IN THE Seventies and Eighties Patricia Rothermere was as essential to the London party scene as champagne and canapes and, within that small circle for which such things matter, was famed for her hospitality.
As a fashionable figure, 'Bubbles' Rothermere raised contradictory emotions. On the one hand, her total disregard for the 'You can never be too thin or too rich' fashion doctrine caused mirth among women less secure of their position and role in society - the women who literally nibble a lettuce leaf with such dedication that their stomachs shrink and it becomes impossible for them to put on weight. On the other hand, as she grew larger and defiantly refused to dress in a way that might disguise her size, she became a cheerleader around whom those who wanted to have fun without worrying about avoirdupois happily rallied.
Pat Rothermere's appearance was startlingly unconventional. She loved taffeta, velvet, bows, flounces and all the gallimaufry of late 18th-century dress. She was lucky that London is still the centre for this particular form of evening dress - over-decorative, anachronistic and fussy. London designers were also lucky that they had her to wear their extraordinary creations. Whereas on slimmer, more standard figures they appeared banal and derivative, her size gave them an unexpected probity and stature.
It is as a brilliantly dotty, shimmeringly exotic night figure that she will be remembered. As she arrived at a party wearing an extravagantly concocted evening gown by Gina Fratini or Zandra Rhodes hers was invariably a presence that could not be ignored.
As a hostess she believed in an amusing mix and threw people together in an unconventional way that, in the hands of other hostesses, would seem suicidal. Guests included politicians and City men on one side and Hollywood stars or National Hunt jockeys on the other. As an ex-Rank starlet she knew not only how to project but how to improvise. If a party was too pompous, to keep it moving, she would create her own little diversions. There are tales of midnight fish-and-chip feasts in the back of her Bentley and many escapades that are best described as japes - schoolgirlish, fun and rather innocent. They epitomise the Girls' Own quality of much of her life.
She was born Patricia Matthews in Hertfordshire in 1929, the daughter of an architect. Considered a beauty in her early twenties, she became an actress. Under the name of Beverley Brooks she appeared in several films, including Reach for the Sky (1956), the story of Douglas Bader. In 1957, after divorcing her first husband, Christopher Brooks, she married Vere Harmsworth, later Lord Rothermere and Chairman of Associated Newspapers. She once said, 'I married an empire.' But she always had plenty of time for fun, moving between London and her various homes in New York, Paris and Jamaica.
Her parties were not the orgy of self-indulgence and self-congratulation that many London hostesses preside over. She was a tough and determined fund-raiser for charity and used the clout of her social position to raise considerable sums on the principle that, guests or no, she expected people to pay for the fun. Her house in Eaton Square was indeed a Mecca for fun lovers but charity-supporting friends like Princess Margaret, and later the Princess of Wales, knew that Pat Rothermere had a steely determination when it came to raising funds. And they respected her for it.