On her 61st birthday in 1989 Ann Russell Miller threw a party for 800 guests at the Hilton Hotel in San Francisco. Friends flew in from around the world to dine on caviar, coquilles Saint-Jacques and chicken in beurre blanc sauce while being entertained by a live orchestra.

A widowed heiress with ten children, Miller led a packed life as a Californian socialite, hosting dinner parties at her opulent nine-bedroom house overlooking San Francisco Bay. She smoked, drank champagne, played cards, spent five hours a day on the telephone and, as an expert scuba diver and enthusiastic skier, traveled around the world. She had a season ticket to the opera, was a high-society patron of many charitable causes and drove her sports car at such reckless speeds that, according to her son Mark, “people got out of her car with a sore foot from slamming on an imaginary brake”.

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