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Bling, Beyoncé and boomtime in the Middle East: inside the launch of Atlantis The Royal

What did Catherine Ostler find when she joined actresses, singers, socialites – and influencers – to toast the opening of Dubai’s newest mega-resort hotel?

Atlantis The Royal is lit up in spectacular fashion during the opening weekend extravaganza

Neville Hopwood/Getty Images

Rising up 16ft into the night sky between flares, flames and sky-grazing fountain jets, sparkly corseted, mini-skirted crooning Beyoncé — watched by 1200 guests jiggling to the music and drinking from mini Moet bottles via silver sippers — looks like she might be about to turn into a firework, giving the whole three-day launch of Atlantis The Royal, a mega-resort hotel in Dubai, a literal public relations explosion from which it may never recover.

But no — Mrs Jay-Z, Queen DuBey, comes back down in one piece just in time for all hell to break loose in the form of the fireworks setting the sky ablaze all the way along this isthmus of the Palm Jumeriah, this leg of the island constructed in the shape of palm fronds, between the new Atlantis The Royal and its sister hotel, the pink Atlantis, the Palm or ‘all the way from Sodom to Gomorrah,’ as one guest so biblically put it.

Greg Mallett, Lady Amelia Spencer, Lady Eliza Spencer and Channing Millerd were among the guests

Jeff Spicer/Getty Images

Beyoncé, it has been noted, was paid an astonishing $24 million for a 60-minute set, during which she was accompanied by Firdhaus, an all-female orchestra, and Mayyas, an energetic Lebanese all-female dance troup, with a reimagined Raphael fresco, the School of Athens in the Vatican, behind her. She belted out her tunes after a four-year concert hiatus, including, peculiarly, a performance of Ave Maria with a Schubert accompaniment and one, Brown Skin Girl, with her eleven-year-old daughter Blue Ivy, who, as a proper 21st century celebrity, feels no need to hide from the glare of her own fame.

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They did however attempt the impossible – to ban phones, providing bags to put them in (security also consisted of bracelets by a South African brand Pichulik and magnetic pins). Stressed security guards tried to hold back the i-tide which was nearly successful until the fireworks, an extraordinary 360-degree show – volleys coming off balconies, and the roof, noise like gunfire – until the never-ending after party continued with an electric house music supergroup called Swedish House Mafia picking up where the levitating Beyoncé had left off. Waitresses in silver dresses and headpieces paraded around, carrying more champagne in lit-up bottles.

Beyoncé wowed the crowd with a deliciously OTT performance

Mason Poole/Parkwood Media/Getty Images

Atlantis The Palm, also a Kerzner International hotel (controlled by Dubai’s sovereign wealth fund), opened in 2008 with a launch of unprecedented extravagance, with Kylie singing whilst Charlie Theron and Robert de Niro pitched in. This second coming of a weekend variously had black gloved and booted slinky-in-green satin Kendall Jenner launching her tequila brand here, and Nobu Matsuhisa smashing up Sake barrels, the ribbon-cutting equivalent of a sake ceremony, there. The first hotel opened into a recession – but it is still going strong, hosting families who enjoy the water park between the two hotels, apparently the biggest in the world.

  • Sasha Von Bismarck and Ella Richards attend the DL1961 x Ella Richards event in partnership with Frieze

  • Marlon Richards and Lucie De La Falaise in New York 2002

  • Anita Pallenberg and Keith Richards circa 1970

Kirstin Sinclair/Getty Images

Ella Richards and her boyfriend of five years, the photographer Sascha von Bismarck. His mother, Debbonaire ‘Debbie’ von Bismarck, throws the most extravagant dinner parties at her apartment in Battersea. Sascha’s brother Nikolai goes out with Kate Moss, who’s also Ella’s godmother and model agent boss.

Everything here is a superlative of some kind. Walk into the new hotel and lines of smiling staff greet you in battalions. Everywhere there is space and marble and reflective shiny surfaces, being swept and polished lest a single smudge ruin the sheen. For this weekend there were 2400 staff – some said more, perhaps everyone lost count – tending 1200 guests at the concert.

Atlantis The Royal boasts a rooftop bar, Cloud 22, which offers exquisite views of the Palm

Jeff Spicer/Getty Images for Atlantis The Royal

Eight years in the building, with 795 rooms and suites, Atlantis The Royal is a transformer-style set of building blocks designed by architects Kohn Pederson Fox Associates of New York. It might possibly flip over and turn itself into the Empire State Building when no one is looking. It dominates the edge of the Palm, facing two ways – one side the Arabian sea, with jet-skis, sleek power boats, giant drones and buzzing helicopters, the other, the celebrity and oligarch owned plate-glass villas and skyscrapers beyond.

