Comment: Excuse me? You've never seen a vodka luge?

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The Independent Culture
ONE BIRTHDAY, and three extravagant parties on consecutive nights for a thousand guests bearing who knows how many gift-wrapped bottles of designer after-shave. There are, it seems, some benefits in being Prince of Wales and reaching 50. The last thrash is tonight at Highgrove.

Sadly, I won't be able to make it. We are having a party of our own at home and by the time I've escorted umpteen eight-year-olds back on the Tube from the Rainforest Cafe (last year I lost one) I know I won't have the energy to make it up to Gloucestershire.

Pity. It would have been interesting to see Prince Charles's wow factor, and before you accuse me of indelicacy - perish the thought, I'm a royalist through and through - I'd better explain that the wow factor is the yardstick by which professional party organisers measure a successful thrash.

The wow factor, for instance, at a party last Christmas hosted by a merchant bank was the 6-ft-high vodka luge. Then there was the man-made ocean built into Battersea Power Station for -

I'm so sorry, did someone say they didn't know what a vodka luge was? Forgive me, we urban sophisticates tend to assume erroneously that vodka luges are as common as fish suppers.

For the record, then, a vodka luge is a large ice sculpture made to order in any shape you like, through which a hole is drilled from top to bottom and then filled with a continuous flow of vodka. When you want a slug you just stick your mouth over the hole at the bottom. Corporate logos are the preferred shape for the vodka luge. More flamboyant hosts - pop stars, TV cooks, royal hairdressers - go for something a bit more risque, such as matching male and female torsos. No, don't ask.

Talking of ice, the latest party fashion is to have the bar made entirely of ice. "I adore lighting an ice bar. You can get some marvellous effects," purred a party organiser. "The only problem is, they take three days to melt."

Now, that would have been ideal for Prince Charles. The ice bar at Hampton Court Palace last Thursday night could have been driven down to Windsor for Friday and then on up the M4 to Highgrove for the party tonight.

Penny-pinching, on the whole, is not uppermost in people's minds when planning parties, advised my good friend Tom, who's in the business. Two hundred quid a head, 300 guests is the sort of thing his clients are looking for, although he has just done a party for 30 people which worked out at pounds 16,000 a head, not including the two 15-seater Gulf Stream jets. Good grief, I squeaked, where were they going? Tom said it was more than his job was worth to divulge such confidences. OK, so they're going to this unnamed destination, and then what do they do for pounds 16,000 a head, I persisted? "Unnamed things," said Tom.

Incidentally, that ocean I was talking about at Battersea Power Station was for the knees-up Rupert Murdoch threw to launch Sky TV. For me the real wow factor would have been Mr Murdoch and his closer associates sailing across said ocean in a beautiful pea-green boat that subsequently capsized with no survivors. No, that's uncharitable. Make it a proper yacht.

So what can you expect to get from a party costing pounds 60,000? Hot and cold running vintage champagne and beluga caviare? The champagne certainly, but caviare is definitely out. Retro is in, bangers and mash, fish and chips. For some reason debs like bagels. As for venue, I am reliably informed that the London Dungeon, the Natural History Museum and the top of the NatWest Building are dreadfully old hat, whereas the ticket office of Aldwych Tube Station, now defunct, and the Whitechapel Gallery have a waiting list.

"Wow factor," mused Neil, another professional organiser. "Well, I suppose the sexiest party I went to last year was the Romeo and Juliet event up in Hampstead. The theme was red roses. When you arrived you were greeted with a glass of champagne in a red glass with a bent green stem. Talk about detail. Then there were a series of incredible rooms. The first was Greek - pillars and caryatids; the second was an English garden with lots of people dressed as elves and pixies, not gnomes, who ran up and kissed you and then rushed back into the bushes. A bit strange that, come to think of it."

I doubt there'll be many elves and pixies up at Highgrove tonight. Prince Charles is a rather square host. His favourite band is The Dark Blues, which played at his 21st and is still going strong. "Listen guys, forget the wow factor," I can hear him saying to the party planner. "The ice bar, bangers and mash, and Mrs Parker Bowles coming out of a cake on the stroke of midnight are good enough for me."