The lifestyles of rich and famous dictators

First aired on Day 6 (22/10/11)


Moammar Gadhafi, the Libyan dictator who was killed late last week, distinguished himself with a certain sense of style. For several decades, onlookers marvelled at his uniforms and head-dresses. Earlier this year, we saw inside his lavish homes, all done up in an ornate fashion. Peter York, a columnist with the Independent newspaper in London, says we shouldn't be surprised by such extravagances. In fact, he calls the gaudy, over-the-top fashion and decor preferred by many of the world's despotic rulers "dictator style." It's so prevalent that York wrote a book about it: Dictator Style: Lifestyles of the World's Most Colorful Despots.

York argues that personal style is important. People use it to convey who they are and to express themselves, and dictators are no different. "Once you understand their sense of style, you understand the way they operate," he explained to Day 6 host Brent Bambury. "That style is designed to intimidate and impress...They are meant to be reminders: 'I am very, very powerful and I am a loose cannon.'"

While many people see "dictator style" as ostentatious, York believes that this reaction only enhances the image of the dictators. It reinforces them as powerful, wealthy people who can have anything they desire at a moment's notice, and because of this, you should follow their orders and pay attention to what they want.

"Why have ordinary furniture when you can have Reproduction French furniture? Why have any form of stone when you can have marble? Why have a light when you can have a chandelier? Why use base metal when you can use gold? Why have anything when you can have gold?"

In his book, York profiled 16 well-known dicators -- Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Tito, Mussolini, Mobutu, Idi Amin, Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos among them -- and through their style, he formed the "10 rules of dictator style." Gadhafi followed them and, with few exceptions, nearly every dictator does. And York doesn't blame them.

"They have terrible taste. But it works."

Dictator Style

Dictator Style: Lifestyles of the World's Most Colorful Despots

by Peter York

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From the publisher:

"Welcome to the fabulous lifestyles of the cruel and despotic. Running with the idea that our homes are where we are truly ourselves, Peter York's wildly original and scathingly funny look at the interior decorating tastes of some of history's most alarming dictators proves that absolute power corrupts absolutely, right down to the drapes. Mining rare, jaw-dropping photographs of interiors now mostly (thankfully) destroyed, York's hilarious profiles of 16 inner sanctums of the scary leaves no endangered tiger pelt unturned, from Saddam Hussein's creepy private art collection to General Noriega's Christmas tree to the strange tube and knob contraption in the Ceausescu bathroom. All your favorite dictators are here: Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Tito, Mussolini, Mobutu, Idi Amin, Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos -- each with their own uniquely frightful chic. An interior decorating book like no other, Dictator Style is a welcome tonic for a world in need of a good laugh at the expense of the all-powerful..."

Read more at Chronicle Books.

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