Once a king declares that day is night,
Be sure to marvel at the moon’s bright light.
— quoted by Asadollah Alam from a
medieval Persian poem
The most spectacular and as it turned out, most damaging to the monarchy event in Iran in the 1970s was a magnificent if contrived celebration of the 2,500th anniversary of the founding of the Persian empire by Cyrus the Great. This took place amid the ruins of Persepolis, the great palace destroyed in 330BC by the Greeks, and brought together several dozen of the world’s kings, queens, presidents and prime ministers, plus hundreds of diplomats, business men, bankers, arms salesmen and scores of internationally famous writers, painters, film and stage celebrities. Among the Iranians present were close to a thousand politicians, bureaucrats, academics and public-sector company chairmen, backed up by eight thousand troops.
I had visited Persepolis on my first trip to Iran and was delighted to receive the gilt edged card that invited me to return there for the Shah’s great party on October 12, 1971. The invitation was personal and included a note from a court official reminding me that the ceremony would also mark the thirtieth anniversary of the Shah’s accession to the throne. I was keen to attend but as a lowly under secretary was informed by the prime minister’s office that my place was in London. The British delegation would be led by “bigger fish,” among them the Queen’s husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, and their daughter, Princess Anne. Representing the United States was the vice president, Spiro Agnew and half a dozen U.S. Congressmen. Agnew,