Your invitation to Big Wednesday

Eight parties, one night. It's all happening this Wednesday - the height of London's Christmas bash season. So what's a top person to do? Schmooze with Tony Blair? Dance with Natasha Kaplinksy? Quaff with Rupert Everett? Katy Guest offers a guide
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The Independent Online

THE POLITICS PARTY: Caricature of a good time

The host: The Economist's deputy editor, Emma Duncan, on the occasion of the Political Cartoon of the Year Award, sponsored by The Economist .

The venue: The Economist's offices, St James's Street,London SW1.

The guests: Cartoonists, politicians and journalists, among them Kenneth Clarke, Tony Banks, Steve Norris, Tony Benn, Martin Rowson, Steve Bell and Gerald Scarfe.

The atmosphere: The cartoonists allegedly have too much to drink, but draw the line at dancing. The award for the cartoon of the year is decided on the night, so cartoonists turn up to vote for themselves. The winner traditionally receives a chair. "All these cartoonists are very well paid but they're too cheap to go out and buy themselves a decent chair to sit on while they draw," says an insider.

The history: This year will be the fifth awards. In 2003 The Independent's cartoonist Dave Brown won for a depiction of Ariel Sharon, based on Goya's Saturn Devouring His Children. The Press Complaints Commission received dozens of complaints of anti-Semitism but found that the cartoon did not breach its code.

The gossip: The Political Cartoon Society has been banned from allowing Boris Johnson to host the awards. The Economist refused to let a rival magazine editor in on the occasion. "We've spent the last year chasing people like Andrew Marr and John Sergeant, and even Stephen Fry. But they're all busy, so we've ended up with The Economist's deputy editor. Yes, it's a slight disappointment."

THE SOCIALISERS' PARTY: Networking like there's no tomorrow

The host: Carole Stone.

The venue: Middle Temple Hall, EC4.

The guests: More than a thousand of them (out of the 20,000 contacts on her database), probably including Charles Clarke, Michael Palin, Michael Portillo, Esther Rantzen, Baroness (Helena) Kennedy, Michael Buerk, Tessa Jowell and Peter Snow. Stone says: "I was the producer of R4's Any Questions series for over 10 years, so my guests today are usually a mix of politicians, think-tank people, those from the media and the business world."

The atmosphere: "It really is considered a networking event rather than a party," says one previous guest. "There will be a hardcore of people exchanging business cards." Stone says: "As I pay for it all myself, I'm quite ruthless: no food, just soft drinks and plenty of good but inexpensive wine."

The history: It started small 20 years ago. From there Stone went on to have bigger get-togethers - in the BBC canteen, then in her London flat, though that got too crowded. "You've got to get a bigger place," said Michael Winner, addressing her from her loo.

The gossip: Last year Andrew Neil, host of The Business's party, was there, refuting accusations he has nearly as many jobs as his employee, Boris Johnson. "No," he apparently barked. "I am his boss." If Neil nips round for a quick network in between passing round the canapés at his own party, talk is likely to be of whether his troublesome employee is about to be one job lighter by Christmas.

THE CELEBRITY/CHARITY PARTY: Stocking up for a good cause

The hosts: Neil Fox and Tania Bryer at the Macmillan Celebrity Christmas Stocking Auction.

The venue: Waldorf Hotel, Aldwych.

The guests: Celebrities have put together their "dream Christmas stockings", the contents of which have been donated by their manufacturers. Trudie Styler, Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, Bill Nighy and Hugh Grant have all made their suggestions, and have all been invited to bid for their ideal Christmas presents. Macmillan Cancer Relief hopes to make £100,000 from the evening.

The atmosphere: Champagne, canapés and feverish bidding, followed by Christmas carols to soothe those who have stretched the plastic too far. "The drinks will continue to flow through the auction to encourage the bidding juices to flow," says an organiser. This year's stocking gifts include: Swarovski crystallised iPod, Jaeger LeCoutre watch, Hunter wellies with zips, cashmere knickers, set of Ping G5 gold golf clubs, and an Armani Blazer. Get bidding.

The history: This is the ninth annual auction. The highest bid was last year for Joseph Fiennes's stocking. It made £18,000. Boris Johnson's stocking, containing a year's supply of Krispy Kreme doughnuts, did not do quite so well.

The gossip: This year's hot ticket is said to be a donation from the actor James Purefoy. He has offered a personal tour of the set of Rome. Purefoy, who was seen sans everything in the BBC drama last month, has apparently not promised to keep his toga on for the duration of the tour.

THE ROYAL PARTY: Narnia and the Prince - magic!

The hosts: The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall at the Royal Film Performance of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

The venue: Royal Albert Hall.

The guests: The stars of the film - Tilda Swinton, James McAvoy, Rupert Everett, Brian Cox, Ray Winstone, Dawn French, Jim Broadbent - plus the child stars and other guests from Cliff Richard to the Osbournes.

The atmosphere: Christmassy. Pre-show drinks will be served, giving Charles and Camilla a chance to ask the stars "what do you do?". After the film guests will troop across the road to Kensington Gardens, where Narnia has been recreated in an enormous marquee. Guests will eat and drink in a forest of imported trees, as fake snow falls around them.

The history: C S Lewis, the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, had the first of a series of seven books published in 1950. They have been translated into 29 languages and have sold more than 85 million copies. "I've been working on seeing a movie made of The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe ... for probably 25 or 30 years," says Douglas Gresham, Lewis's stepson.

