Date that

The 200 most eligible people in Britain?

I'm trying to find someone dateable. This shouldn't, in theory, be difficult: 200 of Britain's most dateable people have been invited to this party, after all. If, as Newsweek and every other American magazine says it is, London is the coolest place on earth, there must be someone here cool enough even for me. "Excuse me," I say to a pair of beaming, well washed young things, "are you dateable, by any chance?" "Er, I'm on the list," he says. "But actually I'm in love." "Who with?". He gestures to his companion. "With her best friend, actually". People say "actually" a lot at this party. "And are you dateable?" I ask best friend. "'fraid not," she says. "I'm in love, too."

They continue discussing best friend's best friend and best friend's boyfriend, and I continue my search. Two weathered individuals cheer up at my approach. They are both on the list. "Dateable is another word for spare," says one. The other wears a white polo-neck sweater under a hacking jacket, which puts him straight on my ineligible list. My next victim looks unnerved at being accosted by an unfamiliar madwoman. "Are you dateable?" "I was last year," he replies. "Now I run a PR company."

What's your definition of a hot date? Sexual attraction? A good laugh? Sexual attraction and a good laugh? This is a question that Tatler magazine addresses in depth in its current issue. Or if not in depth, at least with a list of the 200 individuals deemed the year's hottest dates. Tuesday night saw the matching party, at Mr Chow's, a Knightsbridge chinoiserie haunted by aristocrats, boxing promoters, corporate entertainers and other public eaters.

According to the magazine, last year's exercise in stirring up the singles scene resulted in one still-going-strong coupling and one engagement. Two relationships, eight surnames between them. Perhaps the only thing that's discouraging Simon Sebag-Montefiore and Santa Palmer-Tomkinson from matrimony is working out what they'd call themselves. One reader, on finding his girlfriend on last year's list, shot straight to Mappin and Webb. "Some people really take it seriously," said features editor Harriet Lane over a glass of Moet in the basement bar on Tuesday, "Tragic, I know, but they do."

The list this year reads like a guide to outlandish Christian names from a discount bookshop. I know someone called Serena hasn't a leg to stand on, but this collection of Portias and Camillas, Letitias and Lulus, Allegras and Auroras, Laurellas and Taras, Trinnies and Tiggies could be a list of EMI contractors. Handles and hyphens rule the waves. Nods to meritocracy come in the form of the odd luvvy or pop star - Gary Barlow and Jarvis Cocker were conspicuous by their absence, though Alex from Blur pitched up, announced that he'd never been at a party with so many posh people in it and left again - but the majority of the listed had one thing in common: they may be eligible, but only to each other.

And would they make a hot date? What is a hot date, anyway? Tatler's list suggests that the basic ingredients are one of, or a mixture of, the following: an estate; a title; a high-achieving parent. No need to be witty or erudite, or even a good dancer, to score a phone number: the prospect of a comfy divorce settlement is tops for sex appeal. This isn't entirely popular with everyone picked out for the accolade. A titled dateable who didn't turn up, and wished to remain anonymous, said: "Pleased? I was furious. I hate those list things. They reinforce something one had hoped had died a death years ago." Never mind. Karl Crompton, the pounds 10.9m Lottery winner, was having a high old time being pursued by tanned and coiffed lovelies in Butler and Wilson paste.

Hottest girls, according to a celebrity shrink ("I don't spend that much time on the party circuit. It tends to upset my patients"), were jobless Edinburgh graduate Jessica de Rothschild (no money there, then), "striking blonde with Scandinavian ice-goddess looks" Aurora Gunn, and Nony Walder, who, oddly enough, doesn't seem to appear in the magazine. The men had fringes or short-back-and-side-partings, and those eyebrows that will make great barbed wire in middle age: useful for keeping the rain out of your eyes on the moors.

As the evening wore on, something unpleasant happened. I started getting flashbacks of the toff parties at university, those ones that Americans think the British spend their lives at, and that filled me with despondency about the future. By a quarter to midnight, the urge to go home and watch Trainspotting, to get a fix of human warmth, was overwhelmingn

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