate from a California wildfire. Kerzner said: “It’s a major disappointment as she’s a great friend, but she called to say she couldn’t make it.”
The firework show’s producer, Colin Cowie, said: “Had we been aware of the economic situation a year ago, I don’t think we’d have done this on such a scale. But it was all designed a year ago and we wanted to dream – and then live that dream.”