When trying to escape the party bore, pick an excuse that’s as close to the truth as possible: ‘So sorry — just seen a man with a tray of bellinis,’ or ‘Be right back:
I love pigs in blankets!’ It took me decades to work out that only the most realistic line won’t hamper the rest of your night. I gave up my one-time favourite — from the 1990s classic Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion — ‘I cut my foot before and my shoe is filling up with blood’ — because of the limping necessitated, and there’s only so many times you can use the old ‘I’m just going to run to the ladies’ tactic before people start to wonder whether you’re a) incontinent or b) Kate Moss.
There are various simple ways to survive the six-week explosion of embossed white-card invitations, exclusive ‘e-vites’ and the occasional last-minute phone call that many of us receive between November and the New Year. My best advice is to bin the invitations that celebrate the opening of a restaurant, shop or gallery.
In my experience these will be choc-a-bloc with people I don’t know among a sprinkling of paparazzos. Conserve your energies for those intimate gatherings where you are sure to see plenty of friends and no cameras. Once you’ve decided which venue you will honour with your presence, here are some survival tips: eat something before you leave — some soup, a hard-boiled egg, hummus on crackers; alcohol on an empty stomach is the quickest route to a hangover. If it’s
a drinks party, don’t stay too long as you’re bound to get plastered. If it’s a dinner party, arrive 45 minutes after the indicated time so that you don’t drink too much before dinner; that long cocktail hour, which too often becomes an hour and a half, can be fatal. And finally, be picky. Don’t be the person who goes to the opening of an envelope. The two golden rules of showbiz — always play hard to get and leave them wanting more — apply to everything in life!
Crash with panache
As Spectator Life’s diarist, it’s my job to trawl London’s soirées with the task of unearthing titbits of gossip. The job presents unique challenges; none more testing than a free bar. Over the years, I’ve witnessed a socialite vomit in the street and a millionaire reduced to stashing glasses of fizz on his table just in case the bar stopped serving.
So how best to navigate through an endless stream of eggnog and mulled wine? To start with, if your party invite is mysteriously lost in the post, adopt the tried and tested gatecrasher technique of turning up to your event of choice an hour late clutching an empty champagne glass — simply walk in as if you had been there the entire time. Just fill the glass with caution once you are inside. Your position in the room is also key; where there is alcohol, canapés tend to follow. Work out where the trays are coming from to ensure a constant stream of food to steady oneself throughout the evening. Then avoid the festive cocktails and stick to what you know. Champagne is a safe choice. What’s more, research suggests that drinking bubbly can reduce the chance of Alzheimer’s.
Being of 100 per cent redneck blood royale, ‘dinner party’ has always been one of those phrases that makes me want to vomit up jellied eels into a string vest and wear it on my head as I paddle in the briny at Southend-on-Sea. So, to counter this, the more the merrier is my motto, especially for festive dinners. My idea of heaven is a big table — or tables — in a warm watering hole, shimmering with the laughter of friends and the glugging of wine, and me picking up the bill. It’s probably fair to say I’m extravagant — stinginess strikes me as the halitosis of the soul. When ordering bottles of wine, I like to do it the way my mum did when making a pot of tea — one teaspoonful for each person, and an extra one for the pot, or in my case the table. I encourage my friends to fill their boots freely, but food is not especially interesting for me at these events — it’s the boozing, the talking, the flirting and the occasional brawling that pleases me so. As we approach the festive season, it occurs to me once more that I am not, to put it mildly, a domestic animal — my best Christmases have been spent in hotels and my most memorable Yuletide repasts cooked by professionals.
But my most unforgettable festive dinner party occurred on a plane — and I think offers a good model for how to approach all events during these glittering weeks, no matter what the location. During a flight with a few friends just before Christmas, the stewardess came to us with the trolley full of food. Instead of taking the silly little tray of food, I ordered a bottle of champagne, two of those little bottles of red wine, three double vodkas and a giant Toblerone. As we were sitting all together, she naturally assumed that I was ordering for all of us. But then I slapped down my card and smiled, charmingly, ‘And whatever the other ladies want, please…’ Christmas is no time to be a scrooge.
Plan ahead: Boot camp in November. Be prepared for vodka searches and beatings but losing a few pounds before mid-November will set you in surplus.
Before party: Do what my mother told me — drink a glass of milk to line your tum (yucky but can save on foolish behaviour after six proseccos).
Prep: Wear frosted eyeshadow and lots of sparkle on décolletage — the more you can resemble a Christmas tree, the more you can be seen to have made the effort. (Caution: bling quota to respect postcode).
Demeanour: Ask other people how many brothers and sisters they have. You are now sparkly and interested in other people — people love guests like you and you will get a call back.
Control: Decline the canapés but gesture for the guests to whom you are talking to eat them instead — let them smell of the fish paste and not you.
Stamina: Cancel all morning appointments for December. Don’t ruminate on what happened the night before even if you find strange business cards in your clutch bag with House of Commons logo.
The Christmas Party season is upon us. The invitations are already pouring in at Liddle Towers. Among the earliest to arrive was a neatly printed card inviting me to join the Stormfront White Nationalist Community at a formal dinner on 21 December. ‘Black tie. No blacks.’ Another one offered a ‘chance to get truly fucking bladdered round at my gaff… bring a bird and a bottle, rsvp J. Welby, Lambeth Palace’. I eschew them all. As soon as some forlorn, overweight and past-it sleb, mysteriously overlooked by Operation Yewtree, has been bunged 50 quid to switch on an array of lights vaguely in the shape of a bloody reindeer in our local high street, I do what the adders do at this time of year, and curl up underground in a hole. I know what is just around the corner.
It is not the saccharine puke of those John Lewis ads or the re-runs of Only Fools and Horses that bother me. Nor even the enforced mingling with people I hate. It is the mortal danger presented by the Christmas season. Book yourself a hearse. Do it early and you might get some money off — the kids will thank you for that. More people die at Christmas than at any other time of the year. They just drop dead. Heart attacks and circulatory diseases are the main killers. But cancer, too, likes to get into the festive spirit. You were already obese, before even Christmas came along. Two out of three British adults are. And now this! So you have heartburn and you step outside after the overheated and tumultuous soirée at Shami Chakrabarti’s pad, delighted to feel the pristine chill of the December air on your cheeks. And you immediately get your head kicked in by drunken members of the Britain First party, who have been celebrating nearby. The Christmas season comes top of the charts for alcohol-induced violence and mayhem. Christmas is top of the charts too for violent domestic abuse. And did you know your wife had a divorce lawyer on speed dial? Oh, she does, she does. The first two weeks of January are the busiest period of the year for divorce lawyers.