In the bright sunlight, loud music pumping out all day from behind the luminous palm trees, the hotel could be something from the metaverse. In cooking, guests, style of decor, it is a no man’s land of nationhood, with everyone there to view and be viewed, citizens of everywhere and nowhere. Actually that is not quite true – it is from the land of brand. Here is Valentino, here is Whispering Angel rosé, here at the edge of the Royal Tea Room in the foyer is a kind of art installation – made up entirely of Louis Vuitton trunks in a puddle of water. And of the 17 restaurants, there are names, names, names: José Andrés from Spain, Gastón Acurio from Peru.

During the day, guests could relax by the pool

Brandon Barré/Kerzner International

This hotel is not just more luxurious than its predecessor, the world into which it is launching has changed completely: because alongside actresses, singers, socialites like the Spencer twins, Prince Harry’s ex, Natalie Pinkham, Jodie Kidd and magazine people, there are the Influencers, talons tapping away on iPhones as a female DJ plays above Nobu by the Beach. The TikTokkers pick at sushi on their sun-loungers, Nobu’s ‘more casual dining concept’. German influencers, Australian influencers, everywhere-influencers each one a zestily-dressed made-up preening, pouting narcissus followed by an entourage of friend, stylist and snapper about to share the delights of 90 pools (rarely does anyone get in one – they are preserving their hair and nails) and exquisite food with their followers… Cloud 22, the rooftop bar with cabanas and glass-edged pool suspended between two pieces of lego from where the views of the Palm, especially at sunset, is particularly photogenic.

The living room of a Sky Terrace Suite offers breathtaking views

Brandon Barré/Kerzner International

There is a look – the moneyed tattooed classes, for example; a man steps into the lift in flip flops, a tattoo on his foot ‘Do What You Love.’ The very act of people-watching, it has to be said, is as first class as the food and the friendly staff. Wagatha Christie might kick off by the pool at any moment. In the day, t-shirts are Balmain, trainers are Balenciaga, tops are cropped, eyebrows are slug.

Before the concert, there is a queue to pose on the ‘blue carpet,’ with every variety of strapless, glittery, metallic, dresses long and short, frothy and sleek, catsuits, big bird numbers, although the men are in a hotchpotch of black tie and no tie.

Sample world-class dining at Nobu by the Beach

Brandon Barré/Kerzner International

Guests were given reservations at one of the restaurants, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal seemed to be full of the British contingent; the starter his ‘meat fruit’ – it’s pâté, but it looks like a tomato – ‘a playful mandarin and chicken liver parfait’; pudding, Tipsy Cake, ‘a spit roast pineapple dessert circa 1810’ both of which apparently are ‘world-renowned’. And in between, Beef Royale, a beef, onion and carrot dish that featured at George IV’s coronation. The night before it had been a feast at the cavernous food court, Gastronomy, where breakfast of all possible colour and creed is also served, from patisserie to dim sum. The whole place is a temple to (colourful, Instagrammable) food. Truffles come with everything. A lot of food is raw (fish), all squeaky fresh and glossy – Dubai takes advantage of its central place in the global suppy chain.

The extraordinary fireworks lit up the night sky

Cedric Ribeiro/Getty Images

The clientele, similarly, are citizens of everywhere. Although since sanctions and invasion of Ukraine, Russian money has poured into Dubai and with its low tax, low scrutiny economy, it is in a boom, with property prices, for example, doubling in the last two years alone. And courtesy of Atlantis The Royal, it can also be one big non-stop bling-athon, the only stress being whether to have paella or sashimi, Moet or martinis. If you like an Ibizan 24/7 party vibe this is the place for you, with or without Beyoncé. Atlantis The Royal has risen, at full volume.

Atlantis The Royal is an architectural marvel to behold

Courtesy of Kerzner International

  • Courtesy of Kerzner International

    The show-stopping fountain fire

  • Courtesy of Kerzner International

    Attention to detail starts with the impeccably designed entrance

  • Cedric Riberio/Getty Images for Atlantis Dubai

    At 11.5 metres tall and consisting of 5.5 tonnes of stainless steel, Droplets is the focal piece of the lobby

  • Brandon Barré/Kerzner International

    Get swept away into a world of perfumed Persian delights at Ariana’s Persian Kitchen

  • Brandon Barré/Kerzner International

    Cloud 22 is the hotspot for influencers wanting the ultimate holiday photo

  • Brandon Barré/Kerzner International

    Ling Ling boasts a heady mixture of a dining room, an ultra-lounge club and outdoor terraces

  • Brandon Barré/Kerzner International

    The opulent surrounds of the Sky Pool Villa

  • Brandon Barré/Kerzner International

    The Sky Pool Villa terrace allows guests to recline in absolute privacy and luxury

  • Brandon Barré/Kerzner International

    The Sky Pool Villa bathroom becomes a personal oasis

  • Brandon Barré/Kerzner International

    Created by Chef José Andrés, Jaleo Dubai serves up Spanish cuisine