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The stars behind The World

Nakheel was touted as the world's biggest privately held property company, wholly owned by the emirate of Dubai's main holding firm, Dubai World.

It relied heavily on using celebrities to promote its developments. It persuaded the English football team to stop off on the way to the World Cup in South Korea in 2002, and gave David Beckham a house on the Palm Jumeirah, selling to other famous players such as Michael Owen too.

Whether they still own these houses is not clear – property records are a secret in Dubai. But a number of Bollywood stars are, it was disclosed last year, Afghan businessmen with close ties to the government of Hamid Karzai certainly do.

The company tried the same ploy with The World. Rod Stewart was repeatedly rumoured to be buying Britain, but neither he, nor as far as is known, any other well-known person took the bait.

Most of the purchasers were established property developers.

As for the story that Angeline Jolie and Brad Pitt were going to buy Ethiopia – by the time The World was finished, it was no longer clear whether that was a rumour or just a joke.