The grand opening lived up to its billing with a dramatic US$14 million fireworks display and a celebrity-studded guest list.
Seeing stars at Atlantis
There was only one word for it and that was, "Wow!" Kylie Minogue said it, Natalie Imbruglia said it and Sir Richard Branson said it as they stood in an excited huddle to witness US$14 million's worth of radio-controlled rockets light up the Dubai sky. The firework display at the "party of the decade" just went on and on. As it seemed to be reaching a crescendo it started up again in another direction. "You just don't know where to look," gasped the diminutive singer Imbruglia, goggle-eyed as she greeted her pal Kylie who had slipped quickly out of her gorgeous glittering Jean Paul Gaultier stage outfits and into a strappy little black number to watch the display. "I've never seen anything like it. This is absolutely fantastic," said Kylie with a grin. No wonder she was in good humour. She'd just earned a rumoured $2 million (Dh7.35m) for her 45-minute set, although she wasn't prepared to confirm that. "You don't expect me to tell you, do you, it's going straight into my piggy bank," she giggled. Her outfits alone must have cost tens of thousands of dollars. She arrived in a floor-length black and pink ruffled gown by the New York designer Milly and her 113 dancers were all decked out in Gaultier for their performance. Such a conspicuous display of wealth and extravagance hasn't been seen since Philip Green, the British billionaire retailer, threw a 50th birthday bash in Cyprus - and even that paled by comparison. He was there at the Atlantis party with his statuesque South African wife Christina in shimmering black. I spotted him scurrying around the foyer trying to find his pass to get into dinner, mobile phone clamped to one ear as he kept in touch with his business empire. That other flamboyant tycoon Sir Richard Branson had his family with him - Joan his wife, Holly his daughter and Sam his 23-year-old son who was seldom far away from his close friend Imbruglia. It was Holly's 27th birthday and halfway through the fireworks Branson turned to his daughter and said: "Don't be expecting this on your birthday next year." With the Dow Jones plunging 400 points and the rest of the world shivering as the global recession bites, wasn't this just a teeny bit over the top, I asked him? More than a million fireworks were launched in nine minutes from 716 locations including 50 points along the 17km crescent of Palm Jumeirah, 226 floating pontoons and 40 spots along the 5.5km monorail outlining Palm Jumeirah's trunk, from 400 balconies on the south façade and all rooftop surfaces of the hotel. Anyone trying to have an early night would have been wasting their time. "The thing is this was probably planned a couple of years ago and even six months ago it would have been too late to cancel it. This is incredible, just the most exciting fireworks I've seen anywhere," said Branson, who greeted Charlize Theron, the Oscar-winning actress, with genuine affection. She stayed with the family on their idyllic island retreat of Necker in the Virgin Islands last year and they've all become close friends. The evening kicked off with Veuve Cliquot as guests who had negotiated unbelievably tight security to get there milled around on the terrace in front of the hotel, built for the occasion on the beach. As a giant sea dragon breathing fire wove its way through the throng and "living buffet" waitresses with giant jellyfish headdresses wandered around offering canapés, celebrities began the perilous descent down a flight of steps to the red carpet parade. Among the first was the tousle haired Welsh actor Rhys Ifans, who dashed past photographers refusing to answer questions about his ex Sienna Miller. Boris Becker brought Sharlely Kerssenberg, his former girlfriend, only to find Alessandra "Sandy" Meyer-Wölden, his ex-fiancée, had decided to come too, even though they broke up just two weeks ago. Mary Kate Olsen, one half of the American Olsen twins, nearly took a tumble as she tripped over the hem of a voluminous cream gown. Scarily slender, she looked like a child dressing up in her mother's negligee. Yasmin le Bon, the British model, was resplendent in coffee satin with a fur bolero, the singer Lily Allen, fresh from a trip to the water park, chose electric blue. "This place is huge. I've never been anywhere like it," she said in genuine awe. Mischa Barton, the actress, admitted she was nursing a hangover having spent the previous night celebrating the launch of the restaurant Nobu with Robert de Niro. The star of Taxi Driver, the Deerhunter and Raging Bull gave the red carpet a miss. Not his style really. With his wife Grace Hightower he made a late entrance and sat down with the lovely Theron and Stuart Townsend, her boyfriend. One of the most peculiar outfits was that of the singer Janet Jackson, black silk chiffon skirt and champagne coloured blouse with a black straw bowler hat. She too gave the catwalk a miss and Oprah Winfrey, the American chat show host, was a no show. She had been given the US$50,000-a-night Bridge Suite, which was quickly bagged by Shah Rukh Khan, the Bollywood actor. Ben Affleck, the American actor, rather pointedly shunned the party, preferring to head off on another of his goodwill trips to the Congo. His absence did not dampen the spirits of the 2,000 guests at the opening of the US$1.5 billion resort. The Royal Family of Dubai, led by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, mingled with captains of industry, actors, supermodels, sporting heroes such as Michael Jordan, the US basketball star, and a strong contingent of partygoers from Britain, including an initially sombre-faced Duchess of York and Dame Shirley Bassey, looking fantastic in skin-tight leopard print. We dined on Atlantic lobster salad with avocado and mango salsa, followed by an odd choice of main course, a mixed grill of lamb cutlets and other bits and pieces which arrived, at my table at least, cold. Altogether 1.7 metric tonnes of lobster was eaten, 4,000 oysters, 3,000kg of smoked salmon and 5,000 portions of sushi prepared by 500 chefs and served by 1,000 waiters. Later it was harder to get off The Palm than it was to get on it. Smoke from the spectacular pyrotechnics filled the tunnel leading up to Atlantis which was promptly blocked off, leaving hundreds of weary and disgruntled guests unable to get taxis. Eventually coaches were summoned that took us on a magical mystery tour of local hotels in search of transport home only to be faced with long queues everywhere on a typical Dubai Thursday night. It was an irritating end to an evening on Atlantis that otherwise lived up to its legendary name. firstname.lastname@example.org