Morocco // Tangier, Tetouan and the northwest //

Malcolm Forbes: Tangier’s last tycoon

The American publishing tycoon Malcolm Forbes bought the Dar el Mendoub, Rue Mohammed Tazi, in 1970. His reason, ostensibly at least, was the acquisition of a base for launching and publishing an Arab-language version of Forbes Magazine – the “millionaires’ journal”. For the next two decades, until his death in 1990, he was a regular visitor to the city, and it was at Dar el Mendoub that he decided to host his last great extravagance, his seventieth birthday party, in 1989.

This was the grandest social occasion Tangier had seen since the days of Woolworths heiress Barbara Hutton, whose scale and spectacle Forbes presumably intended to emulate and exceed. Spending an estimated $2.5m, he brought in his friend Elizabeth Taylor as co-host and chartered a 747, a DC-8 and Concorde to fly in eight hundred of the world’s rich and famous from New York and London. The party entertainment was on an equally imperial scale, including six hundred drummers, acrobats and dancers, and a fantasia – a cavalry charge which ends with the firing of muskets into the air – by three hundred Berber horsemen.

Forbes’s party was a mixed public relations exercise, with even the gossip press feeling qualms about such a display of American affluence in a country like Morocco. However, Forbes most likely considered the party a success, for his guests included not just the celebrity rich – Gianni Agnelli, Robert Maxwell, Barbara Walters, Henry Kissinger – but half a dozen US state governors and the chief executives or presidents of scores of multinational corporations likely to advertise in his magazine. And, of course, it was tax deductible.

After Forbes’s death, Dar el Mendoub passed into the hands of the state and was used to house personal guests of King Hassan II, before being converted into a museum. It has now reverted back to being a VIP residence for royal and state guests.