Remember parties? Remember the anticipation, standing in line for hours and dancing with complete strangers like they are your favourite people in the world? It was fun.
The euphoria of the past few days following Freedom Day ( the first day that all restrictions in the UK were dropped) still keeps us going, but history remembers many wild nights out that didn’t make it to the textbooks.
Such as this one time President Andrew Jackson invited 20,000 people to the White House for his inauguration in 1829. The crowd nearly tore apart the building, which later cost $50,000 to be redecorated. Or when in 1520, England's Henry VIII and Francis I of France held a meeting for two-and-a-half weeks. The event included an enormous temporary palace and two fountains with wine and beer for guests. There is also the "Banquet of Chestnuts", held by Pope Alexander VI in the Vatican, in 1501, with a contest for who could bed the most sex workers. And this is just the beginning when it comes to the biggest bashes ever.
The past is full of memorable nights out, but we gathered the few that have gone down as the most legendary. We wish we had a ticket and a time machine to any of the decadent soirées on this list, but for now we’ll just settle with being inspired to one-up-them with the next party we throw.
THE BEISTEGUI BALL, 1951
Thrown by the greatest aesthete of his age, Carlos de Beistegui’s "Le Bal Oriental" at the Palazzo Labia on the night of September 3rd, 1951, in Venice, has gone down in history as the party of the century. The guest list included everyone from New World film stars to Old World nobility, with the Aga Khan III, Duff and Lady Diana Cooper, Orson Welles, Cecil Beaton, Desmond Guinness and Deborah, and Duchess of Devonshire all among the 2,000 attendants.
They all were invited six months in advance to allow for the creation of the elaborate costumery, inspired by a painting in the Labia, a fresco by Tiepolo showing Antony and Cleopatra (represented by Baron Alfred be Cabrol and Lady Diana Cooper at the party). Salvador Dalí dressed Christian Dior, and Dior dressed Dalí – who, by all accounts, was one of the few artists there, aside from Leonor Fini. Designer Nina Ricci also dressed numerous guests. The party has said to have launched the career of Pierre Cardin, who designed about 30 of the costumes and whose career was as boosted by the event as that of Halston would be by Studio 54.
Carlos, or Charlie, de Beistegui who went from being a mere five foot three height to nearly seven feet tall in his giant 16-inch platform shoes, concealed under a bright red robe, all topped by a huge wig with resplendent curls.
Venice witnessed the sort of grandiosity and outrageous displays of opulence in a night remembered some 70 years later.
JFK'S 1962 BIRTHDAY PARTY, 1962
10 days before his actual birthday, on May 19th, 1962, a fundraiser at New York City’s Madison Square Garden was billed as a 45th birthday celebration for President Kennedy, with an attendance of more than 15,000 guests.
Jack Benny hosted, and performers included Ella Fitzgerald, Maria Callas, Jack Benny, Peggy Lee and, of course, Marilyn Monroe, who sang a sultry rendition of "Happy Birthday" causing an immediate sensation, igniting the longstanding rumours of their affair.
Monroe wore a skin-tight dress encrusted with rhinestones and designed by the French-born Jean Louis. It is said to have cost $12,000, while later in 2016, the dress became the “world’s most expensive” when Ripley’s acquired it at auction for more than $5 million.
The event turned out to be one of Monroe’s final public appearances - and, reportedly, the last time she saw the president, following her untimely death on August 5, 1962. But having one of the world’s greatest sex symbol of her day singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to President Kennedy was just one of those moments in time that can never be repeated and will always remain iconic.
THE “FIFTY MOST BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE" AT THE FACTORY, 1965
Andy Warhol gathered a legendary list of guests for his “Fifty Most Beautiful People” party at the Factory in 1965. Among the attendants were Edie Sedgwick, Judy Garland, Rudolf Nureyev, Allen Ginsberg, Tennessee Williams, Rolling Stone Brian Jones, William Burroughs, Montgomery Clift, Juliet Prowse and many more. The “party of the sixties” was how Warhol’s friend and host of the party Lester Persk described it with it lasting until 5:00 pm the following day.
TRUMAN CAPOTE’S BLACK AND WHITE BALL, 1966
Another contender for "party of the century", Truman Capote’s "Black and White Ball", was held to celebrate the 1966 publication of his book "In Cold Blood" and “cheer up” his friend, Washington Post Company president Katherine Graham. A mere 540 of his closest friends were invited to the “little masked ball” that turned out to be one of the largest private parties ever given.
It is said that Truman Capote spent three months compiling the guest list that included Marianne Moore, Frank Sinatra and Mia Farrow, Gloria Vanderbilt, Lionel Trilling, Lynda Bird Johnson, the Maharani of Jaipur, the Italian princess Luciana Pignatelli, Albert Maysles, Andy Warhol and many more representatives of high society, politics, fashion, literature, the arts, and Hollywood.
