The Perks of Privilege

An Indian-themed affair, moonlit and majestic on a New York City rooftop. … An airplane hangar transformed into a mythically luxurious airline. … A 20th anniversary in Mexico bathed in alabaster.

How do the rich get to enjoy such pre-eminently privileged parties? Two words: Colin Cowie.

Cowie has been feting the fabulous for years, masterminding everything from destination and location, to food and drink, and from entertainment to fireworks. The results?

State-of-his-art-and-their-bank-account celebrations that cost the clients $6,000 to $50,000 per attendee.

He has planned parties all over the world. In fact, Cowie says 60 percent of his business is outside of the United States.

He is famously discreet about his clients, but Oprah Winfrey has long sung his praises.

"Oprah is, without a doubt, the most extraordinary person to plan parties with," Cowie said.

He has planned many celebrations with Winfrey, including her 50th birthday bash and her well-known Legends Ball.

The bottom line for Cowie? "If you can write that check, I'll make it happen."

And his sensationally satisfying parties help to remind billionaires why they bothered to make all that money in the first place.

Because sometimes, they need reminding.

It's not only the artist formerly known as Puff Daddy who could sigh, "Mo' money, mo' problems."

So many things -- jets, boats, estates, wine, watches, family, friends, and yet, so little opportunity to enjoy them.

Although the super-rich may try to avoid the grotesque displays of excess that made people despise disgraced mogul Dennis Kozlowski, many of them know there are things that money can't buy -- namely, the ability to select, manage and savor all the things that money can buy.

That's what privilege for the wealthy is all about -- seeking out the help that can get a rich guy past the perils and pitfalls of a big bank account.

And the rich do keep getting richer.

Over the last 20 years, the number of billionaires in America has reportedly jumped from 13 to more than 300.

Brett Anderson, editorial director of the Robb Report, says it's not as easy as you may think to be one of the super-rich.

According to Anderson, the average entrepreneur has made a ton of money and needs a lot of expert advice.

They need high-end concierge services like Quintessentially, which, for fees from $3,500 to $36,000 a year, will provide key advice on pricey purchases -- like expensive jewels.

Quintessentially even helps clients get into ultrahip parties and hot spots.

Founded by Ben Elliot, Quintessentially says its services are like having a well-connected best friend in every city.

From restaurant reservations and theater tickets to $10,000-a-night hotel bookings, Elliot says his company "prides itself in accessing the inaccessible."

But why would a millionaire need help getting into the hottest restaurant in town?

Anderson says, quite simply, "Because there are plenty of other people out there with $20 million who also want to get into the restaurant."

But for the well-to-do, there's no hassle like day-to-day life -- fraught as it is with vast domestic responsibilities they cannot manage alone.

That's why Mary Starkey's school is the answer to a plutocrat's prayers.

Since 1981, Starkey has run the Starkey International Institute for Household Management in Denver, where an eight-week program teaches students to become "HM" -- household managers.

Students pay $13,000 for their education, and when they graduate, they are able to run a household, or in some cases, households, and oversee large staffs.

But in keeping with the preferences of the estimated 2 million households that need staff, these students aren't stuffed shirts in the British butler mold.

Starkey likes to pair her graduates with the ideal household, where they can earn up to $200,000. And why not? They've been instructed to be discreet. … And they're dying to serve.

Starkey says that all of her students have one thing in common: "a service heart."

So that they can some day instruct their own staffs, they learn fine food, fine wine and flower arranging; management software and security techniques; how to oversee an estate; and, how to iron a shirt.

They're even taught how to serve a formal dinner party by education director Raymond Champion.

He says that the rich have it tough, that their busy lives are often in chaos.

It's his students' jobs to make sure that everything is in perfect order when their employers return home from a particularly hard day.

"When they come home -- the place is clean, the food is hot, and the clothes are taken care of," Champion said.

The result can be stylish elegance and blessed relief for the super-rich, who need the privilege of first-rate management to fully savor their abundance.

According to Elliot, "You could be the richest person on the planet, but there's something that you probably can't do without assistance from somebody else."