A Storyville documentary: the lavish party thrown by the Shah of Iran in 1971, which marked the break between the so-called 'king of kings' and the people of Iran he reigned over.
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You drove for miles in the desert
and, suddenly, you see this forest of columns coming out
very high to the sky.
And next to it, this village, town -
which was created for the occasion - of tents,
and that was already a fairy-tale story.
It was a perfect set-up for a James Bond plot.
It was so extravagant.
It was so exclusive.
It was the budget from Switzerland for two years
which they spend in two days.
It was big, big, big.
Security was everywhere, yes, machine gun on every corner.
When you have all the heads of states,
I mean, yes, so much responsibility.
Historically and politically,
it's the only time where everyone met.
You had the East, the West,
the developed countries, the underdeveloped countries,
the communist countries, the monarchies.
Everyone was there.
The party is a bit like a debutantes' ball.
You know, it's basically a coming out.
Iran is coming.
You know, the idea was, I think, that,
"Oh, you know, we want to join the top tier of nations with a bang."
But it was the wrong bang.
If you spend hundreds of millions, you have to answer to somebody.
One day, you pay.
We may be sitting in on a television first this morning.
The heads of state are about to arrive in Persepolis, Iran,
to help celebrate the 2,500th anniversary
of the founding of what was once called the Persian Empire,
where we have Barbara Walters. Barbara...
There's so much that one should understand about this event,
both historically and in terms of modern times,
and I thought I'd try to give you
the who, what, where, how and why right now.
Well, our host is the Imperial Majesty Shahanshah,
which means "King of Kings", Shahanshah of Iran, Mohammad Reza.
He's been the Shah since 1941.
He's one of the richest men in the world.
This country is a constitutional monarchy. The Shah has full power.
He appoints the prime minister, he can dissolve the parliament,
he controls the army, he can declare war,
he can conclude peace treaties, he controls the press.
Very little criticism of him is allowed.
His word is, indeed, the law.
I have this firm belief that I have a mission to accomplish.
And I believe in God.
This is why I say I think that I have a divine command
of doing what I'm doing.
And this, in addition to the special relationship
between the Persian people and their king,
that makes it a very special relationship
that maybe some other people could not understand.
-For the first time,
we see the new Shah arriving at Parliament House
to take over the reins of office
in succession to his abdicated father.
Shahpur Mohammad Reza, the former crown prince,
now occupies the Peacock Throne.
The new Shah has had to provide evidence
that he'll display a less pro-German attitude
than his deposed predecessor.
The ex-Shah of Persia exploited his people
until his own coffers were filled to overflowing.
The new Shah has no easy task ahead of him.
Iran is likely to remain much in the news.
Who is here today?
Well, 69 heads of state, and it's quite a list.
Either the heads themselves or their representatives.
The list includes one emperor, eight kings,
five queens, 15 presidents,
five emirs, four ruling princes and dukes,
one royal princess, two governor generals,
two heirs apparent, four junior princes,
three vice presidents, including Vice President Agnew,
four prime ministers, seven sheikhs, and one wife of a president,
and that's everything but a partridge in a pear tree.
Ahura Mazda was the circle of light, the god of light.
And Ahriman was the devil.
Friend and enemy...
Intellectuals had been arguing since the late 19th century
that the reason for colonialism,
the reason for Iran's weakness,
When the Shah's father and his ministers took over,
most of them were educated in Western institutions.
They were adamant about modernity, westernisation,
as well as going back to ancient roots.
So, culture, or cultural revival,
was part of a larger agenda of secularising Iran.
Throughout his reign,
the Shah was very conscious of his father's legacy,
but also I think he wanted to distinguish himself from his father
in the sense that, "I can do this better".
I never saw him in exile.
I was exchanging letters.
He will never try to really tell me what to do.
Only one recommendation.
Don't be afraid of anything, ever.
But it's not possible.
I mean, physically, I'm not afraid of anything, ever.
Death doesn't mean anything for me.
I have seen it so many times right in front of myself and my eyes.
And I know that the day will come.
