The street party goes upmarket

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WHISPER IT quietly, but the well-off residents of London are breaking the habit of a lifetime and talking to their neighbours. The street party is back in town.

The cause of this outbreak of neighbourliness is the millennium, which is creating a boom in bunting. Traditionally, street parties are associated with working-class communities, but this time round it appears an almost exclusively middle-class phenomenon which is restricted to the posher areas of London and the Home Counties.

The pavement revelry has begun in what estate agents describe as "desirable" and "sought-after" locations. Recently a street party was held in the north London street where Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister's rumbustious press secretary, lives.

Last Saturday, a jolly time was had by all in Cedars Road, a cul-de-sac in the expensive west London suburb of Barnes. "People remembered a silver jubilee party that had been held before we came to this road," said Sue Pierce, who co-ordinated the last jamboree. "I just wrote a round-robin letter, shoved it through letter boxes and that was that."

A street party short-circuits countless social horrors. "The street is neutral territory," said Nick Hurry, who lives opposite Ms Pierce. "Have a get-together in someone's house, no matter how impromptu and people will be eyeing up the furniture and the decor. With a street party there are no envious eyes. And wondering whether the neighbours have spent more on their kitchen than anyone else is out of the equation."

Last weekend, the residents of Pembridge Square, Notting Hill, held a communal party in the square's own garden. As the release of the Hugh Grant/Julia Roberts film has elevated Notting Hill to pole position as the capital's most trendy address, many more parties are bound to follow. And it's not just Londoners. No one has ever called the Home Counties "cool" but last weekend about 300 villagers in Jordans, Buckinghamshire, held a picnic and party on the village green with each family providing food and drink to share around.

Gordon Ramsay, the celebrity chef notorious for his kitchen tantrums, threw a street party in Chelsea because he wanted to meet his neighbours at the launch of his latest restaurant. "I just thought I wanted to do something special and rather than have some blonde, silicone beauty open the restaurant I decided to invite the neighbours round instead. It was so successful that I have decided to make it an annual event," said the chef, from his restaurant in Royal Hospital Road.

The neighbourly gesture paid off and he now receives regular visits from the locals, ranging from those with titles and retired brigadiers, to Chelsea pensioners. "They often drop in for a cup of tea in the morning," said Mr Ramsay, showing a completely different side to his nature than the one witnessed in the Channel 4 series Boiling Point in which he verbally abused and even terrorised his staff. "Sandwiches are definitely out - you would not give your neighbours sandwiches," he said. "You would serve a beautiful salad, marinaded chicken, new potatoes and caviar. And stuffed plum tomatoes, ratatouille. I could go on and on but sandwiches are out!"

The street party is not just a summer phenomenon. Similar events are planned for the chillier weather as January 2000 approaches. Barnet council in north London has advertised in local papers, asking street party organisers to get in contact. "Our attitude towards millennium parties is a positive one, we think they are a fine thing," said a council spokesman. "But we want to know what people are doing so we can market them and liaise with the transport and health authorities."

Peter York, the commentator on society, said: "We've just had a party in the London square where I live. People are enjoying communal areas more and more, and I do think it's down to the millennium, which is having the same elevating effect on people as Christmas.

"When it actually comes it will throw people together and street parties provide the perfect arena. This revival does not surprise me at all."