There is no party like Carole Stone's Christmas party

A pirate, a pioneer, a punk princess

She has 9,500 phone numbers on file and they are there because she's addicted to people. She is not rich, she is not famous, she was not born to power, but she is London's political hostess beyond compare. And tonight is her party night. Martin McSheen will be there.

Tonight, in an imposing old dollop of architectural confection not far from the Houses of Parliament, one of the year's great parties will take place.

There will be, on past form, a bewildering array of politicians, judges, showbiz types, media folk and authors. Labour left-wingers will rub shoulders with Tory peers. Newsreaders will fight over the peanuts with Tony Blair's Whitehall top guns. Trade union leaders will gossip with playwrights.

And the event? Merely the umpteenth annual Christmas do of a woman who has risen from a BBC copy typist in Southampton to be the last great political hostess in Britain, a unique networker and party-flinger. Carole Stone, now 55, is a phenomenon. There is no one remotely like her in the capital; and without her, the capital would be a duller place.

Her most prominent job was as producer for Any Questions? for most of the time from 1977 to 1989, having worked her way up through the BBC in Southampton and Bristol.

It was a big break, and she spent months reading Vacher's Parliamentary Companion each night before going to bed, until she could recognise every MP; even now, Stone is probably on friendly terms with more powerful people from all sides and professions than any single other person.

She always wanted to end up as Britain's answer to Oprah Winfrey, but, she says, despite a well-regarded pilot show in 1990, and some talk shows: ``I never got a live audience, and never really had the magic to be a success.''

She picked herself up and, encouraged by her partner Richard Lindley, a reporter for ITN's News at Ten special reports, began feeding her ``insatiable appetite'' for people by holding private lunches in a Covent Garden flat, entirely based on the only thing she could ``cook'' - tuna salad - at which a wide variety of people, such as John Birt, Tony Blair, Esther Rantzen and John Prescott, would meet. Now, she has moved on to evening ``salons''.

And, of course, her annual parties. She now has 9,500 people's addresses and telephone numbers on her personal contacts database (she has long outgrown a diary). This year it took her 10 days of constant slog to reduce the party list, first to 3,500, then to 2,500, and finally to around 1,800.

You get the picture? A rich, rather snobbish networker, a latter-day Lady Londonderry, in the pay of shadowy lobbyists ... But you would be wrong on every count.

Carole Stone is neither posh nor snobbish. She's a south-coast, working- class girl. The parties began as a means of introducing her beloved mum, Kathleen, now dead, to her friends. Tonight's one will include, along with numerous senior politicians and glittery TV people, her newsagent, her cleaner, aunts, uncles, friends from school, and so on. As Richard Lindley says, ``the principle is that it's all types and conditions of women and men.''

What about the money needed to finance these events? True, Carole Stone organises some lunches for a few company clients, but that's small potatoes; and despite offers to sponsor the drink and other costs of her famous parties, she refuses. One year, when she was a relative newcomer in London, the party cost her exactly pounds 500 more than her annual salary. Now, she reckons to spend the same sum on a once-a-year, two-hour party that other people spend on their holidays. Even her strict rules, including buying the second-cheapest-available wine, in order to afford the maximum number of bottles, mean that the parties are a big personal extravagance.

So, in short - why?

``I'm just addicted to people. I can't bear to let people go,'' she says. ``When the list got to 400, I thought, what do I do? But I wouldn't want to leave anybody off, and I can't bear not inviting nice new people - I always think, Oh shit, I haven't invited them; and I haven't invited them ... and so it just growed and growed.''

It growed beyond the confines of the Reform Club, which put a limit of 250 on the party, and eventually called a halt when she was packing 650 in. Among the events that may have influenced them was an altercation involving a completely drunk journalist, and the gentle ejection of an even drunker newspaper editor, who had fallen over while pursuing a couple of waiters and split his trousers. Affairs have started at Stone parties, and ended there too. ``One chap said he'd met six of his ex-lovers one year,'' Carole says happily.

Mostly, though, the pleasures of the Stone parties are like her lunches and salons. They are the gentler ones of the mingling of people from different worlds - John Major and Tony Benn, Peter Sissons and Bill Morris, Lynda La Plante and Bruce Kent - on friendly, neutral territory.

Carole Stone has never played Oprah. But - sans sofa, sans lights, sans camera - tonight she has a more dazzling audience than any chat show host can dream of. And a cheerier one, as well.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
From Mean Girls to Mamet: Lindsay Lohan
theatre
Sport
Nathaniel Clyne (No 2) drives home his side's second goal past Arsenal’s David Ospina at the Emirates
footballArsenal 1 Southampton 2: Arsène Wenger pays the price for picking reserve side in Capital One Cup
News
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
peopleFormer boxer 'watched over' crash victim until ambulance arrived
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
i100
Travel
travelGallery And yes, it is indoors
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
The Tiger Who Came To Tea
booksJudith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
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 General

    Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

    £16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

    KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

    £100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

    IT Systems Manager

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

    IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

    £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

    Day In a Page

    Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

    Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

    ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
    Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

    Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

    Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
    'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
    BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

    BBC Television Centre

    A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
    Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

    My George!

    Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
    10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world