Party People: Daytime? Such a bore

New Year's Eve doesn't mean much to night people. To them, practically every night is party night. Ann Treneman stays up late to meet them.

At 11.30 in the morning and Trudy Newbold is just getting ready to face the day. She greets me in a little black dress that is slit to the waist and black leather boots that are as long as her dress is short. "Oh I hoover in these," she says. "I go to Safeway in these. I live in them." She lowers a voice that is already raspy. "I have them made to measure, actually. The heels are six-inch, just a bit higher than average, and I have them made because the ones in the shop are baggy around the ankles." I nod, but my mind is still racing with the idea of Trudy teetering round a supermarket in these things. Baggy ankles, I am thinking, would be the least of her problems.

Trudy, though, does not think like this. To her, dressing-up is part of a performance called life, or, more accurately, nightlife. "It's more like a fantasy, living a fantasy, I suppose. My sister said to me last week: you don't live in the real world, honey! But I doooo," she says with a sort of gravelly squeal. Newbold is 37, a mother and a woman who is rarely at home after 10pm. She has been a model, promoter, pub-owner, party-giver and goer, and lives in a fantasy loft in London's East End with a man named Kevin Daly, whose business card identifies him as a Fat Bastard.

Here, high above Commercial Street, the floors are painted in swirly turquoise and other colours, the sofas are plump and veined and a neon sign over the bedroom door says "Fruit and Veg" with the "e" constantly flashing over to "a". The loft doubles as a studio. It occurs to me that I may have just walked into a movie. A young man on the sofa is identified only as Tall Boy who is a photographer. A joint is lit and soon more people are dropping by. Kevin Daly changes out of his bathrobe. I'm not sure, but I think the night starts here.

Daly does, too, because he has a theory. "Some people who are out at night are so cool they are freezing. They've got to be in the right places and they are just there to be seen. Then there are the actual people who work at night." Trudy Newbold interrupts: "The creatives." Daly nods: "Yeah, the creatives, the organisers. They are the ones like us who do the work. To everyone else, we are nobodies. We aren't in a little band or anything. We aren't even in the queue. But we are actually the real night people. The others are just there to be seen."

This comes very close to what James Cant set out to do in this set of photographs. The germ of the idea came from the paintings of Otto Dix, who chronicled the darker side of the Weimar Republic, but it took a nocturnal friend to help find the subjects. Then word-of-mouth took over and a theme emerged of people who are probably old enough to know better than to live for when the sun goes down. Most are having too much fun to care and, besides, there is always biology to blame. Evidently, about five per cent of us are truly "owls" (another five per cent are "larks" while the rest fall in between), but the word most used by the night-lifers to describe themselves is vampires. They love the lights, the fantasy, the performance, the party, the sexiness, the buzz. And, of course, they love having an excuse to still be in bed when most of us are just breaking off for lunch.

DJ, party-giver and clothing designer Fee Doran shivers as she remembers her own 9-to-5 past. "I used to have a normal life for about five years, from when I was 16 to 22. I had a shop job and had to get there at nine. Every day, I was late and made up some ridiculous, glamorous excuse about being followed or something. The whole thing was a nightmare," she says, taking a rather dramatic swig from a can of Diet Coke. "I don't think I could go back now. I don't think I'd get on with normal people. They would probably think I was weird. When I was mixing before, they always thought I was a transvestite." I look at Doran, who is tall and blonde and doesn't look her 30 years and raise my eyebrows. "I suppose because I was dressing-up and I was tall. I'm six foot and with heels, six-foot-four."

It is the mid-afternoon after the night before and Doran has just arrived at the studio in the old Truman Brewery building in the East End. In one half of it, she and her partner, Tubbs, run East Meets West, a company that puts on parties for 800 or so "arty types" once a month. The other half of the studio is devoted to designing clothes (which some of the 800 will be wearing). She became a DJ by accident - "because I am old and have loads of records" - but is a night person by design. Fee Doran is an insomniac, and vodka and music have succeeded where Horlicks and hot water bottles failed.

For her, the night is about music and clothes and neither of these really work when the sun is up. "I've tried it during the day and people just keep asking me, `How much?' Once, we had a morning meeting and we had been out all night. I was clumping round King's Cross with pink leather ankle boots with a really bad hangover and I was asked `how much?' so many times I thought I was going to have a breakdown. I thought: Come and get me, I can't bear it!"

Across town, in a flat near Marble Arch, I find Chris Green, who is a man with more than a passing acquaintance with ankle boots. He is 29, and describes himself as a comic actor, but others say he is just a great drag queen. When I last saw him it was as Tina C, the Queen of Country Music (songs include "I Got An Uplift Bra, But An Ache in My Heart" and "I Called My Grandaddy Grandpa But I Should Have Called Him Dad"). Then, he was wearing denim hot pants and huge hair. Now, he is in checked trousers with his red hair in a ponytail and, even more outrageously, he is claiming not to be a night person at all. "I am always at my desk by 10am, even if I am in my pyjamas," he insists.

I'm almost taken in by these day-time pretensions when he admits that he doesn't go to bed before 2am and tells me a detailed story about how the group Abba was made up of two day people and two night people and this meant there weren't many times they could actually meet in the studio. And, he says, you cannot beat people-watching at 3am. "I like sitting in Soho and having a coffee and just thinking: where have these people been and where are they going and what have they taken? My favourite is to watch people argue. You see people shout something like, `DON'T EVER TALK TO ME AGAIN!' and then they stand there and wait for the other person to speak. I love all that misrule. I guess you call it misbehaviour. It comes from too much drink, I suppose."

