THE SULTAN OF BRUNEI is a mythical sort of guy, inescapable and aloof, both everywhere and nowhere in his country. His portrait hangs in every restaurant, his photo often in the newspaper, his face on at least one TV station at any given time. But public appearances are rare, and his notoriously expensive palace (pictured below) is visible only sort of from a single park. He wears black suits and a thin goatee, which make him resemble a James Bond villain. As of the country’s independence, in 1984, he was worth 40 billion dollars.
Here are 10 fun facts to mull over while you struggle to pay both your Internet and cell phone bills this month:
- His full Malay name and title is 75 characters too long to fit in a tweet. (It also arguably requires circular breathing to say at once: Kebawah Duli Yang Maha Mulia Paduka Seri Baginda Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan dan Yang Di-Pertuan Negara Brunei Darussalam.)
- His palace, the Istana Nurul Iman, has 257 bathrooms.
- His Majesty has enjoyed polo leisurely since his school days. He now owns 200 polo ponies, and imports Argentinians to play against.
- The above-mentioned ponies live quite comfortably together in a massive air-conditioned stable.
- He married his first wife in 1967, and has taken two second wives — one a former Royal Brunei Airlines stewardess, the other a prominent TV news anchor 33 years his junior. He has since divorced both, stripping them of all royal titles.
- In total, he has five sons, seven daughters and 10 grandchildren.
- The Guinness Book of World Records lists the $1.4-billion Istana as the largest residential palace in the world, as judged by total indoor floor space. (If measured by total ground space, it ranks third.)
- He is quite fond of his youngest brother, Prince Jefri, who is a notorious playboy and is thought to have singlehandedly spent more money than anyone else on the planet.
- As a birthday present to himself on his 50th, he built an enormous stadium and paid Michael Jackson $17 million to perform there.
- Oil is very important to him, and is the reason he has any money at all. Brunei has a substantial museum dedicated to the history of oil in the country, and the Royal Galeria sells glass cube paperweights with small bubbles of crude oil in the middle for $10 apiece.