the end of the stars oligarch sauce train
As Robbie Williams sang his hit Angels, hundreds of revelers swayed and sang along. Williams’ performance was so lavishly lit and impeccably produced that it could have been on one of his sold-out tours. But it was not a normal pop concert. It was in Saint Petersburg in the spring of 2018, and the British singer was performing at a private party to celebrate the 25and anniversary of MegaFon, the Russian mobile phone company controlled by oligarch Alisher Usmanov.
Former Arsenal shareholder Usmanov was sanctioned this month by the British government for being, in his own words, “associated with individuals within the Russian government involved in the destabilization and threat of the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine”.
Williams is said to have played many private gigs in Russia or for Russians over the years. In 2014 he reportedly performed in Moscow to an audience of members of Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, while in 2016 he was reportedly paid £1.6m for singing at the wedding of the tycoon’s daughter. oil Rashid Sardarov. (He also performed very publicly: in 2018, he performed at the opening ceremony of the FIFA World Cup in Moscow.)
But the former Take That singer is far from alone. Elton John, Mariah Carey, Deep Purple, Christina Aguilera and the late Whitney Houston are among those who have performed at private events for members of Russia’s elite, both at home and abroad (including not all, it must be said, face sanctions for links to the Russian state).
Such shows have always been an accepted and lucrative side hustle of the day job of being a pop star. The best musicians can charge millions of dollars to play just a handful of songs. Their travel and accommodation are covered. Hosting wealthy Russians on the side provides a tidy source of income for relatively little work: a name check and a stage smile is followed by an actual check and, most likely, an even wider smile. Hosts bought the perception of celebrity closeness, while stars bloated their bank accounts for an easy gig.