A warm glow of candlelight filled the 10th-century Swiss Reformed church in Romainmôtier, a village in the snowy foothills of the Jura Mountains in Switzerland. Breathing in the sweet aroma of abundant white narcissus brought in from London for the occasion, Norwegian shipping magnate Arne Naess Jr., 47, and soul songstress Diana Ross, 42, prepared to take their wedding vows.
“Repeat after me,” Pastor Graham Ferguson Lacey solemnly instructed Naess. ” ‘I want you to be my wife because I love you.’ ”
“I want you to be my wife because I love you…” said Naess, turning to her as he added impishly, “…and because I desire you.”
Dressed in a pearl-embroidered white satin dress with a long white veil of antique Belgian lace, Ross visibly fought back a giggle as she promised, “We will respect each other’s individuality and not change each other for our own gratification.”
When it came time for the groom to kiss the bride, Naess and Ross continued improvising in perfect harmony. They locked lips and held each other in an enthusiastic embrace for several moments until the pastor finally declared, in mock exasperation, “That’s enough!”
Never mind that Ross and Naess were legally married last Oct. 23 in a civil ceremony in New York City; for Diana, the fairy-tale church wedding on Feb. 1 was nothing less, she said, than “the biggest show” of her life. Joined by 240 friends and relatives, the couple were lifted to otherworldly heights during the service by the singing of the 45-member Norwegian Silver Boy’s Choir. Later, during a lavish reception at the five-star Beau Rivage Palace hotel in nearby Lausanne, they dined on roast veal and chocolate wedding cake while Ross’s longtime friend Stevie Wonder sang I Just Called to Say I Love You. Through it all, Ross and her multimillionaire honey spared no expense. Including the bounty for a small army of security guards hired to keep the occasion private, the tab reportedly added up to nearly $1 million.
The newlyweds met last May in the Bahamas. Ross, taking a break before cutting her album Eaten Alive, was catching some sun with her three daughters from a previous marriage, to public relations executive Robert Silberstein: Rhonda, 16, Tracee, 13, and Chudney, 10. Naess, fresh from leading a Norwegian mountaineering team to the summit of Mount Everest, was vacationing with his three children from a prior marriage, to a Swedish interior decorator: Christoffer, 17, Katinka, 14, and Leona, 11. The kids became friends, followed quickly by Ross and Naess. In the months that followed, Arne showed up in the front row at Diana’s concerts in Paris, Los Angeles, London and Stockholm, and she publicly serenaded him with her favorite song, Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand). Although Naess had sworn that he would never remarry, he found Ross appealed to his adventurous spirit. “Although my head may be cool and pragmatic, I am much of a romantic,” he has said. “Look at Everest. It was a romantic thing to do. And now, I am getting married again.”
The child of a broken marriage, Naess was raised in Oslo by his uncle and namesake, Arne Naess, a philosophy professor who took him mountaineering from the time he was 8 years old. Though he nearly flunked out of high school, Naess earned a reputation as something of a daredevil in ski jumping and other sports; he celebrated his graduation in 1956 by climbing the spire of the National Theater building in Oslo and placing his student’s cap on top of the needle.
Eventually, Naess travelled abroad as a deckhand on a Liberian tanker, stopping in Japan for a brief stint as a ski instructor before going to work in the New York headquarters of another uncle, Earling Naess, a multimillionaire shipper. Arne set out on his own in 1968 and gradually established a lucrative role for himself in international shipping. Today he has large investments in two dozen companies and is said to be worth more than $100 million. He admits that he can be a hard-driving negotiator. “People used to say, ‘After meeting with Arne, count your fingers before leaving the room,’ ” he told an interviewer. Nowadays, he added, “I am more concerned about collecting experiences than property and money.”
Despite his youthful success in business, Naess felt something was missing. “I found that everything was too perfect,” he has said. “I had gotten everything in life too early. I had no more dreams, and I am of a kind that has to have still more challenges.” So in 1978 Naess started relearning his old climbing skills and spent the next seven years preparing for his assault on Everest. “I felt a little like Adam,” he said. “I had to escape my paradise. If one seeks the weak points in me, one can find them in my desire to risk life and limb, making my kids afraid.”
The couple are honeymooning on Tiano, a private Tahitian islet that Naess purchased in 1972 (Marlon Brando owns the nearby island of Tetiaroa). Although Naess is taking a rest from mountain climbing for now, a statement he made after returning from Everest suggests that he views romance as a suitably challenging substitute: “Like a woman, the mountain is beautiful, fundamental, representing a basic solidity that I seek—and which men do not have.”
Ain’t no mountain high enough? Arne Naess may have thought so, until he bumped into the Supreme challenge, at sea level, in the Bahamas.