The gossip: There are those who say that Disney is distributing the film as an olive branch to America's Christian right, which has been boycotting the firm over its gay-friendly employment practices. Not everyone is happy, though. Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, has damned the series as "one of the most ugly and poisonous things I've ever read".

THE PRESS PARTY, An editors and showbiz love-in

The host: The Business's Andrew Neil.

The venue: Secret top London hotel.

The guests: The aim of the party is to "bring together leading figures from the media, publishing, business and political worlds, and others in a relaxed environment to banter and socialise with each other", says an organiser. Expect newspaper editors and TV personalities such as Clive Anderson, Rory Bremner, Sir David Frost, Peter Sissons, June Sarpong, David Starkey, Griff Rhys Jones and Mariella Frostrup.

The atmosphere: Last year, Griff Rhys Jones said that he wished he had brought some business cards because "it's so boring writing my name on scraps of paper" and "there are so many millionaires here". A previous guest warns partygoers to expect "lots of ancient men plus a bevvy of high-maintenance beauties with a touch of the Russian prostitute about them", adding: "I do like Andrew - he is the consummate host".

The history: Neil's summer parties are held in the Italian Garden, winter ones in the Palm Court. Says one regular guest: "I think David Davis was there in the summer when he was still considered a hot ticket." After Tuesday's Tory leadership election, Davis will either be hot or not.

The gossip: In summer 2004, Kimberly Quinn was a star guest - proudly showing off her pregnancy bump. A week or so later, the story of her relationship with David Blunkett broke.

THE TV PARTY: Where they're all off the telly

The host: Jana Bennett, the BBC's director of television.

The venue: The Commonwealth Club, 18 Northumberland Avenue, WC2N.

The guests: Expect a combination of BBC presenters and newsreaders and a smattering of media journalists. Stars such as Fiona Bruce, Dermot Murnaghan, Natasha Kaplinsky and Bill Turnbull are likely to be among the high-profile Beeb employees mixing with the backroom boys and girls over the mince pies.

The atmosphere: Expensive. "Thanks to the unique way the BBC is funded", as the adverts say, the corporation spares no expense in entertaining staff. Previous BBC parties have featured ice sculptures, food from around the world and entertainment by chart-topping acts. The Christmas party is "held in a room the size of an aircraft hanger," according to a previous year's guest, "with about as much atmosphere". Another confided: "They make wasting money into an art form."

The history: "The BBC Christmas party is an annual event held by the director of television," says a BBC spokeswoman, adding nothing about the hot and cold running champagne.

The gossip: Conversations under the mistletoe are likely to be more tense than usual. Hundreds of BBC journalists in London are threatening a walkout over claims that a TV producer was sacked because she became a union rep. The ballot date on strike action has not yet been set but the NUJ plans to leaflet White City staff tomorrow to raise awareness of the case.

THE SATIRISTS' PARTY, 'Debauched and irreverent'

The hosts: Ian Hislop, Richard Ingrams, Harry Enfield, Eleanor Bron... at an Evening with Private Eye.

The venue: Lyttelton Theatre, South Bank.

The guests: Ian Hislop, Richard Ingrams, Craig Brown, Eleanor Bron, Francis Wheen, Harry Enfield, Marcus Berkmann and an audience of 1,000 paying guests.

The atmosphere: "Debauched, celebratory and irreverent" is what is promised by an organiser. Naughty schoolboy humour, cheap wine and devoted fans are likely to be the theme. The evening will start with a performance from 6pm to 6:45. After that there will be a book-signing, the swapping of scurrilous rumours and the quaffing of quantities of wine of questionable quality. "Ian is great at working a room," says an old friend of the magazine. "All the usual suspects will be there. Richard will not be drinking and will be observing everyone with a wry smile." After that, the hosts will probably be seen at at least one of the night's other parties.

The history: The event was advertised in July this year and the 1,000 tickets sold out within 24 hours. This is the first Evening with Private Eye, but unlikely to be the last. Insiders suspect this is a dry run for a series of events to mark the magazine's 45th anniversary next year, which coincides with Hislop's 20th anniversary as editor.

The gossip: The after-show drinks party will be attended by the Prime Minister, Tony Blair - in life-sized cardboard cut-out form. "He makes a lot more sense than the real thing," says Hislop.

THE GLOBAL POWER ELITE PARTY, It helps if you run a country

The host: John Mroz, president and founder of the EastWest Institute at a meal in honour of Tony Blair, who has been awarded the Statesman of the Decade Award.

The venue: Top secret, for security reasons. Blair's security top brass do not want Islamist terrorists sneaking in and making off with the mince pies.

The guests: Blushing guest of honour is the Prime Minister, who has been awarded the gong for his "values-based leadership in international affairs". The international board of directors of the EastWest Institute is led by the former Spanish minister Ana Palacio and includes Martti Ahtisaari, the former president of Finland, Baroness Liz Symons, Ross Perot Jnr, Lord George Weidenfeld and the PepsiCo founder, Donald Kendall.

The history: The Institute is an independent think-tank established in 1980, with headquarters in New York and Brussels. It is dedicated to bridging the most dangerous divides that threaten international peace and security. Funds raised by Wednesday's meal will become part of the EWI's 25th anniversary fund to expand its programmes.

The atmosphere: A black-tie, political love-in for Blair. Not the place to question his contribution to world peace. "It is a truly historic achievement and his personal contribution has been immense," says the Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Aherne, for example.

The gossip: The European leaders among the party might not be feeling the warmest Christmas sentiments towards Blair. He will have just returned from Eastern Europe, where he has been arguing bitterly with their compatriots over the EU budget for 2007.