Lord and lady of the dance
Putting on a 'Strictly Come Dancing' bash for 300-odd guests is par for the course for the party-mad Harrisons, says Simon Beckett
Sunday 09 January 2005
Like most people, Emma and Jim Harrison like having friends round. Sometimes it's a dinner party, sometimes just a take-away curry. And sometimes it's more extravagant. Like tonight, a Strictly Come Dancing-themed spectacular with professional ballroom dancers, a live jazz band and 300 guests decked out in a variety of ballgowns, feather boas and tie-and-tail ensembles that would put Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers to shame.
"It's a celebration of all types of dance, from ballroom to salsa. We've even got pole-dancers later on," says Emma. She and Jim live in Thornbridge Hall, in Ashford in the Water, Derbyshire, along with four children and several friends. They embrace what Emma describes as "the art of living", using the 19th-century mansion for regular parties, from bhangra nights to musical evenings. Tonight's bash has taken a year to plan but the formal attire is misleading - this is more an excuse to party than a starchy social affair.
"What do you think of the dress?" demands Emma, replete in a flamboyant red number designed for her by couturiers the Kruszynska sisters. Their clients include Jennifer Aniston and Kim Cattrall, although it's doubtful they wear wedge-soled trainers under their dresses like Emma does. "The dress is sort of royal with attitude," she declares. "That's why my tiara's at an angle."
The party is in the hall's carriage house, where guests are announced by a fur-hatted concierge (an ex-drama teacher who now lives here) before descending to the subterranean lounge bar in what used to be an old air-raid shelter. Dinner takes place upstairs in the glassed-in courtyard, where glitterballs sparkle overhead and bowls of dry ice spill steam on to each immaculate white table.
As the food is served, the diners are entertained by professional ballroom dancers. Tangos, jitterbugging and other steps ensue, before the dancers round on the audience and drag guests from the tables. Wives and husbands smile nervously as partners are whisked around the dancefloor by the scantily clad pros. Then the troupe depart, leaving the floor to the amateurs. It's like a scene from an F Scott Fitzgerald novel, all ballgowns and bow-ties. And things are only just warming up. In front of the stage, staff are erecting a shining chrome bar ready for the pole-dancing.
But that's another story.
What's on the menu?
Hosts are Emma and Jim Harrison, who live at Thornbridge Hall with their four children. Jim owns his own manufacturing firm, while Emma's company, A4e, manages social improvement initiatives for the Government. She's also due to be in Channel 4's Make Me a Million. Sharing the house with them is Alan Perks, concierge for the night, and Graham Fisher, who works for BA. Other Thornbridge residents include Milly Brook, an admin assistant, and her husband Harry, a driving instructor. Then there's Emma's PA, Sue Wright, and Sue's husband Mark, a police officer.
What's the occasion?
Thornbridge Hall's annual big bash, which this year is in aid of the NSPCC Full Stop Campaign, of which Emma is chair of all the regions.
A selection of canapés to start, including mini éclairs of Aruga caviar with crème fraîche, and sweet potato fritters with jalapeno pepper and yogurt. The main course is fillet of beef accompanied by dauphinoise potato and Madeira jus, and tomato stuffed with wild-mushroom duxelle. Dessert is a raspberry champagne tear with champagne jelly.
And to drink?
Australian fizz for the aperitif, and to accompany the meal, Eric Montinin 2003 Pouilly Fumé and Ross Hill 2001 Shiraz. That's followed by Brian Turner's Pearl Mountain coffee.
Any style tips?
Name that tune?
Anything you can cut a rug to, from Frank Sinatra to Santana. Live music courtesy of the Phil Dando Big Band, with DJ Jesus making things a little funkier later.
What's the gossip?
"I just missed a quickstep." "Everyone looks like a butler." "I feel sexy in patent." "I think Bruce Forsyth has got a lot to do with it."
EastEnders Christmas specials are known for their shouty, over-the-top soap drama but tonight the show has done itself proud thanks to Danny Dyer.
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