All guests would be required to wear black and white and to dress in masks, which they would remove at midnight, inspired by a scene in the movie "My Fair Lady". The entertainment cost about $120,000 in modern dollars for simple decorations, orchestra and 450 bottles of Taittinger champaign.
Since that evening, countless other parties evoked Capote’s ball, but the most memorably was the 29-birthday celebration of the hip-hop mogul Sean Combs (known as Puff Daddy, P Diddy and Diddy) in 1998 possibly only topped by his very own 50th birthday party in 2019. For inspiration watch the “INSIDE MY 50TH BIRTHDAY PARTY”, but more on this later.
ROTHSCHILD’S SURREALIST BALL, 1972
Famous for having amassed the largest private fortune in history, Marie-Hélène de Rothschild hosted everyone from Audrey Hepburn to Salvador Dalí at Château Ferrières for a Surrealist Ball in December 1972.
The venue for the ball is said to be the largest and most luxurious nineteenth-century chateau in France, becoming a hedonist epicentre for European high society.
The invitation required a mirror to be legible and included a dress code “black tie, long dresses & surrealist heads” - like the deer mask with tears made of diamonds worn by Marie-Hélène herself.
Semi-curated by the founder of surrealism, the ball features included plates covered in fur, blue bread rolls, broken dolls, dead fish and taxidermied tortoises. The dessert was served upon a mannequin corpse laying on a bed of roses. Opulent, daring and most of all, iconic.
BIANCA JAGGER’S BIRTHDAY – 1977
The 26th of April, 1977, was the opening night of Studio 54 with a guest list that was prepared for months in advance, filled up with celebrities. By the words of one of the founders Steve Rubell “the key to a good party is filling a room with guests more interesting than you” and truly, the guest list did not disappoint. From Michael Jackson to Freddie Mercury, Elton John, Madonna, Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali, Elizabeth Taylor, Liza Minnelli, Calvin Klein, Tina Turner, Truman Capote, Cher, John Travolta, Jackie Kennedy Onassis and many others were there almost every week.
A week after the club opened, the emblematic designer Halston threw Bianca Jagger her 27th birthday party. In a place that could fit 3000 people, the number of guests wasn’t extensive, almost intimate. She celebrated the night in the company of many big names including her husband Mick Jagger, actress Liza Minelli, designers Halston and Calvin Klein, and even the model and actress Jerry Hall, who would later become Mick Jagger’s second wife.
Of course, it was the photograph of the birthday girl riding around the club, on a white horse, led by a nude man, covered in glitter body paint, that made every newspaper the next day and became one of those moments “for the books”.
FREDDY MERCURY’S HALLOWEEN PARTY – 1978
Nude waiters and waitresses, snake whisperers, naked models wrestling in mud, fire-eaters, and strippers – these were just a few of the entertainments at one of the most expensive parties in rock history. Mercury’s Halloween 1978 affair for the launch of Queen’s seventh album, "Jazz", allegedly cost more than $200,000.
The biggest rumour about the event was the plates of cocaine strapped to the heads of waiters attending to the party. It has never been officially confirmed, but many press and guests that were present mentioned it. More than 500 people were invited to the colossal Imperial Ballroom inside the Fairmont New Orleans, including music industry executives, reporters, celebrities, friends.
The ballroom was decked out with dozens of dead trees and ended up looking like “a skeletal forest”, where the guest enjoyed oysters, lobsters, stuffed crabs, caviar and the finest champagne. The wild event took on the moniker “Saturday Night in Sodom”, although it took place on a Tuesday.
DIDDY'S WHITE PARTIES – (1998-2009)
From 1998 until 2009, Diddy’s annual White Parties exceeded one another. It all started as a backyard bbq with a strict dress code and Diddy’s family and music industry friends in attendance but turned out to be the most-awaited party of the year, hopping from one exclusive location to the next, from East Hampton to St Tropez and Beverly Hills.
“The people in the Hamptons thought the first party was the end of the world,” explained the writer Steven Gaines. And Diddy wanted his apocalypse guests to arrive all dressed in nothing but white – people were turned away for beige or black shoes.
Oprah Winfrey, Ben Stiller and Ellen DeGeneres provided details for the event in the form of velvet-wrapped video sent to more than 1,400 guests. The crowd featured representatives from fashion, music, sports, and Hollywood including Kevin Costner, Busta Rhymes, Donna Karan, Ashton Kutcher, George Clinton, Tom Freston, Missy Elliott, Lara Flynn Boyle, Penny Marshall, Denzel Washington, Muhammad Ali, Lil’ Kim, Naomi Campbell and Russell Simmons, while some invitees like Hype Williams and Lenny Kravitz never did make it inside.