Beyonce, Gadaffi, And The Shady World Of Private Gigs

As rebellion and revolution sweep the Middle East, it seems the possible emergence of democracy could have an unexpected victim: pop star bank accounts.

Beyonce has been forced to declare that she gave away to charity the £1 million-plus fee she received for playing a New Year’s Eve party staged in St Barts in the Caribbean last year by one of Colonel Gaddafi’s sons. She follows Nelly Furtado who tweeted earlier this week she’d donated her Libyan dictator cash to charity.


Pop accountants must be feeling sick, because the annual bash organised by the tyrant’s clan has consistently proved a nice little earner. It’s claimed the likes of Usher, Jay-Z and Timbaland have pocketed from it, while Mariah Carey kicked the whole thing off in 2008/09 with the most rewarding day’s work anyone will ever do… ever: four songs for a cool million.

This current round of sudden financial remorse has shined a light into the wider, very murky world of super-lucrative private gigs. Obviously when musicians could simply sit at home and watch their bank balances grow thanks to record sales playing for the extremely rich was frowned on. Now it seems everyone is at it. Not that they’d want you to know, because let’s face it rock’n’roll charged by the hour isn’t really a good look.

Sting hoped that his 2009 appearance in Uzbekistan , more a private festival than a private gig organised by dictator Islam Karimov’s daughter, would slip under the radar despite receiving a fee believed to be between £1m and £2m.


However the Police bassist soon found himself in hot water (ironic considering boiling dissidents alive is a crime that has been levelled against Karimov’s regime) with his fans and was forced to issue a defensive statement feebly suggesting that boycotting the country would make it “become even more closed, paranoid and insular”. Strangely the people of Uzbekistan are yet to build any statues of Sting.

Fortunately our favourite musicians don’t have to plead poverty quite yet, as it is still possible to get a paying gig from a non-dictator.

Christina Aquilera, liberty permitting, is apparently available for £150,000 a show, while George Michael or Elton John will set you back £1.5m for your wedding. Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovitch has reportedly booked Kings Of Leon (£300,000, though that was before ‘Only By The Night’), Amy Winehouse and Prince (£1m a piece) for his parties, while many of his compatriots are equally keen to secure star talent.


A DJ I know recently recounted an all expenses paid weekend on a yacht moored off Ibiza that followed a strange phone call from Russia. Not only were they paid five grand for a three hour set, but the way cash was being thrown around suggested the whole thing was being bankrolled by mafia money.

So it seems if you’re a pop or rock star and you fancy a slice of the mega-rich private party circuit, the best thing you can do is to leave your ideals and your principles at the door, accept the bad publicity, the dodgy associations and the fact you will alienate a large (non rich) part of your fanbase, and then take a lesson from Axl Rose: just because you’re taking a millionaire’s money, you can still them as badly as you treat everyone else.

Guns N Roses might have been happy to sell their art when they played a private gig in Moscow last October for a $1m, but their personal space was not up grabs, with Axl demanding his own “green corridor” which saw $1000-a-head guests turfed out of the VIP area just so the singer wouldn’t have to meet anyone when he arrived at 2am.

Remarkably, it seems, not everything is for sale.


You can listen to Paul Stokes debating the merits of performing for dictators on Radio 4’s Today Programme at