Spotlights danced on the walls of the US$1.5 billion Atlantis hotel; triumphant music blared as the sky was bathed in fireworks. For a few glorious minutes it felt like the night Dubai’s grandiose vision had become reality.
Back on the ground, 2,000 guests, including the biggest collection of celebrities outside an Oscar party were assembled. Charlize Theron floated through the crowd in a flowing white dress; Lily Allen wore US$7.5million of Chopard jewels and hung out with Jade Jagger on a table next to a grumpy Robert De Niro; Mary-Kate Olsen, Mischa Barton and Michael Jordan chatted with Janet Jackson and Shah Rukh Khan; Sam Ronson and Lindsey Lohan argued a lot. In fact, the only stars missing from the guestlist were Oprah Winfrey, whose house was endangered by California forest fires, and Ben Affleck, who went to visit sick children in the Congo instead. Because, you know, he keeps it real.
The sheer numbers of film stars, sports heroes, musicians, models and billionaire businessmen in close proximity led to the most unlikely of pairings; Time Out’s personal highlight had to be Rhys Ifans and Richard Branson dancing like uncles at a wedding during Kylie’s set, much to the bemusement of supermodel Agyness Deyn and singer Natalie Imbruglia.
But then, so much money had been thrown at it that it was hard not to have a good time. Even the speeches were almost fun. When Nakheel boss Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem proudly announced that ‘five years ago where we are standing now was water’ it was hard not to be impressed. Sol Kerzner urged everyone to ‘have a great time’. Given that he had just blown millions on one night in the same week that he was laying off staff in his hotels around the world, he was probably desperate for it to go well.
Happily for him, the party organisers had wisely stuck to Atlantis’s brand strength of to-hell-with-it brashness – and it worked brilliantly. Roman centurions paraded through the throngs of dignitaries, Lebanese singer Nawal El Zoghby performed after dinner, and Quincy Jones introduced Kylie to the stage. She bounced on in a Jean-Paul Gaultier outfit, declaring she was ‘very happy to see you, Dubai’. Which, given her reported US$2 million appearance fee, was just as well. Then came those fireworks. Bollywood superstar Priyanka Chopra, dressed up as the Goddess of Atlantis, announced ‘the beginning of a new era in Atlantis history’ and an extraordinary sequence of lights, explosions and colours arced across the night sky.
Except it was hard to tell what sort of an era will follow. You could almost, but not quite, forget the elephant in the room: global economic turmoil. Was this Gatsby-esque shebang testament to Dubai’s ability to weather any storm? Or one last act of defiance before global realities kick in? One thing’s for sure – it was a hell of a party.