The champagne has been chilled, the red carpets cleaned, marquees erected and invitations lined up on the mantelpieces of Britain's better homes: the summer Season is upon us. And despite the global recession, a remarkable number of highly priced, high-profile events will be bigger than ever this year.
From tomorrow's sell-out charity gala preview at the Chelsea Flower Show to the exclusive Cartier party, which marks the end of the tournament at Guards Polo Club in Windsor and the close of the Season, events are flourishing.
"It's our 25th anniversary, so we want to make it even more special," says Arnaud Bamberger, managing director of Cartier. With just 600 invitation-only tickets available, the Cartier party guest list reads like a Who's Who of British celebrity, with the actresses Rosamund Pike and Emma Watson among those tucking into food by chef Anton Mosimann last year.
The sporting and cultural events that these parties celebrate are also enjoying success against the prevailing financial climate. Wimbledon ticket sales are up 20 per cent on 2008; 2,000 extra visitors are expected at the Guards polo tournament this year; and Glyndebourne opera ticket sales are on the rise, proving particularly popular with the under-30s.
"It is worth remembering that many of today's Season events are open to all," says Jo Bryant of Debrett's, publisher of guides to social etiquette. "Good ticket sales may be as a result of people deciding to spend their money on an event closer to home instead of their holiday."
But not all of the Season's social events are faring well. Despite the success with its standard tickets, Glyndebourne has been forced to cut prices for its gala concert from £2,000 to £500 due to "the demise of the economy". Tatler has cancelled its famous summer party, fearing that the social calendar couldn't sustain it as well as a 25th anniversary bash it has planned for autumn.
While some events are going the way of the marriage proposals and debutants of the traditional season and becoming obsolete, other things never change. Peter York, who co-authored The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook, says: "It is important to have the royals. Older royals set the seal on an event, whereas with younger royal people, there is the likelihood that their little friends will be there – girlfriends and drinking buddies – and, with them, the paparazzi. And everyone likes that."
Cartier party at the Guards Polo Club, Windsor
The most exclusive event on the social calendar is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year on 26 July, so lucky guests should be in for some special treats. While polo might be becoming more popular – the number of spectators at the Windsor Guards tournament is expected to increase from 28,000 to 30,000 this year – only 600 VIPs make it into the Cartier tent. Even the biggest celebrities aren't guaranteed an invite to the party – which last year saw film stars mingle with literary lions such as Sir Salman Rushdie, and polo fans including Jemma Kidd – because the organisers mix up the invitation list each year.
Royal Academy of Arts party
Organisers have admitted that, in contrast to previous years, tickets for this summer's party, on 3 July, have yet to sell out. The bash – usually a firm favourite of the season – aims to raise money for the Royal Academy, and is popular with celebrities keen to sip champagne and check out the work in the summer exhibition. Yasmin and Simon Le Bon are regulars, while Erin O'Connor, Lily Allen and Jamie Winston headed up the bright young things last year. Despite the slow ticket sales, 2009's party will almost certainly be as star studded as usual.
Glyndebourne gala concert
Invitations to the opera house's 75th anniversary concert on 18 June had already been sent out when organisers announced that they were slashing ticket prices by up to 75 per cent. Top-price seats for the concert and dinner are now £500, down from £2,000. Overall ticket sales for the summer are up, partly due to a drive to attract under-30s. But the event will need to shake off its fusty image if it is to increase its celebrity count –Terry Wogan topped the list last year.
Chelsea Flower Show charity gala
The 5,000 tickets for the gala evening have quickly sold out, with people keen to preview the horticultural highlights of this year's show while listening to jazz, sipping champagne and munching on canapés. The event is now more popular than at any time since it was established in the early 1990s; tickets sell at £320, or £500 including dinner. While not exactly attracting an A-list crowd, the gala always offers a few recognisable faces, and celebrities expected to tour the gardens this year include John Simpson, Kate Adie and Esther Rantzen.
'Tatler' summer party
The cancellation of the society magazine's annual summer party will come as a disappointment to the celebrities who usually turn out in force for the glitzy event. Last year, artists such as David Hockney and Lucian Freud showed up, along with the singer Bryan Ferry and actress Tamsin Egerton as well as Rebecca Loos. The party, which was held at the London private members' club Home House last year, has been edged out to make room for the magazine's 25th anniversary bash in the autumn, which promises to be a star-studded event. Any socialites worried about the blank pages in their diary can also pencil in the famous Little Black Book party in November.
The Women's Tennis Association's annual pre-Wimbledon bash hosted by Sir Richard Branson looks set for a return to form after a few years in the wastelands of the Season, peopled only by sportsmen and Z-list celebs. The event is now being sponsored by a major fashion brand, which could rejuvenate it. Held at the Kensington Roof Gardens, the evening never fails to attract tennis players but has struggled to pull in the big celebrities in recent years. Last year's party featured Venus Williams, Ana Ivanovic, Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Elena Jankovic.