Parties have become the focus for conspicuous consumption

Spending hundreds of thousands on a bash is no longer considered exceptional or in poor taste

Simon Kelner
Friday 10 July 2015 09:03
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Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) in The Great Gatsby
Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) in The Great Gatsby

Who has a fancy dress party at the age of 50? Well, Piers Morgan, for one. At the foot of the characteristically understated, engraved and mirrored Perspex invitation to his birthday party came this horrifying instruction – Dress Code: Great Gatsby.

So here’s an admission: I’d never been to a fancy dress party in my life – no, not even as a child. And here I am, a man who celebrated his own 50th a couple or so years ago, wrestling with the question of whether to ignore this imprecation completely, or to go along with it, and, if so, how far to take it. In the end, I decided to do the minimum not to draw attention to myself one way or the other. Thus it was that, wearing a cream linen jacket, floral bow tie and pocket handkerchief and straw boater, I made my way – along with several hundred of Piers’s closest friends – to a glittering knees-up in rural Sussex.

There’s some sort of arms race going on when it comes to parties these days. If you’re someone who is someone, or who wants to be someone, you’d better forget the idea of putting on a bash unless you’re prepared to have swan on the menu, Led Zeppelin doing a turn, the Red Arrows doing a fly-past and Kim Kardashian making a surprise appearance. Piers didn’t quite go that far, but he did have Lord Sugar and Ian Wright making speeches, a troupe of young women dressed as flappers, and Piers Morgan on stage wishing himself a happy birthday.

Others however have gone much further. As my colleague Chris Blackhurst mentioned yesterday, Michael Spencer, the former Tory party treasurer, recently took 200 friends to Marrakech for a do to mark his 60th birthday, and the Goldman Sachs vice-chairman Michael Sherwood laid on a party in Sardinia, complete with performances by Blondie and Boy George. Piers didn’t go that far, but he certainly pushed the boat out. Caviar was on the menu, there was an endless supply of champagne and no detail was spared in realising the Gatsbyesque theme.

In the pre-ennui world, people went to a party and were happy with free food and booze. Now, unless there is a programme of world-class entertainment and diversion to satisfy the jaded palates of partygoers who have seen it all before, it’s just not going to pass muster.

It’s another manifestation of this weird, two-speed age of austerity: in certain circles, there is so much moolah sloshing around that the act of spending tens, or sometimes hundreds, of thousands on a big old bash is not considered exceptional, or of questionable taste. After all, it is an act of supreme generosity to one’s friends and associates.

And now the person with the biggest wad of cash, and some pretty good locations for hosting parties, is raising the stakes. The Queen is celebrating her 90th birthday next year – she is already the country’s oldest-ever serving monarch – and she’s planning what will be the biggest ever sit-down lunch in British history. She’s shutting down The Mall – put that in your pipe, Piers Morgan – and is inviting 10,000 of her subjects to join her at trestle tables for a rather impressive street party.

The guests will be representatives of the charities with whom the Queen is involved, and, we are told, there will be “a programme of entertainment”. But of course. If an ordinary finance Johnny can get Blondie, then the Queen surely owes it to us to aim higher. Chaka Khan? Bonnie Tyler?

In any case, she’ll be raising the bar so high that those masters of the universe will have to think again when they’re looking to wow their friends with a spot of conspicuous spending.

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