The lion king

Elton John’s annual White Tie and Tiara Ball is always a lavish affair. DNA Productions MD Matt James reveals how this year’s event lived up to its reputation

Each year the White Tie and Tiara Ball's theme is inspired by a different country. Over the years this has meant dreaming up more and more extravagant "wow factors" to impress an increasingly jaded crowd who've already bought the proverbial (D&G) T-shirt, while ensuring all costs are covered by sponsorship from jewellers Chopard.

Inspired by a trip to projects funded by his AIDS Foundation, Elton insisted the theme for The Seventh Annual White Tie and Tiara Ball be Africa, so we researched an authentic interpretation. We contacted a firm of licensed animal handlers who had supplied creatures for the Harry Potter films, but our options were limited.

A crocodile wouldn't be able to "work" if it were a cold evening, the only trained elephant in the UK was on its last legs and a lion would have to be caged to prevent it chowing down on a celebrity. So the result was A-list guests including the Beckhams, Diana Ross and the Osbournes coming face to face with a pair of giraffes and zebras trampling through Elton's herbaceous boarder.

Hoping for a hot evening, we designed the reception marquee to resemble an open-sided game lodge with a thatched portico entrance. We stained wooden beams to give them an aged look and tied them together with rope to create handrails around the edge of the room. A break in the handrails meant guests could step out on to the lawn overlooking the lake, which we scattered with antique rattan furniture.

Down the centre of the marquee we installed 25ft-tall internal beams that reached the ceiling, and cream-coloured plaster walls adorned with tribal shields and spears. The concept for the dining marquee was a colonial safari tent. Panoramic photos of African landscapes were enlarged to run the length of the 30-metre marquee and backlit with fluorescent lighting to create the illusion of an open-sided tent at sunset. Tent poles were then installed along the walls, giving the impression that they were supporting the marquee roof, which had been draped with muslin.

To complete the theming, caterers Table Talk created an African-inspired menu that included carpaccio of crocodile (just like sushi), and roast springbok (a type of African antelope similar in taste to venison). But outrageous as Elton loves to be, the event committee hesitated when it came to serving his guests crocodile and in the end we opted for a safer alternative – skewers of African fish such as Kingclip, Talapia and Marlin. But without doubt it was dessert that stole the show; a chocolate African hut complete with an edible "thatched" roof.

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