out there; Alix Sharkey invited 500 friends to enter his own Palace of Wisdom

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Throwing a party for 500 people is like turning up at a banquet and finding yourself on the menu. Everybody's hungry, they want a taste now, and suddenly you realise - le plat du jour, c'est moi. There is something cannibalistic about such an event, a sense of watching yourself being consumed. The trickiest part is giving people enough but not too much, so they don't make themselves sick on what, after all, can be a rather heavy dish.

On another level, it's like trying to swallow yourself in one go. Imagine a birthday cake the size of Wembley stadium, then try to imagine blowing out all those candles (and my God, there's enough of them). Not only that, but you also have to eat every single crumb before you can get down from the table.

Birthday parties are worse than Cup Finals. Beaten finalists can still expect some measure of sympathy, but if you invite hundreds of people to celebrate and honour your every existence, there comes a moment when you peer into the abyss and realise that failure will bring abject humiliation. What if nobody shows up? What if there's a big fight? What if there's a problem and my best friends don't get in? What if the PA breaks down? What if Fat Tony has flu?

Fear creeps into your daily existence. Tragedy haunts you. The spectre of derision echoes your every thought, every word. You see yourself living on a desert island, building a new life where nobody knows your name or its shameful connotations.

But then the party takes on its own momentum, and at a certain point you resign yourself to your fate, whatever it might be. Your head spins with fear and exhilaration, as you search for the appropriate emotional response to something so grand and yet so frivolous.

At one point I seemed to be kissing for Great Britain, with at least a dozen shades of lipstick smeared over my face. But that's the great thing about lipstick, n'est-ce pas? It's the cosmetic that you can eat between meals. Still, even though kissing is oxygen to me, spurring me on to ever greater heights, I could have done with six or seven Sharkey clones in order to meet and greet everyone as they arrived. At times like these, one yearns for a Tory wife, a strong woman of great charm who'll act as a snowplough through this blizzard of bonhomie.

Even after the event, when you realise that you enjoy more good fortune and more good friends than anyone could possibly deserve, there is still a cloud of doubt on the horizon. Having yourself surrounded by Agent Provocateur lovelies and guzzling Perrier-Jouet is a wonderful way to spend a Saturday night, as is being crowned King Rat of Nightlife, not to mention mincing around in a silver cape and ruby-studded crown. But you glance over at your eight-year-old daughter and wonder if 20 years from now she will lie on a couch recalling these events for her Jungian therapist.

Did I enjoy it? Of course, though how could I say otherwise? Since objectivity has never been my strong suit, I decided to ask a few of the reader-guests, the ones whose letters had made them essential invitees, for their impressions.

Barbara, an American money broker living in London: "It was very beautiful. Everyone loved the invitations. You should do a Palace of Wisdom every year and do T-shirts and merchandising. Make some money, why not?"

Andy from Essex: "The dog's bollocks, mate. Top geezer, top party. And so many beautiful girls. Unbelievable. And how do I get in touch with Hannah?"

Charlotte from Kent: "My date bumped into an old school friend and we spent the rest of the evening trying to avoid him. The party was a good hangover cure - we'd both got so drunk the night before. Maybe it's just as well we got there too late for the free vodka."

Nikita from Bristol: "I made so many friends. People were really generous with their personal space, really warm. In the toilets we had a whole decadent party of our own with Sean and Blanche, the mother of an 18-month-old baby. She showed us her stretch marks. I talked about Sartre and Eisenstein with a lot of people and abused a lot more."

Like so many others, Dennis and Sophie Miller (the "pathologically straight" couple) sported fabulous outfits. They thought the Palace of Wisdom was a "miraculous cure for any residual bourgeois conventionality; you kindly acted as guide to the Inferno, and have certainly helped to market the concept of stylish damnation to Independent readers such as ourselves."

Gabrielle from Essex decided not to come at the last minute, and gave her tickets to a friend instead: "She said it was absolutely brilliant, and that she'd never seen so many beautiful men. She was annoyed that she'd taken her chap. I'm off the chemotherapy now so my hair's started to grow back, but I had a failure of courage on the night. Anyway, my friend had a stupendous time on my behalf, so I was there in spirit."

Michelle from Nottingham had her purse nicked, but still enjoyed every minute. "Outside we found this little girl who'd been thrown out of a nightclub, and on her 24th birthday, too. She'd lost all her money and friends, and we felt guilty because we'd had such a great time, so we gave her a tenner and put her in a cab home."

You see the calibre of people who attended the Palace of Wisdom? You see what happens if you keep burning up that Road of Excess? You see why this party simply had to happen? Good. See you all next year

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