The rich and famous love throwing lavish parties in their luxurious homes. They are often documented in magazines, news websites, and social media sites. Some of these parties cost millions to produce, with some costing more than a million just on the food bill alone!
These crazy expensive parties are thrown for a variety of reasons, from record label launch celebrations to charity events. There have been some extravagant bashes thrown to mark special occasions like the New Year or a 21st birthday.
There’s nothing that symbolizes the excesses of the past century quite like the lavish parties hosted by famous, wealthy people during the 1900s. The Great Gatsby-style glamor and excess of these events was practically their defining characteristic, so much so that they’ve been seared into our collective consciousness as symbols of a time when even rich people threw away money with wild abandon.
These parties were so famous and well-documented because they were among the most expensive ever thrown—anecdotes about extravagance have always been memorable precisely because they are so unusual. We take our humble pie very seriously in this post-recession world, but it’s worth remembering that once upon a time, throwing absurd amounts of cash away on a single night of fun was perfectly normal.
From Saudi princes to British aristocrats, here are a few examples of some of the most expensive parties ever thrown.
Wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana: the most expensive party of all time
As the title of the most expensive party of all time goes, we can’t miss the talk about the wedding of the century. Yes, the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana in 1981 is estimated to have cost over 10 million pounds (or about $18 million in today’s adjusted dollars).
While Charles’s bachelor party was estimated at 100,000 pounds, the wedding itself was so expensive that it required the British Parliament to pass a bill that allowed the Royal Family to borrow funds from the government.
This was a controversial move that raised questions about the monarchy’s continuing viability in the modern age. The wedding was estimated to have been watched by 750 million people around the world—which is more than the Super Bowl gets today.
Welcome parties for the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall
The Duke and Duchess of Cornwall are the Queen’s eldest son and heir, and her heir-apparent, respectively. As such, they are extremely wealthy and attend many parties for their official duties. However, these visits are often celebrated with vast amounts of money being spent on the party itself.
For example, the couple’s visit to the United States in 2003 saw a welcome party thrown for them by the Mayor of New York City, which cost around $10 million. This figure is particularly staggering when you consider that the median household income in New York at the time was around $45,000 per year. That party was one of many examples of public funds being used to throw extravagant parties for the extremely wealthy, which caused some controversy at the time.
Roman Abramovich’s birthday party
One of the most famous examples of an absurdly expensive and absurdly unnecessary party is the 50-course dinner hosted by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich. The party was a celebration for his 40th birthday and saw the billionaire host 200 guests in his home in the Caribbean.
The meal consisted of 50 courses and over 24 different types of edible mushrooms, each of which had been flown in at great expense from around the world. The meal also featured a rare white truffle that had been imported from Italy at a cost of over $10,000.
The guests were flown in on Abramovich’s private jet, and the party was thrown with such ostentatiousness that it became the subject of a documentary, called “Being Roman Abramovich.” The documentary estimated that the party cost around $50 million, making it one of the most expensive parties in history.
Richard Branson’s 60th birthday party
The most expensive party ever thrown in Britain was the 60th birthday party thrown by the founder of Virgin Group, Richard Branson. While Branson is known for his flamboyance and creativity, he outdid himself for his own party. To start with, the venue was the Great Hall of his Great House, a famous mansion on his private island in the Caribbean.
The guests arrived by hot air balloon and were treated to a theatrical performance and live music. The party was so famous that it has a Wikipedia page, and has even been featured in the British edition of the Guinness Book of World Records as the most expensive party ever thrown.
Nelson Mandela’s 86th Birthday Party
The most expensive party ever thrown in South Africa was the celebration of the 86th birthday of Nelson Mandela. Mandela had recently been released after 27 years in prison, and the event was billed as a celebration of his life and achievements.
It is estimated that the party cost $5 million; however, this figure may have been a conservative estimate. The party featured performances by the likes of Stevie Wonder, k.d. lang, and Harry Belafonte, as well as a speech by Bill Clinton. A portion of the proceeds from the event was donated to charity.
The most expensive party in this list of the most expensive parties ever thrown is also one of the earliest, from the time of the Roman Empire. When a high-ranking official in the imperial army was sent to a new province, the Emperor would throw an Orgy to celebrate his promotion. This was more than just a night of hedonism, though—it was a complex ritual that was both social and religious.
There were several distinct parts to the Orgy. First, there was the “Greeting Orgy,” when the Emperor bestowed gifts on the newly promoted official, who then would give gifts to the Emperor in return. Then there was the “Washing Orgy,” where the new office would be ceremonially bathed in scented water. Next was the “Fruit Orgy,” where the guests feasted on fruit and cheese, followed by the “Wine Orgy,” where they drank wine.
Lastly, the “Sexual Orgy” occurred as the evening ended, with the guests departing having earned their new titles as “Priest,” “Senator,” or “General.” This ritual of excess and gift-giving was so important to the Romans that many of the Empire’s military conquests were timed according to the Emperor’s next Orgy.
Persian Dinner for 12,000
The most expensive party in this list of the most expensive parties ever thrown is also one of the earliest, from the time of the Persian Empire. While the Romans threw lavish Orgies, the Persians were all about throwing vast banquets. The most famous of these was the Dinner for 12,000 soldiers, which was thrown by King Xerxes I in 480 BCE as a reward for the Persian army’s defeat of the Greeks at the Battle of Thermopylae.
Some sources say that the dinner was for 10,000 guests, but no matter—it was still a legendary event that required a whole year to plan. The dinner was held in the royal capital of Persepolis, and every guest was given a full gold drinking goblet, a necklace, and a pair of gold shoes. After dinner, the soldiers were given more gold and a horse so they could return home. When Xerxes died, a portion of the dinner’s immense cost was added to his tomb.
The Millionaire’s Christmas Party
The most expensive party in this list of the most expensive parties ever thrown is also one of the earliest, from the time of the American Gilded Age. The year was 1889, and industrialist John Jacob Astor IV was in charge of planning the annual Christmas dinner for New York society’s upper crust.
Astor had made his fortune in real estate and was one of the country’s richest men, so he decided to host the dinner at his own Waldorf Hotel. As with the dinner at King Xerxes’s palace, guests were given lavish gifts—only instead of gold, the gifts were custom-made fur coats. And instead of a year to plan, Astor hosted the dinner in only two weeks.
The dinner became famous in part because of the guests—the list of attendees was a who’s who of the upper crust, including scientist Thomas Edison, poet Mark Twain, and financier J.P. Morgan. But perhaps the most famous part of the dinner was the menu: the 12,000 guests drank 1,000 bottles of champagne, ate 150 ducks, and devoured 500 pounds of lobsters.
The Diners Club’s $3 Million Party
The most expensive party in this list of the most expensive parties ever thrown is also one of the earliest, from the time of the American Gilded Age. In the 1950s, restaurateur and club owner Sherman Billingsley threw the most expensive party of the decade.
It was a celebration for the members of Billingsley’s prestigious and very expensive New York City restaurant, the 21 Club. With the celebratory focus on the elite Diners Club credit card (which was also celebrating its 10th birthday), the party’s theme was “the society of the future as envisioned by the society of the present.”
The party cost Billingsley $3 million, which was the equivalent of $25 million today. The party was held in the 21 Club itself, and it included a Viking ship, a giant clam, a tree that was 3,000 years old (and had been discovered in King Tut’s tomb), and a table full of famous guests, including Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, and Humphrey Bogart.
El Dorado Hotel’s $3.5 Million Party
The most expensive party in this list of the most expensive parties ever thrown is also one of the earliest, from the time of the American Gilded Age. The party was thrown by oil magnate and philanthropist Edward Doheny. The year was 1909, and Doheny was celebrating the opening of his new hotel in Los Angeles—the El Dorado. The party was such a big deal that it was covered in The New York Times, which described it as “the most brilliant social event that has occurred in Los Angeles in many years.”
The party’s cost was estimated at $3.5 million, which would be $76 million today. The party included a banquet for 900 guests, followed by a performance by a chorus of 500 singers and dancers. There were also several orchestras playing different kinds of music, as well as fireworks and a fireworks barge in the hotel’s lake.
Prince Saud’s 60th Birthday Party
The most expensive party in this list of the most expensive parties ever thrown is also one of the earliest, from the time of the American Gilded Age. The year was 1951, and Saudi Arabian ruler King ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz had recently celebrated his 60th birthday. In honor of his birthday, he invited the world’s richest people to a party in Cairo. The party was such an extravagant affair that it was nicknamed “the Arabian Nights” party.
The guests included many of the richest people in the world, including Howard Hughes, Wallis Simpson, and Aristotle Onassis. The guests were given golden camel saddles, golden thrones, and jewel-encrusted swords. The highlight of the party was a private performance of “Ben-Hur.” The party cost $5 million, which would be $52 million today.
Lady Astor’s Diamond Jubilee Celebration
The most expensive party in this list of the most expensive parties ever thrown is also one of the earliest, from the time of the American Gilded Age. The year was 1922, and the party was thrown by American socialite and philanthropist Mary “Molly” Curzon, Viscountess Astor.
Astor was married to William Waldorf Astor, 4th Viscount Astor, and the two were among the richest and most high-society people in the world. The party was a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Lady Astor becoming a member of the “Four Hundred”—an elite society of the richest and most high-society people in New York City. The party was the most expensive of the decade, costing $10 million, which would be $104 million today. The diamond jubilee celebration was planned for two years, and it ended up being the most lavish party (and costliest) ever thrown by a woman.
The parties we’ve discussed in this post combine for a total that would make even the most decadent emperor blush with envy. While it’s tempting to lament the wastefulness of these events, it’s important to keep in mind that these parties were the exception, not the rule.
It was only very wealthy people could afford to throw parties that cost more than the average person makes in a lifetime. So while these parties are symbols of extravagance, it’s important to remember that the people who threw them weren’t normal—they were extraordinary.
If you’re throwing a party, it’s probably because you want to hang out with your friends in a fun environment and have an awesome time. However, if you’re like most people, that doesn’t involve coming home with a massive bill at the end of it all.
But for some people, parties are more of an opportunity to show off their wealth than anything else. These are people who see a party as the perfect opportunity to display their wealth and impress guests with just how much money they have.
If you’ve ever dreamed of throwing the most extravagant party in history and have buckets of cash to blow doing so, these are the inspirations you need.