Bubble bursts for hedge fund gala that celebrated age of excess

28 April 2013

Hedge funds

Bubble bursts for hedge fund gala that celebrated age of excess

Ark founding chairman Arpad Busson

APRIL 28, 2013 by: Sam Jones, Hedge Fund Correspondent

As with the bottles of Krug, the Ark gala – once the lavish pinnacle of London’s boomtime financial social scene – has been put on ice.

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The dinner, which earned notoriety for scaling the heights in outrageous ostentation and financial largesse has been quietly mothballed by Ark’s trustees, two people familiar with the charitable organisation say.

Over its decade-long history, the £10,000-a-ticket gala has been a barometer of the hedge fund sector’s success, peaking with the £26.6m it raised in a single evening in 2007, when Madonna and Prince sang to guests, former US president Bill Clinton delivered the opening speech and the auction prizes included a private dinner with Mikhail Gorbachev.

Since its first evening in the spring of 2002, the dinner has raised $160m for the Ark charity, which focuses on children’s health and education around the world and is best known in the UK as the sponsor of 18 academy schools.

Last year’s ball, held in a marquee in Kensington Palace Gardens and attended by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, raised £14.5m.

Ark confirmed that there were “no plans” to hold the ball this year but said that no decision to end the event permanently had been taken. “We are taking a pause for breath and we don’t know how long that pause lasts?…?We have been focusing on other ways of raising money,” Ark said.

Ark, the brainchild of Arpad “Arki” Busson, the Swiss financier and hedge fund manager, has attracted plenty of opprobrium for the gala’s unabashed display of wealth.

“It was all getting to feel a little bit 1788 and all that,” said a person connected with Ark, in a comparison of the gala to the court of Louis XVI on the eve of the French Revolution.

Even at its supposed post-crash nadir, the gala still managed to appear as the dernier cri in sybaritism.

The 2010 evening, for example, the guest list of which was the usual gamut of A-list Hollywood celebrities, billionaires and royalty, featured a starter of lobster: the crustacea, topped with guacamole and dressed as babies, arrived at tables in vintage prams pushed by nurses.

The theme of the evening was Arcadia, though it may as well have been Alice in Wonderland: The abandoned Eurostar terminus at London’s Waterloo train station was converted into a woodland grove.

Rock group The Killers reformed to indulge ticketholders with a post-prandial performance, and lots for sale in the auction included a week on a private yacht (sold for £310,000) and a Damian Hirst-decorated Fiat (sold for £90,000).

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