Nobel's austerity-hit banquet still a lavish affair

STOCKHOLM Tue Dec 11, 2012 4:00am IST

Nobel laureates and guests are seated during the Nobel Banquet in the Blue Hall at City Hall in Stockholm December 10, 2012. REUTERS/Claudio Bresciani/Scanpix

Nobel laureates and guests are seated during the Nobel Banquet in the Blue Hall at City Hall in Stockholm December 10, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Claudio Bresciani/Scanpix

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STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden held its annual Nobel awards ceremony on Monday attended by laureates, royals and the Who's Who of Swedish society with little evidence of the cost-cutting forced upon it by a downturn in the global economy.

More than 1,200 glittering guests - women in elegant gowns and men in white tie and tails - gingerly made their way over slippery snow and ice to the Nobel dinner in Stockholm City Hall to dine, chat and hear Nobel literature winner Mo Yan and other laureates speak at Sweden's most prestigious social event.

Mo did his best to again steer clear of human rights issues after refusing last week to publicly back a petition by fellow laureates to free jailed compatriot and Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo.

"I am well aware that literature only has a minimal influence on political disputes or economic crises in the world," Mo said in a translated speech that was prepared in advance and distributed to guests at the banquet.

Although organisers talked of unspecified reductions in the expenditure on a night which cost 20 million Swedish crowns last year, frugality was not a feature that stood out among the fine French wines, cuisine from top Swedish chefs and the trapeze artists who entertained diners between courses.

"There have been some cuts," Nobel Foundation Executive Director Lars Heikensten told reporters ahead of the banquet, but refusing to give any details. "You will not notice them."

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For more than a century, the foundation has managed the roughly $450 million capital that forms the base for the awards, donated in the will of dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel. But in recent years returns have suffered amid the global crisis.

"We are in this forever and we should safeguard it (the prize)," said Heikensten, a former Swedish central bank chief known for reducing staff during his tenure.

The awards are now worth $1.2 million each, down from around $1.5 million in recent years.

Still, Monday evening's festivities at Stockholm's City Hall - itself decorated with 11 kg of gold leaf - were never likely to be spartan.

Details of a menu, which included Joseph Perrier Cuvée Royale Champagne and pheasant with chanterelle mushrooms, were only revealed minutes before the food was served. Guests at the event touted as one of the world's biggest set dinners ate from some 7,000 pieces of porcelain using 10,000 items of silverware and drank from 5,400 glasses.

There was also a fair share of bling on show, from jewel encrusted handbags to glittering tiaras, as Sweden's small and influential political and business elite jettisoned its famed egalitarian image to hobnob with diplomats and political leaders from around the globe.

The strict dress code - white tie and tails for men and gowns for women - was complemented by a similarly strict code of behaviour.

Toasting, for example, is done Swedish style: raise your glass, look your table companions in the eyes, swing the glass in the air ever so slightly - no clinking - sip and repeat eye contact before setting the glass down.

However, the formal setting did not dissuade guests from having an after-dinner boogie on the dancefloor to the music of Swedish pop group ABBA and other hits played by a live band.

Neighbouring Norway was expected to have Australian pop-princess Kylie Minogue perform as the European Union receives this year's Nobel Peace Prize at a ceremony in Oslo on Monday.

The EU's win raised a few eyebrows when announced in October.

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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