Tobacco giant pays for $1m Thatcher bash

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WHEN IT came to policy decisions, understatement was never Margaret Thatcher's strongest suit. But, with three parties to mark her 70th birthday, the former prime minister has excelled herself with a million-dollar celebration.

First there was the glittering event at Number 10 last month, where an array of famous faces from the Thatcher years was paraded for the cameras.

Next is a champagne event for 200 at Claridge's on 13 October, with the Queen in attendance. But even this will be overshadowed by the birthday bash across the Atlantic on 23 October for 800 guests. A moderate estimate of the cost of the Washington dinner borders on $1m (pounds 630,000), which will be borne by Philip Morris, the tobacco company, which employs Baroness Thatcher as a consultant at pounds 500,000 a year.

Ticket sales for the event, at pounds 625 a ticket or pounds 15,000 a table, are already reported to have reached pounds 1.5m - and all money raised will be contributed to the Thatcher Foundation.

One friend of the former MP for Finchley has already been quoted as saying that "even Caligula would be envious at the scale of entertainment". The public space of Washington's Union Railway Station has been rented out to the Thatcher Foundation for the evening. US television's premier news interviewer, Barbara Walters, is to be the compere, and Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber is writing the music. The guestlist includes Mikhail and Raisa Gorbachev, Mr and Mrs Jacques Chirac, Mr and Mrs Helmut Kohl, Mr and Mrs Henry Kissinger, and Nancy Reagan.

Susan Carr, who organises bookings for the Union station area, said: "It costs $25,000 to rent out the space, including security. Then, on an occasion like this, there are also the DC police, the security police and special police forces at the occasion. Additional security guards will probably be about $40 an hour.

"The food would be about $85 a person at the minimum but will probably be a little more than that. It would be $50 for a nice bottle of champagne and $25 for wine. It depends how much drink they would need, but prices could go sky-high."

Philip Morris's chief executive, Geoffrey Bible, will chair the dinner. A spokesman for the company said: "Philip Morris is writing the Thatcher Foundation a cheque to cover the cost of the party. That leaves all the money made, like ticket sales, as profit to the foundation."

The foundation, described by its trustees as an educational organisation, has bases in Warsaw, Washington and London, and is non-profit-making. Its US administrative director, Katherine Carraway, describes it as "a charity and grant-giving organisation which aims to promote free-market values in Eastern Europe, Russia and the Far East". Because of its political motives, it is not a registered charity in Britain.

Lady Thatcher herself is believed to be paying for the 13 October party in Claridge's. The hotel charges about pounds 35 a head for the least expensive food, plus pounds 50 for champagne and flowers for a table for two, and pounds 35 for wine. Limousines for selected guests will be around pounds 130 each for the evening. A conservative estimate would put the total bill at no less than pounds 50,000.

The guestlist for the London parties is thought to consist largely of Lady Thatcher's Cabinet colleagues during her time as prime minister, such as Lord Tebbit and Lord Parkinson, as well as close friends such as Lord McAlpine.

Sir Charles Powell, her former policy adviser on foreign affairs and defence, says he is greatly looking forward to the Claridge's event. "The Number 10 bash was quite a social reunion. It was like a class of the Eighties. I expect Claridge's to be considerably bigger and perhaps even better."

Unlike Sir Charles, Lord Archer will be at all three parties. "I was there at her 65th birthday party, where there were only 12 people, and I shall be at her 70th that she's hosting in Claridge's. I also went to an early party for Denis's 80th and it was great fun. But I think Claridge's will be a tiny bit bigger."

The event at Downing Street was tightly monitored so that the menu and guestlist were not widely publicised. A spokeswoman said: "It was a private party and the money didn't come from public funds. That's all I'm saying." However, John Major is thought to have paid for the event for 60 people.

An executive of one catering company, McKay-Marsh, said: "I would have thought pounds 30 a head for the food minimum with at least pounds 15 each for the alcohol, and then there are flowers, champagne, and staff. We pay our staff pounds 6 an hour, and you're looking at a staff of five for five hours. I doubt they'd have to pay for silver service, but some companies would charge twice as much as us."

Depending on the menu, the cost for the evening would be at least pounds 1,500.

Security for the parties is likely to be tight. Paul Fletcher, head of a north London security firm, Personal Security Services, said: "If you have got high-profile people at your party, that means extra security. For the party at Claridge's, you could be looking at 11 guards for about eight hours, which would come to pounds 1,500 or pounds 1,600, but for the Washington dinner it would be about four times that."