Too much drink is a key ingredient of Sue Tilley's idea of a good night out. By day, Tilley works at a Job Centre, but she used to be a dole officer and is the "Benefit Supervisor" painted by Lucian Freud. She was the best friend of Freud's model and night-club owner, the late Leigh Bowery, and wrote his biography. She is now 40 and says she has a sensible gene that means she will never be a drug addict and will always have a day job. But she also knows how to have a good night out.

"I love getting dressed-up to go out and putting nice make-up on. I like to get drunk before we go out. I like the dark of night-clubs. I love glamour, that is what I really like, I guess. And there is nothing I love more than seeing a minor celebrity. If I go to a night-club and see three minor celebrities, I will be soooo happy," she says, sipping tea underneath a Freud in her fifth-floor flat in north London. "I went to the opening of the art show `Sensation' and I was so thrilled to see Jeremy Paxman, who I have fancied for years. I couldn't look at the art because I was too busy following him around." But is he a minor celebrity? "I think he would probably think he's a bit major. He's so rude. I love him. He's marvellous on University Challenge!"

So what makes a night person? "You like to have fun, you want glamour. You like a drink. I always find people who go out at night and don't drink very odd. How can they bear being surrounded by drunk people?" she says, adding: "Oh yes, another thing is that I don't need a lot of sleep. My mum despaired when I was a child."

She then leans forward on the sofa. "I tell you what makes a fantastic night out - free drink. Then everyone gets drunk. Otherwise, there are always a few Scrooges around. So the idea would be to go out with friends, have a few drinks first, go out to a night-club, see a few minor celebrities and then get off with the man of your dreams. Yep, that's it." So how often does that happen? "Very rarely," she says. "But it does now and then."

Then she stops. "I suppose there are some people who would be horrified by all this. They wouldn't dream of staying out past midnight. I think that is the reason so many people get so ill during Christmas and New Year, you know. They don't go out the rest of the year and see Christmas as an excuse for something special. It doesn't mean the same thing to night people because practically every night of the year is like Christmas, really. And that is something that only night people can ever understand".

SUE TILLEY, 40, Job Centre worker, former nightclub picker, model for Lucien Freud, friend and biographer of Leigh Bowery

`I think you either are a night person or you aren't. And I am. By going out, fantastic things have happened to me. It's changed my whole life. I wouldn't know what I'd be doing if I didn't go out. I lived in Paddington until I was six. There were drunks outside the house, and prostitutes, and I think that's when I got it in my head that that is what I liked. Now I don't go out as much, but I still know how to do it. I will stay until the bitter end, looking for something more exciting to happen.'

CHRISTOPH HEFTI and DOMINIK SCHERRER, both 30. Hefti, a fashion designer, and Scherrer, a film director, are the founders of the band Taxi Val Mentek

`Both of us are Swiss and we grew up in Zurich but we've been here for 10 years,' says Scherrer. `The name of our group is Hungarian for something like "let's take a cab". We went to Budapest after the Iron Curtain came down and were quite inspired by the entertainment and show bands that were there. They had a sort of melancholic tackiness. When we started it was like that but now it's really more glamorous, almost space-age pop with cabaret elements. We seem to only tour during the winter and then we really do live at night. We never really see the daylight. By the time the concert's over and we wind down it's 5am.'

MARISA CARR, 26, writer, stripper, member of the Dragon Ladies

`The Dragon Ladies is an experimental troupe and we are doing something called the Grotesque Burlesque Review. I'm really interested in the history of sexual entertainment, the secret history of these women. You know, Colette was incredible, a radical, a writer who was in love with eroticism. The clothes I am wearing in this picture are from the 1950s and are original stripper's clothes. I am fascinated by music hall and old burlesque and the sexiness of the theatre, the false lights, the thick make-up, the entertainment.'

DAVID KAPPO, 28, fashion designer for his own label, Dave and Joe, and party-lover

`I would describe myself more as a party girl than a clubber. I mean, basically, I would go to the opening of an envelope if it was fun. I just like to enjoy myself. This week, I've been out four nights. Yesterday, I went to a couple of parties and had a fab time, had a good old natter. I am so not a music snob. If it is in a chart, I'll love it. Tonight, I'm going to a friend's party and I want to dance, even though my dancing gets an "a" for effort and an "e" for attainment. It's just so embarrassing. I'll stay as long as the fun is happening. That's why I do it: just for the fun.'

TRUDY NEWBOLD, 37, model, party-giver and goer

`Every day is makeshift really. We never plan anything. Someone will just call and then we'll go off. I present myself in the way I choose. I don't care what people say. It's like when people have good china and put it in the cupboard. It's wasted not being used. So you've got to use it. I suppose I like going out for the buzz of it. It's a performance. Well, life is a performance, isn't it? And there's no second run.'

CHRIS GREEN and CATHY PEACE, comic actors who appear together as the duo Divine Feud

`We've done two shows together,' says Green. `I love the idea of old-style drag and then messing about with ideas that we have about androgyny. The thing is that usually you either have a bloke in a dress looking very glamorous telling dirty jokes or you have a woman with her tits out, looking glamorous. That's a lot of what we're looking at with Divine Feud, that bit where men (like Danny La Rue) started talking and women had to shut up and get their tits out.'

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