When the day comes, nothing will stop it.
But mentally, constantly you are afraid of something.
-Attention is focused once again on the Middle East,
where events in Iran have taken a dramatic double twist.
Forced to flee his palace in Tehran,
the Shah and his queen arrive in Rome
after an alleged attempt by the Imperial Guard
to arrest Dr Mosaddegh
and a refusal by the Shah to dissolve parliament
at Mosaddegh's request.
I had not abandoned hope.
My heart was light.
It took only two days before the people called me back.
my life was a succession of pain...
..and suffering and humiliation.
So, he comes back in 1953,
knowing very well that this was a foreign-engineered coup d'etat
in his name, um...
Knowing very well, that, you know,
he is coming into a country that, essentially, does not want him.
So, what does he have to do as a politician? There are two ways.
One way would be trying again to be the people's monarch
within, again, a context that was still in flux,
there's a lot of radicalism, a lot of disenchantment, right?
Or ruling with a strong hand.
And the Shah, with increasing funds through the oil revenues,
with increasing confidence in his alliance with the United States,
he established a militarised security state,
trying to find out how I can keep myself in office as a monarch.
MAN SINGS IN FRENCH
Mr Alam was very efficient.
I think it was his character to get it done.
He found the simplest way to do it,
to go to a professional
to do the tents, to do the food, to do the catering, the servants...
# I'm going to Maxim's
# To lose myself in dreams... #
TRANSLATION FROM FRENCH:
TRANSLATION FROM FRENCH:
Cyrus the Great has this sort of religious-political value.
He's ostensibly in the Koran, he's definitely in the Bible.
The Greeks love him, the Persians clearly valued him a lot.
I mean, he's one of the few that has a tomb...
It's the one tomb that nobody's demolished at any time.
He's a figure that all political factions,
in a way, also can buy into.
He's a humanist, he's an enlightenment leader,
he emancipated, he liberated the Jews, he likes minorities,
and he treated people with dignity.
And Cyrus becomes this blank slate
onto which the Shah projects his own image
so that he may be reflected in his glory.
He was the first to introduce justice.
He was the first man who introduced the bill of rights.
We have the scroll.
Well, you have the real scroll in your museum.
You took it from us.
I think the problem of the White Revolution
was, in many ways, a top-down process
that was primarily, I think,
geared towards positioning the Shah as that benevolent monarch
who gives out charity, almost, to Iranians.
So, it was, in many ways, an act of propaganda
more than anything else.
If you are unhappy that your country is saying goodbye
to a feudalistic system,
if you are unhappy that half of the population of your country,
the women, are emancipated, well, this I cannot help.
Khomeini was a pure cleric.
His grandfather, his father,
all of them, were steeped in Islamic theology,
and this whole idea that Iran was not primarily an Islamic country
was, for him, utterly unacceptable.
I had to...
..send one of those stubborn...
..obscurantist clergyman abroad.
He had to travel.
I'm probably more religious than those people myself.
This is the story of my life,
mystical and religious,
but I believe the true religion.
The religion of God, the religion of our Prophet.
And not what has been added to it by those who want to make it...
..a job, a profiteering job, for themselves.
TRANSLATION FROM FRENCH:
VOICE-OVER IN FRENCH
The word Shah in Iran was associated to perfection.
And Iranians really did like the Shah.
They associated themselves, at least when I was young,
to the Shah, to the country having a Shah.
The Shah was part of our everyday life.
The greatest show on earth is also
going to be one of the most select.
The Shah's invited 60 of the world's heads of state,
from as far away as Norway and Nepal, Lesotho and Liechtenstein,
to spend three days with him
in this special royal village.
There's even a British delegation.
When Princess Anne and the Duke arrive here at Persepolis
for the three-day party, they'll be accommodated,
like all the rest of the 60 heads of state, in a tent.
In fact, we're told in THIS tent,
although Protocol might change their minds and switch everybody round.
Now, this is the sort of thing they'll have in each of these tents.
There are six cut glasses on a tortoiseshell tray.
