Rock Stars & The Mega-Rich

Britian’s Sunday Telegraph had a long yet interesting article (12-16-07) on the availability of certain rock stars to perform at private parties paid for by the “mega-rich”.

‘We find a lot of people ask for big-name stars,’ says Jules Stevenson, who’s co-chairman of the London events company GSP. ‘The big change in the past year or so has been the introduction to England of a lot of clients from abroad, wealthy individuals who are big on celebrating. They often have very short lead times, but very attractive budgets.’

Stevenson’s company does about 130 lavish private parties in London each year, many of which feature an A-list entertainer. At the peak of party season this year, for example, there were five such bashes in one week. ‘The cost is generally more than pounds 100,000 and it can get up into the pounds 500,000 range,’ says Stevenson. ‘But people don’t flinch so much at those sorts of figures any more.’

‘In the past three to five years there has been a major wealth shift,’ agrees Carol Grabow, whose company, Grabow, has organised parties around the world since 1983. ‘Five years ago, there weren’t private clients booking big-name entertainers
for birthdays, anniversaries and weddings. It just would not have happened.’ Now Grabow deals with more than 10 such party-throwers every year.

And we’re not talking about has-beens or one-hit wonders either:

The Rolling Stones, for example, were paid pounds 2.7 million for playing 80 minutes at a party for bankers in Spain this summer. ‘Thank you for having us,’ said Mick Jagger to the assembled crowd. ‘The best part is, it’s coming out of your bonuses.’

Eric Clapton slummed it on just pounds 750,000 (and a pounds 500,000 donation to a charity of his choice) when he played a party in Connecticut at about the same time. It was thrown by the hedgefund executive Raymond Dalio, who is worth pounds 2 billion, according to Forbes magazine. The pounds 500,000 paid by the retail entrepreneur Sir Philip Green, worth an estimated pounds 5 billion, paid to both Justin Timberlake and Beyonce to play his son’s bar mitzvah in 2005, seems positively thrifty in comparison.

To put such figures in perspective, the average British wage is about pounds 24,000 per year. At that rate it would take 113 years of saving your entire salary to hire the Rolling Stones for just over an hour. And the figures don’t include staging, lighting, sound, accommodation for the stars and their crew, expenses and transport. It almost makes their ticket prices look reasonable.

It’s not easy for one to snare a dream performer – even if one has the deepest of deep pockets:

Not much is known about the mechanics of hiring a superstar for your wedding, funeral, bar mitzvah or birthday. Agents and publicists for 50 Cent, Justin Timberlake, Beyonce and the Rolling Stones maintained a stony silence when asked about their charges’ fees. Neither Stevenson nor Grabow would talk about the specifics of their parties, wary of angering wealthy clients. And Clapton’s deal with party planners, through his agent CAA, included the clause that ‘no public press or announcement pre- or post-event is permitted’. Oops.

Security at these events is usually tight. According to witnesses at one party featuring 50 Cent, one of 50’s beefy bodyguards blocked shots of his boss performing and batted down the children’s cameras, shouting, ‘No pictures! No pictures!’ The guard even stopped the official videographers from capturing the moment. Hiring superstars is, it seems, the multimillion dollar industry no one wants you to know about.

Which is why, when details do emerge from indiscreet revellers, they’re all the more juicy. One of the most bacchanalian bashes in recent years has hit the headlines again for all the wrong reasons. David Brooks is the former chief executive of DHB, the leading supplier of body armour to the American Army. In October, he was charged with using company funds to pay for a lavish lifestyle – including a $10 million bat mitzvah (the female version of a bar mitzvah) for his daughter, Elizabeth, when she turned 13 in 2005.

He hired two floors of New York’s Rainbow Room – the exclusive venue at the Rockefeller Centre – and provided more than 200 guests with iPods and digital cameras. The gift bags alone cost $122,000. The invitations were recorded onto CDs and sent out with a portable player to listen to them on. But the real cash was spent on hiring the talent. Brooks paid Aerosmith $2 million, and flew them in from a gig in Pittsburgh on the company jet. The extravagant fee included a little extra to let Brooks’s nephew drum with the band for a song.

The evening was MC-ed by Tom Petty, who also played a 45-minute acoustic set. The support acts weren’t bad either, if skewed towards the taste of older guests – they included Nelly, 50 Cent, Kenny G, Stevie Nicks, Don Henley and Nicole Richie’s boyfriend, DJ AM.

