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Elton John Ties One On * Angelina’s Volcanic Eruption

Before Elton John gets around to giving his fifth summer ball next summer, let’s talk about his fourth one this summer, the famous “White Tie and Tiara” party that draws every celebrity, moneybags and social figure for leagues around and then some. No matter what you’ve heard about this glamorous, spectacular evening, given with Elton’s partner, David Furnish — that it was of a splendor seldom seen at Elton’s wonderful country house in Surrey, “Woodside,” which is gorgeous, that the gardens are breathtaking, that the dinner was divine and that the entertainment is incomparable — not at all. Believe me, it was better than that.

This story first appeared in the July 18, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Sir Elton is simply a great host as well as a great philanthropist. This ball, a dazzle a minute, is also a fund-raiser responsible for the millions that support the Elton John AIDS Foundation. Much of it derived from an exciting auction where rich folks at the party aggressively outbid one another for such prizes as an Audi TT Roadster and a just-minted Bentley.

Most of the guests motored from London to the country in fancy cars, but Lily Safra of banking billions hired a motor coach to transport her guests to and fro. Wearing a chiffon dress the color of moonlight, Lily invited such friends to join her as handsome young Lord Rothermere, the media tycoon; his pretty sister Geraldine; Marina Palma in bare black and big shiny rings; Blaine and Robert Trump; Robert Higdon; Joan Rivers, and the Italian aristocrat-politician-life-of-the-party Mario D’Urso, who kicked up his legs, literally — he was having such fun, Italian-style.

Many of the guests have been to some big towns and heard them some big talk, but when the genial host threw open the gates of Woodside, it was hard for them not to drop a jaw at the sight — one of the most spectacular garden parties ever. The beautifully kept grounds go on forever with fountains and gazebos and mini-lakes and countless plants and flowers. A long gravel road leads to the manor house itself and that too is a lovely English sight to see. Right now seems to be the time to mention that the theme of the party was Imperial Russia, very Imperial Russia. Since Vladimir Putin’s recent state visit to the U.K., anything and everything Russian seems the way to go.

No one went thirsty. While sipping shots of frozen Siberian vodka (it came in about 17 different flavors), guests slipped around the side of the house to the Italian garden, which wasn’t an Italian garden anymore, but a stunning winter wonderland, its pathways and statues covered with ersatz snow. Underfoot, the ground had been covered with tons of salt — sugar? — to simulate powdered snow, and twirling in the garden were Russian ice skaters, dressed in red and fur caps. In an adjacent garden, surrounding a gazebo called the Love Temple, were even more costumed Russians dancing around a fountain, wielding sabers and leaping and jumping about like mad things. The pavement beneath their feet was laid with fresh lavender and the scent was delicious. Down the gardens closer to the dinner pavilion, a giant hot-air balloon floated elegantly over 37 manicured acres bearing the double-eagle Imperial crest. Dame Judi Dench and the director Stephen Daldry surveyed the cocktail scene from on high.

Guests entered the huge dinner tent, towering and very grand (even enough for the czars), through another cocktail area that replicated a Russian cathedral, with golden icons and incense and portraits of the saints. Amazing, but only a clue of what was to come — the dining tent, which resembled nothing short of a blue palace with lofty ceilings, set with tables covered with gold linens and white roses — a perfect setting for the feast that followed.

Here’s the menu: chilled borscht in a shot glass with a black truffle pecorino wafer; ice towers holding a frozen shot glass of Beluga caviar; beetroot-cured salmon gravlax and tuna with crème fraiche ice cream; sun-dried cherry tomatoes with truffle and mushroom tagliatelle; wild forest mushroom tarte with truffled leeks and black truffle shavings; peppered fillet of beef with purple potatoes, steamed courgette blossom with summer squash, baby red pepper, baby roasted beetroot with confit of onion and wild cherry jus, and edible Fabergé decorated chocolate eggs filled with jasmine flower brulée and wild forest berries.

And here’s who sang after dinner and rocked the room — Elton, Donna Summer and Barry Manilow.

And here’s who was there: Elizabeth Hurley, Hugh Grant (same table but not together), the Duchess of York, Kylie Minogue, Lord and Lady Black, Lord and Lady Dundas, Shakira and Michael Caine, Lisa Marie Presley, Elle MacPherson, Jemima Khan and on and on into the night.

And here’s how much money was raised — 2 million pounds. That’s about $3.2 million. Chopard sponsored the evening and Chopard’s head, Caroline Gruosi-Scheufele, and her husband, Fawaz Gruosi, were there in person. Oh, and Elton’s piano fetched 100,000 pounds at auction, and oh, they don’t make parties like that anymore.

This really doesn’t have anything to do with anything, but Angelina Jolie shot her latest film, “Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life” in Greece, Tanzania, England, Hong Kong, Kenya and Wales. In her sizzling style, the sultry star did have a favorite spot. “Being on top of an active volcano in Tanzania was one of the most remarkable things I have ever had to do,” Angelina says. Is this her first time on top of an active volcano, friends?

This also has nothing to do with anything, but Princess Stephanie of Monaco is modeling now, so she posed nude for the camera of German artist Peter Klasen in order to raise money for the Association of Women Facing AIDS, which she and her brother, Prince Albert, recently founded. The pictures, in which the princess wears nothing more than a discreetly placed red ribbon, will appear in a 14-page feature in the Spanish magazine Hola. The originals will then be auctioned off in Monte Carlo at an event on Oct. 10 to raise money for the charity. What next?

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