Published 5 November 1995 Style Magazine 122nd article
Belly good: Johnny, front left, Michael Winner, Wonkie; and harem (Michael Guest)
I was almost extremely pleased with myself last week. I thought I'd managed to give a large lunch party for my birthday, full of stars and distinguished, famous citizens, and kept it totally away from the press. Sadly, as it ended, three photographers appeared outside. You can't win 'em all.
Why anyone should want their party in Hello! magazine or, indeed, in any paper at all, I cannot imagine, unless you are flogging something - a car, a movie, whatever. Why the aristocracy asks those ghastly glossies to publicise the Hon Antonia Claptrap having a laugh with Lord Willoughby Snod beats me totally.
"Aha," I hear you say, "here he is pretending he doesn't want publicity and he's writing about it himself!" I shall tell you about the catering because you deserve to be informed and educated. But not about what happened or who attended. So there!
To choose a caterer, I naturally followed the advice of Michael Winner in The Sunday Times. He had praised The Admirable Crichton for their efforts at Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sydmonton Festival. If they're good enough for him, they're good enough for me, I decided. So there appeared Mr John R Robertson-Roxburgh and his lady executive, Wonkie Hills, and off we went!
For the location I chose a local museum near my residence, Leighton House, a splendid Victorian building with a very camp Arab hall, pool and fountain. We decided to dress it madly with harem girls, flower sellers, organ grinders, horses and carriages, a garden full of Victorian costumed people etcetera. Johnny's price for that was well over four times what I could achieve, so we did that bit ourselves. He also kindly let us get the drink and caviar. After a bit of negotiation with Mogens Nielsen at the Caviar House he sent more caviar than anyone has ever been offered anywhere, and a few posh wines turned up from a man called Christopher in Great Missenden.
These were Meursault Clos de la Barre Lafon 1990, Chateau Lafite 1970, Dom Perignon Rose 82, Dom Perignon 83 and so on. Add the Smirnoff Black Label vodka, the Cognac Initiale Extra and the Fonseca's 1963 vintage port, and I was getting into severe ﬁnancial damage time. "Choose the canapes," said Wonkie, having given me a coloured brochure with a genie on the front and an endless list. "Give up," I said. "You do it." "I'll give you three sorts," she said. "Make it live," I responded. Mustn't look chintzy! Thus we ordered caviar, lemon, sour cream, blinis, melba toast, toast brioche, followed by loin of lamb with chargrilled figs, a confit of shallots and ginger and lotsa veg! There were so many desserts, "I'll have them all!" I said. But they were truly terrific, from truffle cake to cappuccino souffle to gooey chocolate brownies. Add the Claridge's orchestra playing at lunch and an Arab band in the Arab hall, say the food and the organisation of A Crichton was quite superb, and that was it!
No wrinkles, I hear you ask? You mean they worked for Winner and all was smooth?! Not totally. "Johnny," I said, on one phone call, "there is a line in Henry V when the French have slaughtered the kids in the British camp and Henry says something like, 'I was not angry since I came to France until this day'. Well, I was not angry with The Admirable Crichton until this day... how dare you tell me to pay a £17,000 up-front deposit four days before the event! If you wanted to go that route you had a duty to tell me when we started the client-supplier relationship . . . "
That was washed away! Then I was a bit surprised when we stood outside the museum and Johnny said: "Look, let's get three cars - they'll only cost £25 for the weekend - and we'll put them out to take away later, leaving room for the carriages and horses." Good idea, I thought. But four hours later I got a bill for three cars at £132 each! Negotiations continue! And finally the caviar plate had ice on it and many guests complained that it melted, leaving good Oscietra caviar awash with melted liquid. Very silly, that. But otherwise, they were good, and I still thoroughly recommend them.
I had reckoned this lunch at a generous £150 per person; not per couple, per person. Boy, did I have a wrong number! Multiply that by three and add on quite a few quid and you've got the real cost! Then multiply that by 110 people and you'll see why this ain't going to be an annual event!