We take a look inside the secretive and exclusive get-togethers that unite the world’s wealthiest and most powerful people, where it’s about much more than just fun and games.
It’s not an entirely new concept: the British aristocracy have made the blending of leisure and networking a lifetime’s work since Henry VIII was taking both wives and heads in alarming numbers. Swanning from fox hunt to garden party to masked ball, the ‘idle rich’ were the envy of many a commoner who knew they would never experience such pleasures. The exclusive and elusive nature of the aristocracy, with its inter-marriage and invite-only events kept it healthy, wealthy and wise.
This is 2017, however, and while the rich professionals are far from idle, you’d be mistaken in thinking there is no longer an elite group of extremely wealthy people looking to meet up in a secluded location for some high-powered networking. They try to keep it secret, although Instagram posts are most definitely encouraged.
Now in its fourth year, the sexiest camp on the calendar is Google’s über-exclusive ‘The Camp’. Held at Rocco Forte’s sprawling Verdura resort in Sicily, with sparkling azure waters and ancient ruins as a backdrop, the program here is all about stimulation. In the mornings, select invite-only guests present inspiring talks on everything from space travel to genomics and the fight against leukaemia.
In the afternoons, it’s all fun, games, bonfires and the beach, or perhaps just chilling on Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg’s 305-foot yacht. The evenings are spent dining among Greek temples and being entertained by the likes of Alicia Keys, who was a guest in 2016. Yes, this is a hot ticket: perhaps the hottest on the planet.
Google did bring 20 of its tech-heads along, and there are a couple of others such as Elon Musk and Snapchat’s Evan Spiegel in attendance, but it’s far from a nerd fest. Others on the glittering, 80-long guest list included global phenomena Malala Yousafzai and Pharrell Williams, intellectual glamazons Charlize Theron and Karlie Kloss, as well as Queen Rania of Jordan, Goldman Sachs chairman and CEO Lloyd Blankfein, and YouTube sensation Lilly Singh. It’s a stimulating crowd, indeed.
Another seriously supercharged get-together occurs when the giants of tech and media land their private jets en masse for the Allen & Company Conference in Idaho’s Sun Valley resort – this year it’s scheduled for 4 July. Jeans and padded vests are the dress code, belying the fact that these are some of the wealthiest and most powerful people on the planet.
There are plenty of activities on offer, from hiking and mountain biking, to golf and whitewater rafting. But the main activity here is networking, and some really big deals are brokered. Although nothing becomes public until much later, because the conference brings together such a smorgasbord of top executives, it’s credited for kindling major mergers like Comcast and NBC, as well as blockbuster acquisitions like Jeff Bezos’s purchase of The Washington Post.
Jeans and padded vests are the dress code, belying the fact that these are some of the most powerful people on the planet
Any mogul worth their salt wouldn’t miss it, and the line-up last year shows that few do. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, CBS Corporation CEO Leslie Moonves, PayPal chairman and former CEO of eBay John Donahoe, Apple CEO Tim Cook, The Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Iger, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, media gurus Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman as well as Elon Musk and Bill Gates were but a few of the heavyweights looking to expand their network (and net worth) at last year’s gathering.
Perhaps the most bizarre clandestine club is the one that meets among the tall redwood trees at Bohemian Grove, a male-only pleasure dome just north of San Francisco. Big hitters in this largely Republican boys club have included Henry Kissinger, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, David Rockefeller, Gerald Ford and George Bush.
According to journalist Philip Weiss, who managed to infiltrate the camp in the late-80s while Reagan was there, members consider the place to be sacred, saying: “The religion they consecrate is right-wing, laissez-faire and quintessentially western, with some Druid tree worship thrown in for fun.
The often-bizarre rites have elevated what was once a provincial club for San Franciscans embarrassed by the rude manners of the Wild West into the most exclusive club in the US, with 2,300 members drawn from the whole of the American establishment and a waiting list 33 years long.”
The opening night’s moonlit ritual involves robes and torches and the burning of an effigy that represents ‘Care’. The idea is that the boys here can leave the troubles of the world behind and let it all hang out. Literally.
“You know you are inside the Bohemian Grove,” says Weiss, “when you come down a trail in the woods and hear piano music from amid a group of tents and then round a bend to see a man with a beer in one hand and his penis in the other, urinating into the bushes. This is the most gloried-in ritual of the encampment, the freedom of powerful men to pee wherever they like.”
Weiss goes on to say that there aren’t really any rules here, apart from the rule not to do any business – which is largely ignored – and the unwritten rule that everyone gets drunk, that seems to be strictly adhered to.
There aren’t really any rules here, apart from the rule not to do any business – which is largely ignored.
There are valets dispensing bedside gin fizzes before breakfast to set the tone for the day and Weiss notes that although there is a sense of decorum, and no one throws up, “everyone is perpetually numbed and loose.”
These days the club is under pressure from outside to admit women to the camp, an idea to which members are most definitely opposed. Given the 24-hour US college fraternity party atmosphere, it’s probably best left that way.