Reports as to who got paid what aren’t conclusive. Kenny G is said to have scooped pounds 125,000. Mr Cent told Blender magazine: ‘The last bar mitzvah I booked, I got paid $500,000 for 30 minutes. That’s not a fixed rate, but it’s in the ballpark.’ Despite that admission, it’s not something he’s proud of – it was at this party his guards stopped all pictures. Even the organisers responded with a mere: ‘This was a private event and we do not wish to comment on details of the party.’

However, if one is a member of the “mega-rich,” money truly is no object in obtaining what one wants:

With such an atmosphere of secrecy, how does one go about snaring an elusive star for a Christmas party? ‘It’s not difficult to do if you have the money,’ says Grabow. Stars are put off by the spectre of an indifferent crowd: ‘Well-known artists usually play to people who can sing every word of every song,’ says Grabow’s husband, Bob – who is the chief executive at Grabow. ‘But at private events, they’re not playing to their fans. Offer a private plane, another night of lodging in a nice place or a generous per diem allowance for all the people on staff,’ he suggests. ‘That shows that you’re inclined to take care of the act and crew.’

‘Try to schedule your event up to a year in advance,’ says Jules Stevenson. ‘People forget that stars like Bono and Elton John have manic schedules. It’s also worth remembering that often it’s not just about money; it’s about whether it’s in line with their beliefs, whether a charity is involved.’

Grabow and GSP have developed relationships with managers and agents, as has the New York party organiser Jono Waks, who specialises in big, sponsored events featuring the likes of Kanye West. ‘I go through the labels and through the publicists,’ he says. ‘I’ve talked to nannies to try to get celebrities to attend. My entire career is based on relationships – so if I have to talk to the dog-walker, or the cleaning person, that’s what I do.’ As well as performances – often organised through a record label when an artist has something to promote – Waks specialises in the industry of the celebrity appearance. The megastar of your choice won’t perform but they will turn up, schmooze and laugh at your jokes before asking for a cheque and disappearing into the night. Deals are often strict and businesslike – Lindsay Lohan, for example, was contractually obliged to have her 21st birthday party at a Las Vegas nightclub, despite being in rehab.

‘There are three different types of celebrities,’ says Waks. ‘Ones that completely avoid the scene – like Johnny Depp or Sean Penn. Then you have the celebs that do parties but consider it work, for money or publicity. The third layer is your Paris Hiltons, socialites of that ilk; people who are looking for some place to go at night, who are actually interested in coming to the events.’

Will certain rock stars do anything as long as the cheque clears the bank? Of course!

But even the most reclusive stars will appear for the right price. Brunei’s Prince Azim, the son of the Sultan, paid Michael Jackson pounds 5 million to come to his 25th birthday at Stapleford Park, in Leicestershire, earlier this year. Jackson wasn’t expected to sing or even moonwalk (Belinda Carlisle and Dionne Warwick performed), just mingle with other guests, who included Pamela Anderson, Don Johnson
and Roberto Cavalli. Prince Azim was apparently furious when Jacko left the two-day bash early because he felt unwell.

If, as recently reported, Jackson owes money on his Neverland ranch, he might consider a move to New York. A phenomenon called bar mitzvah wars – where parents compete to throw the most unique coming-of-age for their 13-year-old – has inflated prices for stars. ‘Sometimes they spend hundreds of thousands. Sometimes they spend
millions,’ says Harriette Rose Katz, one of New York’s top bar mitzvah planners.

‘The bar mitzvahs, for the most part, are themed and they’re unbelievably glamorous. Ours are the most amazing in New York. My role is to give the client what they want, within the bounds of good taste.’ Those bounds encompass arcade machines, expensive games and A-list entertainment. ‘Nothing is as extravagant as New York. People in LA think they spend money, but it doesn’t compare.’

Her company, Gourmet Advisory Services, does do more reasonable affairs, too, but competition for the best ideas, the best themes, is still fierce: ‘One of the things I say to each of the kids is not to tell their friends what they’re doing. Even though it’s their best friend, and she swears not to tell anyone else, she’ll go and tell her mom. Who’ll tell her friend. And then the idea has been done.’

And thus a new generation of wealthy kids are taught the verities of capitalism in its most mindless form. With such a massive following these celebrities have on sites like Instagram and Twitter, children are subjected to money all the time, and how much more celebrities have than them. I sometimes wonder if it would be better if normal people had the most followers online to spread more positivity. I suppose that with things like Upleap, you can increase your instagram followers.

Yes, I know people can do what they please with their own money. It’s just sad that the spending reflects less an attitude of community than it does a mindset of out-doing everybody. Equally pathetic are how some of the contemporary role models that are rock stars help to reinforce said mindset – regardless of how their actions undermine the messages some of their songs carry. “Man In The Mirror” indeed.


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