The bride wore white, while everyone else wore expressions of stunned disbelief on the day Said took Khadijah to be his lawfully wedded wife.

With their jaw-droppingly lavish Moscow ceremony, featuring performances by Sting, Jennifer Lopez and Enrique Iglesias - if you could see them over the 12ft-high wedding cake and the ocean of flowers - Russia's absurdly opulent oligarchs have staged what has been hailed as the world's first $1 billion wedding ($NZD1.4 billion).

And this weekend's ceremony was only act one. Oil oligarch Mikhail Gutseriev, the groom's billionaire father, is throwing another lavish party for the couple at London's Dorchester hotel, at which it is rumoured they will be serenaded by Elton John and Beyonce.

Industry experts questioned the billion-dollar figure yesterday, but admit the Russians are pushing wedding budgets to eye-watering heights.


In this case, the stakes have been raised by the fact three oligarch family weddings are taking place almost simultaneously. "They're guests at each others' weddings and so the pressure is on to outdo each other in grandiosity," said an insider.

The competition has its work cut out to keep up with the Gutserievs, who laid on what Russian Tatler described as the "event of the year".

A fleet of Rolls-Royces and Bentleys ferried 600 guests to and from Saturday's wedding party at the palatial Safisa, Moscow's glitziest restaurant.

Passing an honour guard dressed as Cossacks, friends and family were ushered into a vast ballroom, which had been converted into a floral wonderland of hydrangeas and roses.

Jennifer Lopez alone was reportedly paid around $8 million to perform. Backed by a troupe of dancers, she had at least three costume changes, including a revealing jewelled leotard.

This racy outfit didn't go down well with critics on social media, complaining that it was supposed to have been a Muslim wedding.

For though the groom, 28-year-old Said Gutseriev, was educated at Harrow and Oxford, his father - a former fruit and vegetable porter - comes from the Ingush, a Muslim ethnic group from the Russian Caucasus.

As for Lopez, she admitted her biggest challenge of the day was pronouncing the couple's names correctly.

Sting, the eco-warrior who prefers to be seen as the saviour of rainforest tribes rather than as a wedding singer for the super-rich, performed some of his old Police hits and was later photographed chatting to the groom.

Completing the bill were Spanish crooner Enrique Iglesias, son of Julio, and the French singer Patricia Kaas.

After a dinner of European cuisine, sushi and cake - a nine-tiered monster decorated in pink garlands - guests witnessed an elaborate firework display, with rockets launched off giant wheels.
Of course, nothing could divert attention from the stunning bride, Khadija Uzhakhovs, a 20-year-old dental student who comes from an ordinary family, but has the same ethnic background as the groom, but on Saturday night she was drowning in diamonds.

She wore an elaborate wedding gown created by the Lebanese designer Elie Saab, the celebrity world's couturier of the moment.

Wedding industry experts estimated that the bespoke creation, meticulously assembled by 40 people, would have cost up to $1 million.

The vast dress was so heavily encrusted with crystals that it reportedly weighed nearly two kilograms, forcing the bride to move at a snail's pace. She has married into a family with a strong British connection - her new father-in-law Mikhail Gutseriev fled there in 2007, facing what he insists were trumped-up tax evasion, fraud and money laundering charges in Russia.

The 58-year-old businessman claimed he was forced by President Putin to sell his $6 billion oil empire to Oleg Deripaska, the oligarch friend of Lord Mandelson and a loyal Putin stooge.

Gutseriev stayed in Britain until a rapprochement with the Putin regime in 2010, when all charges against him were dropped.

Forbes magazine estimates he is worth $8.9 billion, so he has a lot at his disposal to lavish on his son's nuptials. However, in poverty-stricken Russia, many have reacted with contempt to the snapshots posted on social media by guests.

The response from the multi- billion-pound celebrity wedding industry in the UK has also been swift - abject horror. Sarah Haywood, queen of celebrity wedding planning in Britain, said she was "outraged" that anyone might think she had planned it, describing it as an "absolute monstrosity".

With the average wedding arranged by Haywood costing around $2.4 million, she pooh-poohed rumours that the Gutseriev bill will run to $1 billion.

"You can't spend that unless you give your guests gems as wedding favours," she told me. "And you'd at least put a nice floor down - they had Perspex over the carpet."

Still, each guest at the Moscow party was presented with a delicate, jewelled box engraved with the couple's initials. And the bride wore a matching diamond tiara and necklace that included a huge single stone at her throat.

The wedding flowers could have cost $2 million - though many would have been silk or they would have wilted, says Haywood.

And that cake, topped with an Islamic crescent and star? Around $300,000, she estimates.

By far the biggest expense will have been for the star entertainers, with each big name easily running into several million pounds, according to Haywood.

It's not unusual for Russian or Middle Eastern billionaires to have a less formal second wedding celebration in Europe, as the Gutserievs plan, where it can be more intimate.

But as wedding watchers eagerly await the London end of the Gutseriev festivities, industry insiders are doubtful that Elton John or Beyonce will be there.

"You couldn't get Elton even for £20 million. He wouldn't want to do something like this," said one source.

That sounds like crazy money even for a billionaire - but in the mad world of competitive oligarchs, any expense is really not impossible.

- Daily Mail