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Richest town in the world; Schoolkids are taught how to spend a million Store sells pounds 300 bottles of rare Scotch If Silicon Valley were a country it would be the 10th richest Men's wives are 'upgraded' The newest house will cost pounds 40m.

THERE'S rich, there's filthy rich, and then there's Woodside.

Quite simply this small town of 5,200 people, nestling in California's Silicon Valley, is the wealthiest in the world.

At the local primary school, five sets of children have parents who are on the Forbes List of the richest people in America.

As part of their curriculum the youngsters are even taught a course on "how to spend one million dollars".

The amount of money swilling round here is almost obscene.

Larry Ellison, the founder of software company Oracle with a personal wealth of pounds 6 billion, is currently building a housing complex costing pounds 40 million.

That's even more than Microsoft tycoon Bill Gates, the richest man in the world, spent on his home near Seattle, Washington state.

Silicon Valley, in Northern California, is so wealthy that if it were a country it would be among the ten richest in the world.

Each day another 64 millionaires, or Siliconaires as they've been dubbed, are created by the booming economy.

When Bill and Hillary Clinton come to visit daughter Chelsea at nearby Stanford University, they stay at the home of Apple computer tycoon Steve Jobs.

Internet millionaires are flocking to the town, where a small three-bedroomed home could set you back pounds 1 million and where houses going for pounds 7 million get snapped up in hours.

In many respects the town is very un-American. \People try to be discreet with their money but it's difficult when every other person is a millionaire.

It hits you everywhere, even in the shops. It's not every local store that sells pounds 300 bottles of 40-year-old single malt Scotch. Round the corner there's the chance to buy ostrich salami, Chilean sea bass and fresh crab.

And while most American schools have fund-raising events such as jumble sales or sponsored walks, Woodside school hosts luxury annual auctions.

Last year's raised pounds 300,000. \In the car park while bidding went on were 59 Mercedes.

Items sold included a week aboard Larry Ellison's luxury yacht for pounds 75,000, a lobster meal flown in from Maine for pounds 2,500, a pounds 4,000 ladies' night out and tickets to the Superbowl for pounds 5,000.

DAVID Kaplen, an author, spent a year undercover in Woodside, researching the lifestyles of the residents.

When he bought a pounds 75 ticket for the school auction, organisers tried to ban him from attending because he might offend some of the richest donors.

"We work very hard to maintain a low profile and not to mention the names of auction donors outside the community," said Lori Livingston, president of the Woodside School Foundation.

"Donors are very concerned for their anonymity.

We want everyone in our school community to have the opportunity to enjoy the company of other community members.

We need to avoid a situation where our donors feel inhibited from participating in the auction because of fears that their names and contributions might be reported in the Press."

Kaplen was shocked by what he found. If you really want to know Silicon Valley, as I tried to do, you have to visit its seat of power - bucolic Woodside, the symbol of an era's accumulation of ineffable wealth, the Beverly Hills of hi-tech."

Kaplen was fascinated by the shocking wealth in Silicon Valley and Woodside in particular and felt the story had to be told.

The favourite recreation of many Woodside residents are the extravagant parties, some of the biggest of which are "divorce parties".

\Millionaires who throw bashes to celebrate their marriage break-ups and getting younger wives refer to them as "upgrades".

Woodside's most extravagant hostess is Barbara Ellison, Larry's ex-wife, who throws annual parties themed on her name. So far, there's been Barbstock, Barbi Gras and Barbarella, each more extravagant than the last. At Barbi Gras she produced video invitations for each of the 300 guests, on which she said her party would be "an exotic adventure filled with spicy food, hot rhythm and daring pleasures".

A troop of bare-breasted dancers she hired was the talk of the town for months.

For Barbstock she said: "Friends, I need your help to rid me of my biggest burden - my name. Bring your own sacrificial voodoo Barbie doll.

"Decorate your voodoo Barbie, place it on our altar and our witch doctor will perform his magic - take revenge on a cheating spouse."

Steve Jobs, who is a close pal of President Bill Clinton, might be labelled eccentric by many of his fellow Woodsiders, as he's not a keen party-goer. He told me about how the new younger millionaires were changing Silicon Valley and Woodside.

I HAD dinner at Bill Gates's house and we were both remarking how at one time we were the youngest in this business," said Jobs. "Now we're the greybeards.

"It's hard to tell with these internet start-ups if they're really interested in building companies or if they're just interested in the money.

"The rewarding thing isn't merely to start a company or take it public. It's like when you're a parent - although the birth experience is a miracle, what's truly rewarding is living with your child and helping him grow up. When these people sell out, even though they have become fabulously rich, they're gypping themselves out of one of the potentially most rewarding experiences of their unfolding lives.

"Without it, they may never know their values or how to keep their new-found wealth in perspective."

Like most houses in Woodside, Jobs's is behind huge security gates. But his pounds 10 million home is tiny compared to the one Larry Ellison is building on Mountain High Road.

Set on 23 acres, it is themed on a 16th Century Japanese village, and his servants there will use tunnels between buildings so as not to be seen by guests.

Ellison had to go through major planning wrangles to get permission from the all-powerful town council. Last month a crane was brought in to move a 30-ton boulder into place. When the house is finished, warm water will pour over the rock to make a waterfall shower.

GETTING a house built in Woodside is a huge achievement. \There are strict rules governing size, shape and colour.

Gordon Moore, 71, founder of Intel and California's richest man with a personal wealth of pounds 9 billion, lives in the town. "I live in the un-incorporated part of Woodside so they can't tell me at the town hall what colour my roof has to be," said Moore.

Estate agent Bonnie Biorn said: \"People just love Woodside. It has to be the most popular place around. Property prices are amazing. She told me that houses which sold for pounds 4 million last year are now worth around pounds 7 million.

"The number of people who are seriously rich here is incredible. It's a very beautiful place, the schools are good, the crime rate is very low and it's very close to the freeway for easy access to Silicon Valley.

"Thirteen million dollars (pounds 8 million) would get you a three-acre plot with quite a nice \house."

Hairdresser Nicki Henderson summed up Woodside: \"There's an awful lot of money in this town. Property prices are unreal and they keep spiralling.

"The truth is that people have so much money they just don't know what to do with it."
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Copyright 2000 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Us, Andy Lines
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 7, 2000
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