guess who's coming to dinner ... and what it will cost you

Can't afford pounds 100,000 for supper with the PM? Never mind. Why not ask Sam Fox (more fun than Mr Major) for pounds 10,000 - or a Gladiator for pounds 1,500? Hester Lacey on the price of a name
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Indy Lifestyle Online
What would you do with pounds 100,000? Such a sum could buy you, perhaps, a house, or several (admittedly small-ish) cars, or around four months in Princess Diana's favourite holiday spot in the Caribbean. Or two relatively intimate dinners with the Prime Minister. As a "founder member" of the Premier Club, which has close links with the Conservative Party, in return for your substantial six-figure "membership fee", it would be just you, him and, say, 10 other interested parties who want to chinwag with the PM over the gravy boat. (A cool million's worth of membership sharing the roast beef, if anyone's adding up.)

"Ordinary members" of the Premier Club, who have only pounds 10,000 or so to spare (pounds 10,000 is the "minimum commitment" acceptable), will have to be content with suppers with Michael Heseltine, the Deputy Prime Minister, or Roger Freeman, the Public Services Minister.

Sadly, John Major and his cohorts are beyond the pockets of most who would like to rub shoulders and exchange social chit-chat with celebrities. But even on a budget, it is possible to entice famous faces along to grace your social occasions, all of them probably a lot more fun than some fusty old politician. On the basis of a two-hour stint at a private party, mixing and mingling with the host's nearest and dearest, and leading a champagne toast for the lucky birthday boy or girl, Samantha Fox's agent quotes a fee of pounds 10,000 - Ms Fox is far more decorative than Mr Heseltine, probably far jollier company and comes at the same price. Shakespearian luvvie Christopher Biggins would charge two grand for such favours, and Kathy from EastEnders, aka Gillian Taylforth, a mere pounds 1,000. Determined bargain- hunters can secure the company of a John Major look-alike for pounds 350 or so (though at the same price, a Di or a Liz Hurley double would also be available).

For a similar service, an assortment of Gladiators have quoted a price of pounds 1,500 each at weekends and pounds 1,000 during the week, and Ken Morley, lately Coronation Street's Reg Holdsworth, pounds 2,000, plus travel expenses.

Such party one-upmanship can be found in all kinds of circles. Last year, polite society was scandalised by the revelation in Harpers & Queen magazine that the Earl of Snowdon's half-brother Peregrine Armstrong-Jones, a professional party planner, had persuaded sporting stars to attend two private events in return for "negotiable fees". Gallantly refusing to name names, Mr Armstrong-Jones commented at the time, "It makes any otherwise boring party, full of boring people, that much more interesting. If somewhere is full of bankers and insurance brokers and suddenly someone famous turns up, it just adds a bit of spark."

Some top names, however, would be extremely hard to rope in. "You must be joking! Sean doesn't do things like that," snorted Sean Bean's agent, at the suggestion that the actor might like to name his fee to glitz up a birthday bash. Naomi Campbell, likewise, flatly refused.

Anthea Turner's agent also politely declined. "It's not the sort of thing Anthea would do, and we don't quote fees willy-nilly - the market dictates its own fee, and Anthea is very high profile, so demand is high." And there are extras on top of the celeb fee. "Normally, you would have to provide first-class transport. A typical example would be if Anthea was going to launch a ship - that would mean a first-class rail return for two." Such an event would have to take place in the afternoon - Ms Turner's work commitments get her up at four in the morning, so evening parties are out of the question.

Many famous faces, and who can blame them, wouldn't spend the afternoon hobnobbing over the barbecue with your assorted nephews and nieces, Auntie Doris and the vicar's wife for any money at all. A more prestige event is needed to bring them out.

"Mostly, personal appearances would involve opening a new shop or a product endorsement, something that would bring the press and public out," says Roberta Lemon, one of the major fixers of celebrity showings. "A client will call me and say they need a celebrity for a product launch. I will ask how much they want to spend - it can be anything from pounds 1,000 to pounds 30,000. It's vital to match the celebrity to the event - there's no point in booking someone who has no connection with whatever you're trying to do. Ideally, a month's notice is good - I have pulled people out of the hat at the last minute, though I prefer to have time to organise a proper contract. If it's a late do, or out of town, the celebrity will have to be put up, and taken there by taxi or plane."

She has taken Tony Jacklin to open a golf course in France, fetched in Kriss Akabusi to promote Happy Shopper supermarkets, and arranged a 40- minute cabaret by Lenny Henry for "a five-figure sum", which perhaps helps to put Mr Major's pounds 100,000 a little more in perspective (though his jokes probably aren't up to a similar standard).