There's this perfumed candle in a glass cylinder
with a decorative snake.
And an ornamental Iranian ashtray.
For morning tea, all Princess Anne will have to do
is give a little tinkle on her bedside bell,
for near at hand is her personal maid,
who sleeps on a foldaway bed in the kitchen.
It's fully equipped, as are all the arrangements.
The tents are all tastefully situated in a forest of young trees,
15,000 of them flown in specially from Versailles,
not to mention the 15,000 flowering shrubs.
And then, in the top-secret banqueting tent, is the food.
Four tonnes of it - again, all from Paris.
There's even a French-built royal club.
TRANSLATIONS FROM FRENCH:
I worked eight seasons at the Palace Hotel in St Moritz.
In the Palace, they called me after the season.
They called me up, they said, "The Shah of Iran is making a big party,
"so we are all going to Persepolis."
You had about 40, 50 people from the Palace.
I took the train from my home valley.
I bought myself a Swiss sausage and a piece of bread.
My friends, they already went to Tehran before,
and they went to the Hilton Hotel and had some caviar and champagne.
As we go to the plane, everybody was quiet,
because a lot of them were afraid to fly.
Most of them never had been in a plane.
TRANSLATION FROM GERMAN:
The Scandinavian monarchs had hired a plane for the three of them
and I went into that plane with my Greek cousin, King Constantine.
And in the plane, I remember that they were discussing the jewels
that the queens in the plane were bringing.
Queen Anne-Marie said, "I'm bringing the emeralds," which are huge.
I mean, they were Romanov emeralds, and everyone was bringing the best.
I said, "Listen, compared to what Empress Farah is going to show,
"it's peanuts, because she has the most important jewels on earth."
At the beginning,
I thought it was just bling-bling
and, as they say in Germany, schicki-micki.
That is, a little bit smart and snob, but nothing interesting.
So, then I changed my mind.
TRANSLATION FROM FRENCH:
He ordered sparrows, lots and lots of sparrows, from Spain.
There was not enough water around for all the birds, you know.
But it was... Suddenly, 400 fell down!
It was not very nice,
but he wanted to make it look like a forest.
I don't know why he brought all these trees to the desert.
TRANSLATION FROM FRENCH:
For days and days, a big aeroplane full of ice was delivered,
a big block of ice, and put in the desert,
a bit like a garage, you know, like a car port.
A block of ice delivered every day, and we all go out to the desert
to cool us down on this ice, but nobody knew...
Only the last day I realised that this ice
has to be chopped into pieces for the ice buckets for the white wine.
Well, I must have read about it, but it just seemed like...
since I was a party reporter, that's what I was hired to do,
that this was going to be the ultimate party
and that I should be there.
I stayed in Tehran for several days.
One of the interesting things that happened was,
and I later wrote about this in my stories,
was how unhappy so many people were about the celebration
and what kind of criticism they were getting
for spending all of this money
when they didn't have enough money to send children to school
or to feed children.
And when I was there, I met with them and they said,
"We're going to take you to a meeting, an underground meeting,
"but we have to blindfold you to take you there."
I was in this room and there were these... They were all men.
And they were very angry at the Shah
and they basically said, you know, "This is a trumped-up empire.
"The guy's father was a peasant, he's not an emperor.
"And then they're spending hundreds of millions of dollars
"on this festival, which we can't afford in this country."
'Cyrus, King of Kings.
'Champion, long before Magna Carta, of human rights and liberties.
'Cyrus, the founder of Persian culture
'and the father of Iran,
'the land five times the size of Great Britain,
'which this Shah rules today.
'It had fallen to him
'after a twilight in his nation's long history,
'to remind the world and his own people
'of Persian pride.'
It was out of this world.
I had a shiver going down my spine.
SPEAKS IN OWN LANGUAGE
'Oh, Cyrus, great king,
'king of kings, Achaemenian king,
'king of the land of Iran,
'I, the Shahanshah of Iran,
'offer these salutations from myself and from my nation.
'At this glorious moment in the history of Iran,
'I and all Iranians,
'the offspring of the empire which thou founded 2,500 years ago,
'bow our heads in reverence before thy tomb.'
The last day before everything started,
Mr Alam came and asked all of us to come into the big hall,
and he said, "Listen, from tomorrow, you are on your own.
"If you get into trouble, you have to improvise
"and solve your problem on your own.
"Think you are in war."
..excited, goose pimples, when I remember these words.
'In the middle of October 1971,
'62 heads of state converged on the airport
'of the fairy-tale city of Shiraz
'in a patchwork of colour, in a whirl of salutes,
'bows and curtsies.
'Familiar faces in the world scene stepped out of their aircraft
'over red carpets fringed with guards of honour,
'into the welcoming Persian sunlight.
'It was just like this.
'Too much was happening to pick out the detail.
'For all the arrivals,
'ceremony and protocol had to be carefully observed.
'None who were there saw it all.
'So began one of the most historic cultural gatherings
'the world has ever seen.'
The only person that was sitting in headquarters in Persepolis was me.
I couldn't sleep.
I was scared to death.
Because something this elaborate,
any small thing that could happen would be a scandal.
One of these African countries requested through our embassy
that they would like to bring
ten people with the head of state.
Five was the maximum.
He said these are his personal guards,
that two of them must sleep under his bed.
So, His Majesty said, "OK, let this one have his ten."
And he brought ten guys.
Haile Selassie came with 75 people on a plane.
I remember I went...
nuts, because these guys, who's going to take care of 85 people?
You've never seen a tent like this before.
It's not like your average camping tent.
They were like little homes.
I mean, they were gorgeous and everything looked like
it had come right out of a decorating magazine.
You could pull up your chair and sit outside your tent,
so some of the kings and queens were kind of sitting outside their tent,
or some had the tents open,
you know, sort of Prince Philip waving at, you know,
the King of Denmark
and somebody else waving, and then Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier
and everybody sort of, "Hi, how are you? Good to see."
They'd stop and chat. It was...
I had never seen anything like it
and there's never been anything like it since.
Everything was done with the most exquisite taste.
And it was not at all nouveau riche,
not at all gold everywhere or marbles.
It was good taste.
You couldn't walk three steps
without falling over some security guard.
The King of Denmark was trying to get through to something
and they threw him out
and only later did they find out that he was the King of Denmark!
It was very tight. Very tight.
In 1971, there was more and more guerrilla warfare,
not only in Iran, but elsewhere as well.
The Vietnam counterculture,
the revolutions happening in Cuba, Che Guevara.
These people were not reformers,
they were not bourgeois, middle-class, you know, people
who were worried about their mortgage.
They were worried about changing their countries,
but also world history.
TRANSLATIONS FROM FRENCH:
This was a period when the Shah, among many critics in the West,
was seen as, essentially, a tinpot dictator,
not a liberal man at all.
Some of them were fairly... felt a bit awkward
about the pretensions the Shah was portraying.
Clearly in Britain, for instance,
they were not keen for the Queen to go,
because they thought, if he's pushing it about
that he's the premier monarch in the world, you know,
we don't want to be in a position where our monarchs
are seen as, you know, paying homage to the King of Kings.
Your Majesty, there are some people who feel that Iran
should not be spending millions of dollars on this celebration
while there are still people in need.
How do you answer these critics
and why do you think it was important to have this celebration?
First of all, how do they know about what is spent?
Really, the only expenses that are made for the festivities
are the two official dinners that we are going to give our guests.
This is the least that we could do for such a gathering.
Everybody arrived at the entrance of that big tent at eight o'clock.
It was more than surreal. It was unbelievable.
It was the biggest event of my life.
To see all these people, it was so little place.
For example, they hadn't invited all the ministers.
The Cabinet was not there.
Many Iranians... Even Iranians were not invited.
There was no room. There...
Simply no room.
People hadn't planned exactly what they were going to do
with all these monarchs.
I mean, they had them in their tent cities, but then what?
