24/7 party people: ever more exclusive events mean A-listers no longer need to slum it

Economic crisis? Where? Not on the new-look summer circuit, where ever more exclusive events mean A-listers no longer need to slum it at Ascot and Henley. Rachel Shields on the invitations very few of us will get
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The Independent Online

Gloomy weather and still gloomier economic forecasts may be dampening spirits across the country but, for the lucky few, the summer season got off to a roaring start last week. Celebrities and the metropolitan elite turned out in droves for the Gorbachev Foundation Ball, the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition party, and billionaire Arpad Busson's Ark charity auction.

While these events were strictly A-list, some traditional staples of the summer season, such as Glyndebourne, Ascot and Henley, have now become so popular with the masses that they are in danger of dropping off the society radar altogether.

Keen to avoid the fake-tanned, wannabe-WAG crowd, the metropolitan champagne train is being forced to chart a different course this year: choosing invitation-only happenings at stately homes and the VIP areas of music festivals over their more traditional playgrounds.

"Things have changed a lot since the 1980s, when there was a very fixed 'season'," said Ticky Hedley-Dent, features editor of the society magazine Tatler.

"Glastonbury is very much a part of the season now, and there are also country house festivals, like the one at Stanley, which are invitation-only and quite exclusive."

While these new additions to the social calendar gather steam, some of the old guard are on shaky ground. The guest list for Richard Branson's pre-Wimbledon soiree reads like a Who's Who of has-beens, while it has been rumoured that the Serpentine Gallery has been forced to postpone its famous summer party until September, amid fears that the fundraiser may fail to generate sufficient money for charity.

Whether they spend the summer up to their eyeballs in mud at a festival or sipping champagne on a terrace, the society crowd agree that there is only one way to round off the season – at the exclusive Cartier party, which marks the final day of the annual polo tournament at Guards Polo Club in Windsor.

Although the sport is increasingly going the way of Ascot and Henley, attracting fans from outside the horsey set to become more accessible, the Cartier party remains the last bastion of exclusivity.

With only 600 invitations, tickets to the event are coveted, and even being an A-list celebrity isn't enough to get you in: the organisers hand-pick guests and insist on changing the list every year "to keep it fresh".