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When Michael Jackson was paid US$17 million to perform at the Sultan of Brunei’s 50 birthday party – and Prince Charles was even there

South China Morning Post logo South China Morning Post 8/9/2020 Saul Lipchik
a group of people wearing costumes: The Sultan of Brunei’s 50th Birthday, in 1996; Istana Nurul Iman Palace and the Sultan of Brunei. Photo: @sasho.pixx84/Instagram’ @HassanalBolkiah, Sultan of Brunei/ Facebook The Sultan of Brunei’s 50th Birthday, in 1996; Istana Nurul Iman Palace and the Sultan of Brunei. Photo: @sasho.pixx84/Instagram’ @HassanalBolkiah, Sultan of Brunei/ Facebook

The desire to enjoy a good party or celebration is as universal as the longing to travel. We can all relate. What is less common however is the ability to throw inordinately lavish affairs that cost a fortune, include over-the-top opulence and are attended by the upper echelons of global society. The most extravagant of these events sometimes even achieve their own sort of fame.

One such event, that has gone down as one of the most expensive parties ever, was the 1996 festivities in honour of the 50th birthday of Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah. No mere single-day affair, this was a series of parties and ceremonies that lasted two weeks. Reportedly costing the super-rich Sultan some US$27 million, the birthday festivities included a distinguished, high-profile guest list of world leaders, royalty and even the king of pop, Michael Jackson.

The occasion

Known to live one of the most extravagant lives of excess of any individual on the planet, it's hardly surprising that in 1996, when the Sultan of Brunei turned 50, he threw himself a birthday bash with an astronomical price tag of around US$27 million.

a group of people posing for the camera: Sultan of Brunei on his 50th birthday. Photo: @Hassanal Bolkiah, Sultan of Brunei/Facebook © Provided by South China Morning Post Sultan of Brunei on his 50th birthday. Photo: @Hassanal Bolkiah, Sultan of Brunei/Facebook

The venue

Essentially the entire nation of Brunei acted as the venue for the sultan's party. Spanning a fortnight, the celebrations took place at various locations and included an opulent dinner party in his 1,778-room palace and a Michael Jackson concert attended by 60,000 people.

a close up of a light house by the water with Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in the background: Sultan of Brunei's 1,778-room palace. Photo: @sasho.pixx84/Instagram © Provided by South China Morning Post Sultan of Brunei's 1,778-room palace. Photo: @sasho.pixx84/Instagram

The guest list

In addition to the nation's population being invited to certain parts of the festivities, the sultan's private guest list included international dignitaries, members of the royal family (Prince Charles for one) and other members of the world's elite society.

Prince Charles, Hassanal Bolkiah are posing for a picture: Sultan of Brunei with Prince Charles. Photo: @Hassanal Bolkiah, Sultan of Brunei/Facebook © Provided by South China Morning Post Sultan of Brunei with Prince Charles. Photo: @Hassanal Bolkiah, Sultan of Brunei/Facebook

The party

The two weeks of festivities featured a host of events across the country, including a special polo match, the famous Michael Jackson concert - free for all attendees - and a sumptuous dinner party where 3,000 of the sultan's most distinguished guests enjoyed free-flowing champagne and caviar and were entertained at a smaller, private concert by the King of Pop himself.

A post shared by @ bruneiroyalfamily on Jul 14, 2020 at 6:46pm PDT

Notable mentions and exceptional extras

As reported, the events racked up a bill of around US$27 million - US$17 million of which was paid to Jackson for his performances. The stadium in the country's Jerudong Park where the concert took place was constructed specifically for the event and offered to Brunei's people as a gift from the sultan himself. Additionally, the country's civil servants all received salary increases, something that hadn't happened in some two decades. And if that wasn't extravagant enough, the 3,000 guests at the grand finale celebration dinner received a gold medal as a parting gift.

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This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.

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