Nobody had really thought what was going to happen
once they all came in the huge tent,
and so the Shah and the Shahbanu were there to greet them,
the guests, and they started piling up,
because they couldn't get through the receiving line quickly.
The problem is that
not everybody arrived on time
and not everybody went in
within two or three minutes.
So, after some time, there was a queue.
According to the rules of protocol,
kings take precedence against others due to their permanence.
So, they had to go in first.
There were too many of them and more were coming.
So, there were two queues,
one of kings and queens and one of lesser mortals,
like presidents and prime ministers.
It was just unbelievable.
And then there was this huge dust storm that came up,
and people's hairdos were getting undone
and the crowns were being held on so they wouldn't blow off,
and the dresses were swirling,
and the dust was getting into people's eyes,
and they were trying to push their way in
so they wouldn't have to stand out in the dust storm.
This storm just came at the wrong time.
I was scared that this big chandelier
will fall on somebody's head.
It was like the end of the world.
This was not exactly what he expected for opening up the party.
Finally, everybody was sort of piling in,
and they didn't know what to do.
And a lot of the Europeans were related to each other,
but a lot of people didn't know each other.
There wasn't anybody there to sort of say,
"Oh, you know, the Emperor of Japan, I want you to meet Haile Selassie."
You know, so these people would sort of stand off in corners
and stare at each other.
INTERVIEWER: How were the royals and the communists, er...?
The best! The best, the best.
Communists and royals went on to perfection,
as it very often happens.
Even if the Russians had murdered I don't know how many royals,
but that was all in the old days.
The head waiter fainted before the party and we had to carry...
give him some medicine to calm him down.
Five people had to hold him, we took him to the medical...
There was a medical tent and we had to give him tranquillisers.
He just couldn't take it, the pressure.
Five people had to hold him
because he didn't know what he was doing any more.
It was a tremendous pressure.
You have all the heads of states
and then the food is not properly ready.
So, that's not exactly what you are looking for as a head waiter.
But I don't think the customer realised it,
because they had so much to talk together when they arrived,
and whether it's half an hour later or not,
I think they had enough time to talk together.
I don't think the customers realised that we were in panic.
And it was very hot in the kitchen area,
so the people in the kitchen area were practically nude!
They'd taken off most of their clothes and a lot of them were...
The men were sort of in these bikini underwear!
This was the big book where the menu is inside.
So, this is a very nice glass
that you could show... see where you are.
And so the first plate was oeufs de caille or perles de bandar Pahlavi.
Everything the best.
1,000 kilo of caviar.
It's caviar, you know. It's not...bread.
There was caviar at the big dinner.
But, no, they were not night and day caviar, no.
Protocol was a nightmare of all nightmares at this thing.
Everybody was sort of looking to see where everybody else was seated
and who had a better seat and who had a better ranking,
so all that was going on at the same time.
It was very interesting to watch all this intrigue.
Three people had one table.
Each one controlled the other.
They were from the army,
checking that we don't put any poison in the food or something.
Chateaubriand, Chateau Latour, Chateau Lafite.
The second plate was a...
TRANSLATION FROM FRENCH:
To tell you the truth, me personally,
I almost didn't eat anything.
I was only looking around, looking at people.
The tablecloth was one hundred and something metres long
in one piece.
TRANSLATION FROM FRENCH:
The sound and light show was...
I remember that it was very cold and very windy,
and everybody was really tired
and would rather have gone back to their tent
instead of bundling up and going up to the top of the hill
to watch the sound and light show.
Open the gates guarded by winged bulls with human heads.
It was three minutes. Three minutes is a long time.
In San Francisco,
there was an explosion in the Iranian consulate during the night
that set fires throughout the three-storey stone building.
There was heavy damage, but no-one was injured.
Numbers of Iranians around the country
have protested the Shah of Iran's lavish celebration
of the 2,500th anniversary of his dynasty,
a celebration on which we'll have live coverage
by satellite later in this half-hour.
We are firmly on our feet.
And by the grace of God, we are going to progress.
And with or without the sympathy of the outside countries or people,
we shall enter the era of the great civilisation.