Should you be lucky enough to persuade a top-flight star to grace your garden party, Ms Lemon suggests that they aren't allowed to outstay their welcome. "You can't expect to keep them from eight in the morning till nine at night. It's very hard work, having photographs taken, signing autographs - it's far from money for old rope. I recommend they only stay for a few hours. They lose their novelty value; people start to think, 'Oh, are they still hanging about?' "

And suppose I'm looking for a bargain and have pounds 1,000 to spend? "How could you best spend your pounds 1,000? Hmmm. You'd get someone to turn up," says Ms Lemon, tactfully. "I would suggest a great package of entertainment - a couple of alternative comedians, a little cabaret, and for that much you could probably get a compere as well." No Liz Hurley then? "There comes a point when it's really not worth asking people," observes Ms Lemon, probably quite rightly.

Lindsey Hawkins, a casting agent with the Talent Corporation, agrees. "Most celebrities don't like to mix and mingle with strangers. They prefer to have a role. We often get mothers wanting Premier league footballers to turn up to their son's eighth birthday party, but it just isn't possible. Celebrities prefer a reception where they will be introduced to perhaps the board of directors or the local mayor, depending on what kind of event it is. Prices vary enormously, depending on what exactly is required."

A civic reception might be hard to pull out of the hat, but there is always the direct approach. Why not simply pop an embossed invitation in the post to the desired celeb? It can be done, says Lady Elizabeth Anson of Party Planners - but a little subtlety is needed. "An invitation totally out of the blue would be automatically refused, and go in the bin. You have to have some slight connection - a mututal acquaintance. Enclose a little note, saying by way of introduction that someone you both know thought they might like to come, and it would be lovely to see them. You'd have to be quite brave to do it." But would it work? "You never know. It is more difficult with a private party. Maybe for a charity event or a book launch, if their PRs thought it was good publicity, they might come."

Liz Brewer, society fixer, however, is dubious. "You can employ anybody through their agent, if they get paid an appearance fee. Or there would have to be a very good reason - say, a sick child's great ambition was to meet them, some kind of soft publicity. But just a private function - no way, no way, no way. They'd feel awkward, the host would feel awkward, people around would feel awkward, if they didn't actually know them. I don't think you can buy celebrities in that way."

And, she says, would you really want to? "Suppose you invited Elton John and he actually turned up - everyone would just gawp, it would be a nightmare. To have a celebrity turn up just to make you feel more important - it would be such a naff thing to do."

8 Additional research by Cayte Williams


Mike French, chef: I'd have Major and Heseltine, and be sure to leave the smoked salmon out in the sun for a few hours before offering it to them. Or Princess Diana, because she wouldn't eat much.

Simone Howerd, personal assistant: Will Carling. I'd like to ask him what really happened with Di.

Jon Gower, gardener: If it was a dinner party kind of thing, I'd have Jonathan Miller and Quentin Crisp, because I think they'd go down really well, but if it was a piss-up, I'd have Oliver Reed.

Jeanette Risley, shop manager: Princess Diana, because she'd be nice to my old granny while the rest of us were getting sloshed.

Michael McIlroney, sales assistant: Bianca and Tiff off EastEnders, they'd liven things up a bit. I'd lay in a case of Babycham and plenty of Southern Comfort and lemonade.

Tony Hailes, car salesman: Princess Diana, she might be glad of an invitation these days.

Marjorie Fender, pensioner: John Major. I'm sure a lot of my friends would like to bend his ear. But I wouldn't pay him.

Christina Madden, escapologist: James Stewart, always my favourite film star, because I adore him, and he's always been so modest and charming in interviews that I'm sure he'd be lovely and friendly and wouldn't mind answering obvious and inane questions.

Sarah Owen, teacher: I'd have Lily Savage, she'd be wonderful. You wouldn't have to worry about keeping the conversation going, she would just outrage everybody.

Jon Smith, telephone operator: Liz Hurley, especially if she'd pretend to be my girlfriend.

Stephanie Pugh, language teacher: Robert de Niro. I'd like the sense of danger with Robert. And if it was a theme party, I know he'd put on 10 stone or take off 10 stone, to get into character and make a good entrance.

Doug Harman, technical writer: Pamela Anderson, because she's a babe, and David Attenborough, because I like his wildlife programmes.

Paul Nixon, dispatch rider: Jerry Sadowitz. I'd have him just to wind up everybody else.

Gill Mullins, designer: Liam Gallagher and Damon Albarn, for entertainment value. I'd put them together in a ring and watch them bash each other over the head with plastic bottles of cheap beer.

Ruth Metzstein, editorial assistant: Noam Chomsky. He's wonderfully intelligent and would be supremely entertaining.

Joanna Pitkin, waitress: I would be desperately shallow and have lots of fabulously attractive men and no other guests - a selection of sex gods, like Brad Pitt, Rupert Graves, George Clooney, Alan Shearer, and the one on Friends who had the monkey. Then I wouldn't bother to talk to any of them, ho ho. I might also have Princess Di - but definitely to a separate party.

Linda Taylor, journalist: I would have Spartacus, Mary Shelley, Tom Paine, Madonna and Leonardo da Vinci. Oh, and Vincent van Gogh as well. The conversation and atmosphere would be brilliant.... It's just a shame that so many of the guests happen to be dead, though.