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Birthdays? Nothing holds a candle to this place

This Michael celebrates his birthday at The Ritz, where he finds that it 'is elegant, historic and a glowing tribute to its owners'
Published 17 October 2010
News Review
900th article



Michael with, from left, Michael Parkinson, Geraldine, Michael Caine and Andrew Lloyd Webber (Jeremy Young)

The oracle spoke: "Get thee to the Ritz for thy 75th birthday party."

O was right.

Why was I bothering with all those funny places? The Ritz is the greatest hotel in London, maybe in the world. Elegant, historic, unspoilt by human error, a glowing tribute to its owners, Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay, who cohabit on some strange island in never-never land.

My first mistake was printing invitations: dark blue, copperplate embossed on card. Price: £439.45, to be sent to 11 couples. £39.95 per couple.

They all lost them. Phone calls poured in: "What time is it? What's the dress code?"

"But I sent you an invitation," I'd reply.

A couple came late, saying they'd never got an invitation. We had to hold up dinner for them.

"They're very courageous being late for Michael Winner," guests remarked. Final blow was from Simon Girling, head of private dining at the Ritz. He said, "We'd have printed your invitations free, Mr Winner." "Not copperplate embossed," I replied. "Yes," he said. The William Kent room at the Ritz is the finest dining room in London. Seats only 24 people; often used by the Queen. Incredibly painted and engraved ceiling, rich textures, amazing doors and table. It looked fantastic.

Beautiful flowers arranged by Paul Thomas, who does Buckingham Palace. Michael Caine said in his speech, "Here we are, in this incredible room, where we all feel very happy but we really know we don't belong. This belongs to someone who when I was a young boy I used to be a beater for when he went shooting. It was he who saw the room. I never got to see it.

To be here is extraordinary." John Williams, the Ritz chef, is far and away the best hotel cook in the land. The meal was beyond belief. Everyone gawped, gaped and enthused. His canapés were all incredible. We drank Laurent-Perrier Brut Vintage 2000 and Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé plus Domaine de Chevalier Blanc Grand Cru 1999 and Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande Grand Cru 1998.

We scoffed terrine of foie gras with spiced pears and port wine; butter-poached lobster with spiced carrot purée and ginger sauce; cutlet and fillet of lamb with artichoke mousseline and autumn vegetables; chocolate or raisin and marsala soufflé; and more. Staff and service were great such as you seldom see. Speeches were like a roast. I said, "David Frost promised if he was invited he'd tell his friends at Al-Qaeda not to blow up my house. "Shakira Caine phoned me from Leatherhead. She said, 'This place is full of shops for old people, wheelchairs, charity shops, basket weaving, rest homes - you should retire here, Michael. My husband's written a book, Elephant to Hollywood; I'm writing a book, Hollywood to Leatherhead'."

A guest I'd known since we were together at Cambridge, the Academy Award-winning songwriter Leslie Bricusse, said, "Having known Michael longer than anyone else, I've suffered more than the rest of you. The durability of his and Geraldine's engagement is an object lesson for those of us whose marriages haven't even lasted that long."

Michael Parkinson said, "When we go with Michael to a restaurant, it's like a snowplough scattering waiters everywhere to the accompaniment of Hildon water bottles being thrown out of windows.

On our way home we say, 'How does Geraldine cope with him?' Mary and I decided Geraldine deserves some kind of recognition. So here's a Victorian Long Service and Good Conduct medal for Geraldine for service beyond the call of duty."

Geraldine said, "When Michael's invited to dinner he has to know who he's sitting next to, how many people are there. Then you get the bollockings, number 21c, 34d, all the wankers, the morons ..." "We're all here," interposed Michael Caine. Geraldine's speech was funny and moving. "Lost your marbles?" you ask.

"Couldn't all have been wonderful. Think of something wrong." The only lack of total perfection was when they forgot to serve a brioche with my foie gras. Madeleine Lloyd Webber said, "Oh shut up," when I mentioned it and gave me some of hers.



  • This is my 900th column. Started May 1993; never missed a week. Even when I was in intensive care having 19 full-anaesthetic operations in nine weeks, I carried on, drugged, be-numbed, incoherent. Just like usual.

    I said in my birthday speech, "I'd be wheeled into the operating theatre. When they wheeled me out I was drugged to the eyeballs. As I came to, there was Geraldine. That's like at home when I'm drugged to the eyeballs, there's Geraldine." Not true: I don't do drugs; I hardly drink. I'm near perfect.

    To prove it I'll send the first 50 readers to write in one of my fantastic, embossed party invitations. They won't get you a discount at Tesco, Asda, Morrisons or Waitrose.

    But they're things of beauty to put on your mantelpiece. What more could you want?



  • Joke from a big-league restaurateur.

    Two Jewish women are sitting quietly together, minding their own business.



    Michael's missives

    A signed photo of you would really make things better - also a plumber if you have a spare one on your staff. Meanwhile, long plastic bag on hand again and another twiddle with the metal coathanger!
    Brenda Mathews, West Sussex

    In the crowded Cafe Luc in Marylebone my girlfriend found an insect in her lettuce and told the manager. "It's perfectly normal," he replied.
    Ross Freedman, west London

    For my 70th birthday we lunched at Rockliffe Hall hotel near Darlington. There were 12 of us and they brought the main course two at a time! We started lunch at 1.30pm and left just before 4 without tea or coffee! No one asked if we'd enjoyed our meal. My daughter sent a letter of complaint but got no reply.
    Anne Hodgson, Middlesbrough

    You boast of your £9m debt as if it were a badge of honour, and then boast you spend £300,000 a year with Amex. Its boss sounds a prudent man. He knows a fool and his money are easily parted. The way you spend gives the impression you're a banker!
    Paul Clarke, Berkshire

    "When I was young, people called me a gambler. As the scale of my operations increased, I became known as a speculator. Now I'm called a banker. But I've been doing the same thing all the time." Thus spoke Sir Ernest Cassel, private banker to King Edward VII.
    Peter Stancomb, Wiltshire

    Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or email michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk