Charity begins at wonderful parties

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The last thing Mrs Dorothy Willerton wants to do is advertise her charitable works to the broadsheet newspapers. Or even Tatler. If she wants (or even needs) to spend New Year's Day with friends ("some of them are titled") giving food to poor people on The Strand and Lincoln's Inn Fields, that is her business.

"We don't do it for our own egotistical benefit," she says. "I am only allowing one journalist to witness tonight's Charitable Food Run. I'm sorry, but the lady from The Lady got there first."

"Please can I come?" I whimper. "I'll bring happiness to millions of Independent readers."

"Oh," says Mrs Willerton. "OK."

There are 12 of us, trudging up toward Holborn, carrying little hampers of leftovers - left over from wonderful parties the likes of which we can only dream of. Nine are driven philanthropists (driven by an inner need they just can't describe) and three are journalists (two ladies from The Lady and me). Of the philanthropists, three are titled and all are from old money.

"No," says Mrs Willerton, "we don't let in the nouveaus. I know their food is good enough, I know their hearts are big enough, but these are my friends, don't you see? We are doing our bit without drawing attention to ourselves."

"I was furious," adds Mrs Banceaux, "when I heard a man from the Independent was coming. I don't want to be in the paper. We just want to help the poor homeless people. But not all of them. Some choose to be homeless. We only help those who have no choice."

"How can you differentiate?" I ask.

"Oh, come on," says Mrs Banceaux. "You can tell just by looking at them."

We find our first homeless person in the doorway of TGI Fridays. He is young, and Mrs Banceaux whispers to me that he may be the sort of voluntary slacker she was talking about.

"He's not mad. He's not drunk. He's fit as an oxen."

"So are you not going to give him any food?"

"No," she says, softly. "The benefit of doubt. That's the Christian way." With a look of deep profundity, she bends down and hands him a little hamper of leftovers.

"Yeah, cheers," says the homeless man. "Cheers, yeah."

"Where are you from?" says Mrs Willerton.

"Newcastle, cheers," says the homeless man.

"Long way from home," says Mrs Willerton. "Oh well. Goodbye."

"Yeah," he says. "Cheers."