|Topshop billionaire's £20m 'garden
Topless dancers, a 35ft
granite Buddha, 30 bottles of vintage bubbly for each
guest, and cabaret courtesy of George Michael on a
private island ringed by armed guards. Just another
common or garden birthday bash for Topshop's Philip
The two great deities sat
facing one another, each a colossus, gazing serenely
down at the mortals in their midst. At one end was a
solid granite statue of the Buddha, 35ft-tall, smiling
benignly over the party guests as they drank vintage Pol
Roger champagne and helped themselves to lobster
At the other end was Sir Philip
Green, resplendent in a crisp white linen Thai tunic
trimmed with silver brocade. If the Buddha was serene
and mysterious, Sir Philip was rather more ebullient.
The billionaire tycoon was in
fine fettle hosting his most jaw-droppingly showy party
yet - a five-day extravaganza on a tropical island which
he has taken over in the Maldives for himself and 100
friends to celebrate his 55th birthday. It is impossible
to say just how much it has cost, but £20 million
cannot be an outlandish estimate.
Some 500 cases of vintage
champagne - that's 3,000 bottles, 30 per guest - caviar,
lobster; dancers flown in from around the world;
fireworks shooting upwards to form the shape of palm
trees before melting into the night sky; supercharged
searchlights which seemed to touch the stars.
The star turn is George
Michael, who is believed to have received £750,000 to
go on stage. And, if the rumours are to be believed, the
American singer and actress, Jennifer Lopez.
The birthday boy surpassed
himself this time, and it wasn't even a major milestone.
But while the guests guzzled
champagne and danced the night away in paradise without
a care in the world, the Maldivian islanders were not
quite so taken with the spectacle.
The construction of the Buddha,
in particular, has troubled the locals, who are devout
"The islanders are
obviously used to tourists, and Christianity as well,
but they are not used to such overt signs of Buddhism
and this has unsettled them," said one local source.
"The blocks of granite
were shipped over from somewhere and the locals had to
construct the Buddha with their own hands, which they
were not at all happy about, but they didn't want to
It does make you wonder: if you
want to have a Thai-themed evening with Thai attire, pad
Thai noodles and a giant Buddha on display, why not have
the party in Thailand? But that would probably be
cheaper than this lavish playground of the rich, and you
certainly can't accuse Sir Philip of hanging on to his
As well as the controversy over
the Buddha, there has also been consternation among the
locals at the more decadent displays over the past few
days, in particular a troupe of topless dancers.
For while going topless isn't
banned in the Maldives, it is frowned upon by the Muslim
community and all tourist literature asks holidaymakers
to refrain from removing their tops.
A source said: "The staff
were told before the party that they might see things
that might shock them but they must not take offence.
"The women who drive the
buggies around the island were told that if they came
across any of these topless women, they must avert their
eyes to protect their modesty, turn the buggy around and
go in the opposite direction."
There are dark mutterings among
the deeply suspicious Maldivians all over Baa Atoll (there
are 19 atolls stretching across 800km) that Sir Philip's
birthday party has brought a curse to the region north
of the capital, Male, where the Soneva Fushi Resort
stands on the island of Kunfunadhoo.
But Sir Philip, who owns the
Arcadia fashion group comprising Topshop, Bhs and Miss
Selfridge among others, and employs 38,000 staff, is
oblivious to such talk. Having received a £1.2 billion
dividend in 2005 - adding to the £4.85billion fortune
he was estimated to have before the windfall - he wanted
to make sure this party was even more monumental than
On that occasion he flew out
200 friends to an exclusive resort in Cyprus for a £5
million toga party. Green was dressed as the Roman
Emperor Nero in an embroidered toga and gold laurel
leaves. Rod Stewart - £1 million for a 45-minute set -
and Tom Jones provided the entertainment.
As a surprise, his wife Tina,
57, hired Michael Aspel who appeared with his red This
Is Your Life book to look back at the entrepreneur's
life. Her present to him was a solid gold Monopoly board,
made by Asprey's to represent all his real High Street
There was even a follow
up-party in Monaco to watch the video of the Cyprus
There have been other flash
dos, such as the barmitzvah he threw for his son Brandon
on his 13th birthday in 2005, which reportedly cost £4million,
and was held in one of the swankiest hotels in the Cote
d'Azur. The family had their own synagogue built in the
Sir Philip and his wife Tina,
who were married in 1990, definitely enjoy the finer
things in life. They own an £8 million villa in Monaco
overlooking their £7 million yacht (being resident in
Monaco cuts down the tax bill considerably, of course).
They have a private jet and
'his and hers' Bentleys. His office is a beige and black
penthouse in the West End where he works from 6am to
10pm weekdays. His weekends are spent in Monaco often
playing tennis with Prince Albert.
And besides, there was another
cause (or excuse) for celebration this week - the
knighthood he received last year. If you've earned all
this money by old-fashioned graft - and Sir Philip is a
workaholic - why not spend it?
So it was that Green, who was
raised in Croydon and North London by his electrical
retailer father, Simon, and mother, Alma - who owned and
ran a launderette chain - decided to take over Soneva
Villas cost up to £2,000 per
night, and Green has hired the entire resort for five
days. The resort motto is: 'No news or shoes - you're
here to chill out.'
But over the past week, things
have been frenetic on the island. More than 500 people
were brought in to deal with the construction of
Buddhas, pagodas and three stages. Hundreds more have
been working on the catering, flowers flown especially
into the Maldives, security and fireworks.
Sir Philip wanted the location
to be a surprise for his guests and told them simply to
pack their beachwear and go to Stansted Airport on
There has been much speculation
as to who was on the guest list. Kate Moss, Simon Cowell
and Jemima Khan were mentioned, but did not show up.
Elizabeth Hurley and her
husband, Arun Nayar, are believed to be honeymooning in
the Maldives after their own marathon wedding
celebrations, but there was no sign of them, either.
The actress Jenny Seagrove and
her theatre producer partner, Bill Kenwright, are among
the guests along with former model Jilly Johnson. The
Scottish millionaire Sir Tom Hunter is here; Formula One
boss Eddie Jordan is also believed to be on the list of
But if A-list celebrities were
invited, they appear not to have been tempted by the
freebie to beat all freebies.
For when the three private jets
carrying the guests arrived at Male airport on Wednesday
morning, there were hardly any famous faces to be seen.
The 'VIPs' - most of them pushing Louis Vuitton luggage
- were then taken by seaplane to the resort.
That night, Sir Philip treated
his guests to a pre-party bash with a performance by a
group of Indonesian dancers flown in especially, as well
as traditional Maldivian dancing by performers from
On Thursday, as Sir Philip's
guests sunbathed on the terraces of their luxurious
villas, the final preparations began. Checks were made
on the three concert stages - yes, three - on the
northern and southern tips of the island, and in the
middle of the resort.
At a right angle to the side of
the main stage stood the largest Buddha, on either side
of which were two pagodas. Two smaller Buddhas were
Vases filled with exotic
flowers flown in from some far-flung destination were
placed all over the island. Meanwhile, teams of chefs
were busy in the kitchen. There was one team for the
seafood buffet, another for the Thai buffet.
A separate team put the final
touches to Sir Philip's 8ft by 4ft dark and white
chocolate and cream birthday cake, thought to have been
inscribed simply: 'Philip Green 55'.
More guests arrived by seaplane
including a group of men in white linen suits. A fevered
rumour began circulating that Britney Spears was on the
island, but this was not confirmed.
According to one source, J-Lo
was seen wandering around the resort surrounded by her
burly entourage. It's thought she was planning to give a
performance last night.
Moored a little way out were
two 100ft sailing yachts and a 150ft motor yacht. You
could smell the money.
It is one of those strange
paradoxes that a man determined to stage one of the most
ostentatious spectacles on the planet should be
seemingly obsessed that the details remain a secret.
Thirty security cameras were
installed around the island on Thursday; three security
boats patrolled the island.
Aboard one of them was a high
profile police chief, a sort of Sir Ian Blair in shades
and funky T-shirt.
The staff on the island were
also tightly controlled. The stage crew and security
staff all wore T-shirts with a 55 logo, and staff were
told they must not reveal a thing, and to switch their
mobiles off so no contact could be made with the outside
The main party of the week
began at 8pm on Thursday, when spotlights - powered by
generators shipped in for the occasion - were turned on,
stretching up and out for miles across the Indian Ocean.
All the guests - men included -
wore the same white linen Thai tunics, embossed with the
55 logo. The number 55 was also emblazoned across the
You would have to have been
really dim - or the worse of all that champagne - to
forget which birthday Sir Philip was celebrating.
There were more dancers -
including the topless ones who had affronted the modesty
of the locals - more Pol Roger bubbly, caviar, lobster
any which way you could choose. Also on the bill was
heartthrob singer Ricky Martin.
George Michael came on last of
all, singing old favourites such as Careless Whisper
and, finally, Freedom, which seemed to go down very well
with the mostly 30 and 40-something guests.
Sir Philip is said to have
issued strict instructions that George wanted to leave
the island as soon as he came off stage, but then these
days he is a bit of a recluse.
After George's performance,
Stevie Wonder's Happy Birthday To You came blaring
through the speakers and Sir Philip's enormous birthday
cake was wheeled to the front of the stage.
Shy and retiring are not words
in this man's vocabulary. Once he had cut the cake, the
fireworks began, launched from two barges anchored a
couple of hundred yards from the shore, and greeted with
gasps of admiration.
Then it was time for the disco
and, loosened up by all the free booze, most of the
guests took to the dance floor and partied until well
The following day the revellers
stayed in bed till late, emerging around lunchtime to
get ready for Sir Philip's bikini party in the afternoon.
Again, the bikini dress code is
felt to be in bad taste by the locals - due to their
Muslim beliefs. Happily for them, Sir Philip and his
pals are due to fly back to Britain tomorrow.
What they and everyone else
would now like to know is: what on earth is he going to
do with his giant granite Buddha? Not even his office is
big enough to accommodate this.