Famed for his lavish lifestyle that garnered him a reputation as the “richest man in the world” during the 1980s, Adnan Khashoggi pushed decadence to new levels with the build of 86 metre Nabila. Sophia Wilson discovers how the flamboyant Saudi arms trader shaped superyacht history
“People thought of Adnan Khashoggi as the richest man in the world because of his lifestyle but in reality, it was all smoke and mirrors,” says Jonathan Beckett, chief executive of Burgess. “He was a charming man and that is how he got to where he was in life. He charmed everybody, be it Elizabeth Taylor or whoever.”
Adnan Khashoggi in 1992
Born in Mecca, Khashoggi was the eldest son of the personal physician to King Ibn Saud, and he made his “billions” by being involved in some of the biggest arms deals of the 20th century. He is rumoured to have first noticed the financial benefits of facilitating connections while at boarding school in Egypt. The story goes that he introduced two of his classmates’ fathers – an Egyptian who made towels and sheets and a Libyan who was in the market for those items – and took a healthy commission.
His personal wealth began to amass quickly in the 1970s when, after the Arab- Israeli war, Saudi Arabia and other states began an extensive armament programme. Khashoggi became the middleman between America and Saudi Arabia for these arms purchases and was not shy about displaying his wealth. In New York he knocked together 16 apartments to make one grand residence, he owned three lavishly refitted commercial-size jets, and in the late 1970s he decided he needed a superyacht to add to his portfolio.
Having bought his first yacht when he was just 18, he would not be content with just any superyacht – he wanted to build the largest yacht in the world. He turned to Italian yard Benetti to make his 86-metre vision a reality and employed the services of the late, legendary designer Jon Bannenberg. “I think he naturally gravitated towards [Jon] because he was absolutely at the top of his game at the time,” recalls Jon’s son Dickie Bannenberg, who was a teenager during the build. “I don’t know the exact circumstances in which they met but I do remember my dad talking about lots of trips to see clients in the Middle East in general. He used to have to be prepared to wait around for hours, sitting in a Mercedes with the air con running until he was suddenly summoned at 11 o’clock at night.”
The result of Bannenberg’s design was not only the largest private yacht in the world, but also one of the most distinctive. With five decks incorporating 11 suites (each named after a precious jewel) and a helipad, Nabila featured modern lines that were complemented by her futuristic silver hull. “The yacht was so different at the time, like so many of my dad’s projects, but that one especially so. With the silver hull, the white paintwork and those distinctive angled air funnels and air exhausts, she was very prominent for a long time,” says Dickie.
Nabila splashed at Benetti in 1979
For the interiors, Khashoggi turned to Italian designers Luigi Sturchio and it was here that his ambitions were truly allowed to run wild. The yacht was swathed in gold and diamonds, with added touches including chinchilla bedspreads, an enormous bathtub carved out of a huge piece of marble with gold taps (naturally), and a crystal-covered piano that was reportedly gifted to Khashoggi’s wife by Liberace. Khashoggi also wanted the yacht to be completely self-sufficient so included additions such as a three-chair hair salon and a hospital with an operating theatre.
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