Don Ado’s grand 80th birthday celebration



Since time immemorial, the Lord of Villa Escudero, Don Ado Escudero has been giving out-of-this-world and one-of-a-kind parties and balls. I have been to several of these events in which Manila’s 500 always look forward to make sure they are on the guest list. I was also lucky to have documented these parties when I had my dance show on television.

And recently, Don Ado celebrated his 80th birthday. And all could say that it was one of the most spectacular events Don Ado held—something all his guests will never forget. But who could, when the celebration started from lunch up to breakfast the next day.

As each carload of guests arrived on Saturday, the gate guards checked their invitations and handed a detailed map of where and what time every event was scheduled. Each car was labeled with the name of the driver, name of the owner, and a designated parking place. Each driver was given a box lunch and/or dinner and location of rest rooms.

Lunch at the waterfalls began at 12 noon, with native Filipino dishes presented on banana leaves. Merienda (the traditional afternoon snack) was at 4 p.m. in a garden adjacent to Don Ado’s house. At the same time, Mass was being celebrated in the church by Cardinal Vidal, who had flown in from Cebu for the occasion.

Also happening all at the same time were: a final rehearsal at the Coconut Pavilion for the 150 guests who would be participating in the parade; and a beauty parlor in the air-conditioned Conference Center with 12 chairs, beauticians, and hairdressers to help the ladies look their best for the evening.

The Coconut Pavilion, venue of the main event, had thousands of flowers everywhere: hanging from the massive wooden chandeliers, suspended from sconces on the pillars, framing the entrances, on every table—all artfully arranged with palm carvings and bamboo.

There were also lights everywhere including at the walkways, balustrades, boat dock and floating barge. In addition, there were massive lights, installed just for this evening, to illuminate the fluvial procession, the parade, the pavilion entrances and the stage.

The evening festivities began exactly at 8 p.m. On an illuminated, lavishly decorated two-story floating barge up the river, Don Ado appeared in all white. He wore a white turban with a white egret feather and an elaborate maharajah costume designed by Patis Tesoro. His turban and breastplate were totally encrusted with jewels, and he wore jeweled rings on both hands.

Don Ado was surrounded by dancers in Malaysian costumes, preceded by drummers and torch bearers on bamboo rafts in front of the barge.

As the barge slowly and majestically moved to the dock, drummers at the Coconut Pavilion also played. One drum was over 10 feet tall, with its player on a ladder. Projected onto a large screen was a slide show of his past birthday parties, rekindling my fond memories of so many of them that I attended during the past years.

When the barge reached the dock, Don Ado transferred from the throne on the barge to a throne on a palaquin, which bearers in matching silk robes hoisted to their shoulders and carried in to the Coconut Pavilion.

In the pavilion there were 1,000 guests, almost all in costumes, applauding as the litter was carried to the stage and Don Ado transferred to another even more elaborate throne under a pillared canopy, all in white and gold.

Based on the Allegory of the Four Continents—Africa, Europe, Asia and America—150 of Ado’s friends, in groups of matching costumes, came down the center aisle in the Parade of Continents and Nations. Some of the costumes were so over the top that they defy description. Fabulous jewels, elaborate feathers, heavy chains, opulent embroideries, superb tall headdresses were on display.

Each group upon being announced, ascended to the stage and bowed down before Don Ado who received them gracefully. The groups from the four continents included Brazilians with elaborate birds and feathers, American Indians with even more feathers, Indian Indians in silks encrusted with gems, Moroccans with high turbans and flowing robes, Byzantine noblemen with heavily jeweled robes and masks, Chinese mandarins in heavy embroidered brocades, Vietnamese with their conical caps, and many more!

Seated at one of the best tables was Madame Imelda Marcos. Joining her were politicians, ambassadors and the who’s who of Manila Society. One table, provided with special vintage wines, was for members of the Chaine des Rotisseurs, who came wearing large medallions hanging from official wide ribbons pinned with their various medals.

The food for merienda, cocktails, and dinner were by Glenda Barretto, the owner of Via Mare, the best catering service in the Philippines. For sashimi at merienda, 90 pounds of tuna were flown in fresh that morning from General Santos City. For the dinner buffet there were three kinds of soup, four kinds of salads and three kinds of pastas. Ten salmon, each weighing 40 pounds, were prepared five different ways. The guests consumed four roasted whole lambs; eight roasted turkeys, each weighing 25 pounds, with stuffing; four sides of prime roasted beef, each weighing 60 pounds; and four smoked American hams, each weighing 40 pounds. There were delicious side dishes as well.

And then there were the desserts: 3,000 pieces of small pastries brought to the tables, and off to one side, a chef creating crepes to order with banana or mango, laced with chocolate and vanilla drizzle.

The entertainment was provided by top Filipino singers, like Dulce and Gary V. The highlight of the evening was the Club Mwah Dance Revue, a Las Vegas style performance with showgirls in tight glittering gowns and elaborate headdresses, lip-syncing to all the great acts that you know: The Supremes, Eartha Kitt, Phantom of the Opera and many more. So many of the guests never realized that none of those slinky, glamorous showgirls were actually girls.

About midnight, the ballroom dancing started that lasted up to 3 a.m. A late snack was served for guests who got hungry after all the stomping and gyrating.

What a fantastic party!

But what friends truly enjoy most about this party, and indeed about all of Don Ado’s parties, is his ability to infect his friends with his vision and his joie de vivre. We all share his fantasy—whatever the theme is, guests come in appropriate costumes. Makes one wonder what will the next theme be. To Don Ado, more fabulous celebrations!


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