It’s High Season in Saint-Tropez, that sliver of summertime when international nomads with money to burn, social heights to scale, and backstories too byzantine to decipher converge on the once untrammeled, now enameled fishing village nestled on the Côte d’Azur.
Every year at this time, Denise Rich docks her 157-footer Lady Joy (Madame’s middle name) sur les quais and entertains her friends, and their friends, and their friends until the rooster crows or the bubbly runs dry. It’s a tradition, like the arrival of le Beaujolais nouveau.
This year, Denise’s gaggle of glamorati included many of the usuals—we’ll get to them, or some of them, in a minute—but there was an interesting new face, and a pretty one, in the person of Isabel Dos Santos. She’s a woman much talked about in these circles, but seldom seen and never overexposed, in that she rarely talks to the media—even the ones she owns. Especially the ones she owns.
Behind that beatific, reserved, and gracious countenance beats the heart of a businesswoman, and a damn successful one. Financial experts agree she is the richest woman in Africa, the youngest billionaire in Africa (she’s 42), and the most influential businessperson in Angola. And maybe now in Portugal, as well.
On the Internet, Isabel is described as “the richest black woman in the world”— Oprah ranks #2—but this is not exactly accurate, because she is, just like Barack Obama, a mulatto, the child of an African father and a Russian-born mother.
Now, the important part—Isabel’s father is Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, who has been president and dictator of Angola since 1979, four years after the former colony achieved its independence from Portugal. Under her father’s guidance and benevolence, and with what everyone concedes are her own sharp instincts, she has assembled huge investments in telecommunications, media, retail, finance and energy, both in Angola and in Portugal. (Oh, and don’t forget the oil, the diamonds and the cement in her portfolio. There’s only one cement company in all of booming Angola, and not long ago she acquired 25% of it.)
According to Forbes.com, Isabel’s net worth exceeds $3 billion. In 2002, she married Sindika Dokolo, from a prominent Congolese banking family, in a ceremony in Luanda that reportedly cost $4 million. This aroused some grumbling in a country where 70% of the population lives on $2 a day, but there wasn’t any grumbling about that sort of thing among the yachtsmen in Saint-Tropez. (If you want to know more, Forbes will fill you in).
Getting back to Denise’s party, this year’s theme was Alice in Wonderland, so her guests, many of whom support her cancer research foundation, stepped Through the Looking Glass and were greeted by every creature concocted by Lewis Carroll’s febrile imagination. All this happened to the music of DJ Cassidy, né Milton Podell, who rakes in around 100 grand for spinning records at a party. (Presumably, Barack and Michelle got a discount for their 50th birthday shindigs.)
Magic Johnson and his wife Cookie were there, along with their friends Samuel L. Jackson and his wife of 35 years LaTanya. The Jacksons are staying with the Johnsons aboard Amadeus, the 230-foot yacht that Magic is chartering for $527,000 per week from Bernard Arnault. TMZ and Fox Sports are reporting this is the seventh year Johnson has chartered this boat and this summer he’ll be on it for six weeks. That adds up to an aggregate cost of 3 million dollars, but TMZ says that Jackson “chips in” for the time he and LaTanya are on board. Johnson, part-owner of the L.A. Dodgers, is worth 500 million so he’ll still have 497 million left on Labor Day. (I know you hate all this talk about pecuniary matters, ORB does too, but it will be useful next time you charter a boat.)
Steve and Christine Schwarzman came down from their villa in the hills above Saint-Tropez to mingle with just-divorced London hostess Lisa Tchenguiz; beloved international social figure Rena Sendi and her husband Makram; luscious Swedish model and TV personality Victoria Silvstedt; jeweler and philanthropist Lorraine Schwartz; and cine-siren Joan Collins, who long ago bought an apartment in Monte Carlo just so she can while away her summers on the French Riviera. Hey, it beats sitting bumper-to-bumper on Route 27.