Simon Kelner: You are cordially invited to sit very still and behave


Hosting a dinner party is not easy. The gut-busting hard work and the stress followed by the ingratitude of the guests – that may just be my friends – ensure it's a labour most of us don't take on regularly.

So imagine what it's like to organise a dinner party for more than 200 people. Those of you with a keen eye will have seen a picture of me in yesterday's Caught & Social column (it's the spot of light relief on the preceding page before you get to the serious discussion of world affairs by me and Deborah Ross).

Anyway, there I was, surrounded by shots of beautiful people – Gary and Danielle Lineker, Jemima Khan, Hugh Grant, and, to my jaundiced mind, the most beautiful of all, the proprietors of this newspaper, Alexander and Evgeny Lebedev.

The occasion was a dinner I hosted to raise funds for The Journalism Foundation, a charity which, at a time when the press is held in such low esteem against the backdrop of phone-hacking and the Leveson Inquiry, exists to demonstrate how journalism, ethically practised, is essential to the democratic health of a nation. We had an auction, entertainment and dinner. We also had all these guests, who seemed to want to enjoy themselves in their own way and at their own pace. I have often remarked sarcastically that, in some restaurants, the diners just appear to get in the way of the smooth-running of the establishment. I can now see things from the other side of the fence. Blimey, it wasn't so much like herding cats as herding wild cats, or possibly wild cats who'd had a few drinks. They wouldn't sit down when told, they wouldn't be quiet when asked and were generally an inconvenience. At the moment of my highest stress, Tracey Emin (a truly fabulous person, but not generally a voice of reason at such times) carefully explained it to me. It's Because. They. Are. Having. A. Good. Time. Hosting a dinner party of any size is not necessarily a good thing for anyone who may have control issues (not that I have, you understand).

We're not pre-occupied with whether our guests are enjoying themselves: we're more concerned that they're doing what we want them to. In the event, we raised considerably more than we hoped for. Highlight of the auction was when Jemima Khan bid for lunch with Hugh Grant and the evening was deemed a success by most who attended. I felt sorry for Alexander Armstrong, the TV comedian, whose stand-up act was barely audible above the sound of others performing, but he came through like a trouper, ending with a terrific joke. What's got 200 legs and no pubic hair? The front row at a Justin Bieber concert.

I texted Alexander yesterday to thank him for his efforts and he replied that every performer should go through an ordeal like that, "like when racehorses train under water". I know exactly how he felt.