Opinion: If you can't stand the gossip...

Big bashes need diarists when there's something to publicise. So stop ganging up on us, says Sholto Byrnes

A very odd thing happened last week. Across the gossip columns and diary desks of Fleet Street, the telephones rang with an important message about a much anticipated soirée - the launch of Plum Sykes's novel Bergdorf Blondes at Annabel's nightclub in London. The phone calls, however, were not to convey a detail about the dress code or time, but to withdraw the invitations. Not being aware that I had been invited to the party from which I was now being disinvited, I found the experience particularly bemusing.

A very odd thing happened last week. Across the gossip columns and diary desks of Fleet Street, the telephones rang with an important message about a much anticipated soirée - the launch of Plum Sykes's novel Bergdorf Blondes at Annabel's nightclub in London. The phone calls, however, were not to convey a detail about the dress code or time, but to withdraw the invitations. Not being aware that I had been invited to the party from which I was now being disinvited, I found the experience particularly bemusing.

Diarists are the last to expect to be barred, for although many claim to be shocked at the repetition in print of gossip they have gladly exchanged over the canapés, those who throw parties are usually keen for their events to be publicised. Behind an evening's gloss there inevitably lies some commercial purpose - be it the opening of an artist's exhibition, the launch of a book, or the first night of a show - and the organisers' most earnest desire is for that purpose to be mentioned as an accompaniment to the soupçon of tittle-tattle.

Many guests are eager to nurture their own nascent "celebrity" by being written up in diaries. While Naomi Campbell may guard her privacy fiercely, at one point her mother, Valerie, was a ubiquitous fixture at parties frequented by gossip columnists.

It seems, however, that a disturbing trend is developing. Not only were diarists disinvited from Sykes's party, but the same happened before the EU enlargement party hosted by the Prime Minister, which featured such distinguished Europeans as Rachel Weisz and Peter Andre, the diminutive pop star whose interest in world affairs was hitherto thought to be confined to Jordan. Neither were any diarists, save the IoS's Christopher Silvester, present at Wednesday's launch of A N Wilson's My Name is Legion, a novel in which a diary writer features prominently.

So are these dark days for the diarist, traditionally welcomed by an air-kiss above both cheeks and steered towards the most famous guests in the room? Has the time passed when even the junior gossip reporter can stride past queuing hordes at word of his column's name? A greater degree of control is undoubtedly being exercised at some parties. Fashion journalists, it is implied, can be trusted to write about frocks, and literary types about books. But diary writers can't be trusted not to concentrate on the scurrilous. "I didn't want to have 20 gossip columnists running around my party," explained Sykes. "There have already been too many nasty things about me in the papers."

But the enterprising gossip columnist will always find a way in, as one did to the launch of one of Martin Amis's novels. Identified after half an hour and ejected from the gathering, the reporter climbed over a wall and found another way into the party, whereupon he mingled for another hour before being identified again and chased across the room by an irate publisher.

Despite being banned, several diarists still found their way into Sykes's party. As Silvester and I agreed while discussing this attempted stifling of the society-chronicler: any self-respecting diarist not invited to a party to which he thought he should have been would just turn up anyway. It is no less than the droit de diariste.

Sholto Byrnes is a former editor of the Pandora diary column on 'The Independent'

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