We shall regain our past prestige.
And I hope that you will know that I'm not speaking...
..in a spirit of vanity.
I am full of humility,
but I am very sure of my people, and very sure of our destiny.
The great civilisation
was the word which was repeated many, many times
in every speech and in every headline of the newspaper.
It was to give us a sense of pride
and to help us go ahead with the modernisation of Iran
and to be sure of ourselves as Iranians.
What I can say is that we are now sophisticated enough
to use the same methods that you people are using
for interrogating the people that you have to.
-Who are you referring to, sir, specifically?
Any of the... sophisticated societies,
they have some very efficient system of interrogation,
which is much more psychological than physical.
-We do the same things as you're doing.
-You do the same?
And do you regard that as justified?
That depends on what cases.
In the case of betrayal of one's country...
..I could say anything goes.
You can see films, for instance,
you can hear stories,
that even in police precincts,
a police officer or detective
gets so mad at the behaviour of the fellow that he has just arrested
that he loses his head and he just punches on that fellow
or breaks a chair on his head.
These are some kind of human reactions
that it's almost beyond control.
What is it that makes an Iranian?
What is the quality that binds the tribesman 1,000 miles away from here
with the person giving a party in Tehran?
What is the common bond that links them all?
I'm not making any propaganda, but I think it's the crown, the king.
At this moment, yes.
'The climax of the celebrations.
'The first glimpse of the floodlit monument
'outside the airport of Tehran,
'in honour of the present Shah.'
That monument is a moment,
sort of an iconic imagery
that, for them, speaks about the good life.
And I think what is so tragic about that
is that that good life is always in the past.
When the planes left,
Alam asked me over and said, "Take care of the tents."
I went to each one...
..and made a list of what's inside.
Many of the things that were inside were gone already.
They had taken it. Now...
-Who'd taken it? The heads of state?
I have no idea.
I don't want to accuse heads of states
for taking the telephone and radio...
..because there were over 50 of them for each tent.
When I counted, there was only one left.
So, maybe those who were working there took them.
I think it's a very high calibre, the person who comes to say...
-It must be lonely to be Shahanshah.
Yes, it's a very...very special...
..case, if I can say so.
In what way is it special?
I mean, to be, as you say, the King of Kings.
And it means that you are lonely because...
..you really have no-one to go to for advice who is above you.
Well, there's always God.
He was not the only one that I could blame.
I blame myself.
I know my husband blames himself.
We started forgetting our own traditions,
copying other modern countries.
I remember that until I was maybe 15 or 16,
I used to pray.
After that, when I went to high school, I stopped praying
and I forgot about religion, in a way.
I don't know. I blame myself...
I blame myself, because I didn't realise that my cook was a Muslim
and he prayed three times a day
and I would go in the kitchen to tell him what to cook,
in my bikini.
And he would turn his back to me
and make believe that he was doing something.
I didn't realise that he didn't want to look at me.
I didn't realise.
We didn't realise that the country was Muslim.
MUSIC: For Me Formidable
# You are the one for me
# For me, for me, formidable
# You are my love very
# Very, very, veritable... #
In 1971, the Shah of Iran, the self-proclaimed 'king of kings', celebrated 2,500 years of the Persian monarchy by throwing the greatest party in history. Money was no object - a lavish tent city, using 37km of silk, was erected in a specially created oasis. The world's top restaurant at the time, Maxim's, closed its doors for two weeks to cater the event, a five-course banquet served to over sixty of the world's kings, queens and presidents, and washed down with some of the rarest wines known to man.
Over a decadent five-day period, guests were treated to a pageant of thousands of soldiers dressed in ancient Persian costume, a 'son et lumiere' at the foot of Darius the Great's temple, and the opening of the Azadi Tower in Tehran, designed to honour the Shah himself.
Every party leaves a few hangovers. This one left a country reeling, never to recover. It crystallised the opposition, led by the Ayatollah Khomeini. More than any other event, this party marked the break between the king of kings and the people of Iran he reigned over.