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

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?

Who's who?

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.

What's cooking?

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?

"Be flamboyant."

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."

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Assistant Manager

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This hotel in Chadderton is a p...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Recruitment Genius: Content Assistant / Copywriter

    £15310 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has arisen for a...

    Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

    £24000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Situated in the heart of Bradfo...

    Day In a Page

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence