Behind every brilliant bash, there’s a brain. Kit Hesketh-Harvey follows the changing fashions and Anna Tyzack meets the party planners.

Dust down that tiara—the smart parties are back. Now that the financial wounds are beginning to heal, those with the wherewithal are feeling a little more brazen about splashing out.

Back in the day, the formula for the Big thrash had hardly changed since the 1950s: a Park Lane hotel (for London) or an ancestral seat (for the country) and a guest list quality-controlled by the lethal Mrs Kenward, Harpers & Queen’s implacable social editor, containing duchesses, debutantes and Debrett’s. Hollywood was, at a push, admittable.

Parties were planned by fragrant individuals who bore, for reassurance’s sake, a minor courtesy title. Invitations were stiffies and carriages were at dawn.

However, since the crash, there has been a revolution. the aristocracy (save for those lovely Hervey and Manners girls) has been guillotined. The money is Russian, Middle Eastern or elaborately untraceable. Venues are original, unique and involve two days’ travel. Celebrations are three-day events and the budgets have Gone Large.

The golden thread that continues to run through it all is Annabel’s. The Mayfair nightclub may have changed hands and its membership become more international, but it has retained its position as the social barometer. similarly, the formidable Chance party-planning organisation, having weathered the storms, survives primus inter partays.

Planning has become big business and is run as such by silken-voiced economics graduates who, in some instances—and don’t faint—didn’t even attend Eton.

The best party planners in Britain:

Hattie Mauleverer-Jones
Top Hat Catering (sensational party food)
(020–79243180; 01672 560087; www.tophatcatering.co.uk)

Why party planning? I love throwing fabulous dinner parties, so I decided to make a living out of it

USP? Michelin-star standard cuisine at home

Best known for? Canapés. My current favourite is a poppy-seed cone with watermelon, goat’s cheese, pickled shallot and basil

Most precarious moment? We were asked to organise a party for 2,500 guests, but 3,200 turned up. It was tricky to conjure up food for 700 extra people, but we managed

Magic ingredient? A great chef. Ours, George, has achieved a Michelin star

Favourite venue? Somerset House, London

Cocktails or Champagne? Nyetimber English sparkling wine

What inspires you? Pinterest.com


 Jeremy Sillett
Bespoke parties events and weddings
(07967 860012; www.jeremysillett.com)

Why party planning? By accident when I was 32, however, the fact that I studied Egyptology at Cambridge, fine and decorative arts at Christie’s, interior design at the Inchbald and trained as a solicitor proved to be the perfect training!

Most outlandish request? A client once asked me to move the pylons in his field to allow a better view of the fireworks

Advice to your host? Don’t leave yourself too long to plan. You lose momentum if the lead-in is too long. Last-minute parties are often the best

Essential ingredient? A great band—my current favourite is the Soul Jets (www.thesouljets.co.uk)

Who or what couldn’t you do it without? Life experience. You need diplomacy in bucketloads when you’re handling family relationships

Most likely to be seen? Picking up the litter at the end of the party


Emily-Rose Gibbs
Kasimira (weddings, private parties and children’s events)
(020-75818313; www.kasimira.co.uk)

Your speciality? Small details that don’t cost the earth

Most memorable moment? When the host climbed down a rope into his party from the roof of the venue wearing a Batman suit, with fake bats flying around him

Ideal guest? David Beckham to enhance the decor

The moment it almost went wrong? The 2010 Eyjafjallajökull ash cloud coincided with an international wedding in London. Planes weren’t landing, but we managed to get all the overseas guests across the Channel to the church

Advice to hosts? Prepare as much as you can in advance. That way, you’ll have a chance to enjoy your own party

Essential ingredient? You. Make the party all about the things you love—even if that means pizzas at 1am

Cocktails or Champagne? Martinis—nothing beats a classic

Favourite venue? Open countryside

Most likely to be seen? Smiling hard


Barbara Simpson
Birley Events (events, parties and weddings)
(020–72905290; www.birleyevents.co.uk)

Why party planning? I organised my halls-of-residence ball at st Andrews and never looked back

USP? Individuality—no one likes ‘cut and paste’

Speciality? Private parties that are remembered forever

Most extravagant request? To turn a swimming pool in Morocco into a shark-infested pool, equipped with a submarine

Most precarious moment? When part of the marquee collapsed on the morning of a wedding following a torrential downpour. A few SOS calls, one welder and an army in wellies later and all was fixed

Advice to your host? Seating husbands and wives together is really dull. What will they have to talk about when they get home?

Essential ingredient? An imaginative host. And delicious canapés: try white-truffle arancini

Cocktails or Champagne? Wild Berry Caipiroska

Who or what couldn’t you do it without? Passion. And remember—you’re only as good as your last party


Tom Lloyd Owen
EventOracle (food and event concierge)
(020–89617477; www.eventoracle.com)

How did you get into party planning? After seven years in the army, I decided to apply my training to the logistical challenge of planning parties and started EventOracle. We were recently named the Caterer of the Year at the Event Awards

Most outlandish request? Paintballing at 12 hours’ notice. The next morning, the client laughed and said: ‘Of course I didn’t want to paintball—I just wanted to see if you could do it’

Your favourite venue? One Marylebone, London (www.one-events.co.uk/Marylebone)

Cocktails or Champagne? Cocktails—way more bang for your buck and you can have so much fun with them

Speciality? Weddings—it’s always an amazing journey


Ruth Lawton-Owen
The Admirable Crichton (lavish spectacles, weddings and intimate dinners in private homes)
(020–73263800; www.admirable-crichton.co.uk)

Why party planning? I’m a natural-born list maker who loves solving logistical problems. It’s the perfect job

Most decadent request? Building an ice rink in a client’s home and clothing the guests in cashmere skating suits

Most memorable moment? Bumping into the astronaut Neil Armstrong at a party I organised

Most precarious moment? My heart is always in my mouth when we put a dancefloor over a swimming pool

Advice to hosts? Don’t forget your duties. Give each of your guests enough of your time and introduce them to each other

Magic ingredient? Fabulous food

Cocktails or Champagne? Quince martinis

Favourite venue? One of the royal palaces—we’re Royal Warrant holders to the Prince of Wales

Most likely to be seen? Ticking things off my list


Annabel Waley-Cohen and Hatty Stead
Hats and Bells (children’s parties)
(07979 261584; 07775 924144; www.hatsandbells.com)

How did you get into party planning? We were trying to be actresses, but ended up as waitresses

Most outlandish request? To dress up as princesses when we were both six months pregnant. Eventually, we persuaded our client that two pregnant Cinderellas was probably not the best look

Most memorable party? A Harry Potter bash with smoke machines, falconry and fake spiders hidden in ice cubes. The children received personalised broomsticks in their party bags

Cocktails or Champagne? Moscow Mules for the parents and Coke floats for the children

Speciality? Our smashed honey-comb Rocky Road gets stolen by parents

Pearl of wisdom? Set a budget and stick to it

Most likely to be seen? Brainstorming at New Covent Garden Market (www.newcoventgardenmarket.com)


Charlotte Aitken and Katie Crichton-Stuart
Albion Parties (parties and weddings with a wow factor)
(www.albionparties.com; 020 –71834852)

Why party planning? Charlotte was at Goldman Sachs and Katie was at By Word of Mouth. We came to the conclusion we’d be a party-planning dream team and we haven’t looked back

USP? Going the extra mile. We once retrieved the host’s pony from the garden, just before it joined
the party. A head collar and a bowl of pony nuts later and he was tucked up in his stable

Magic ingredient? Surprises!

Your favourite venue? Florence. Ideally, the romantic Villa san Michele

Your ideal guest? Mick Jagger. Nothing like a rock star to get a dance floor going

Cocktails or Champagne? Espresso martinis, aka rocket fuel

Advice for hosts? Think out of the box, the crazier the better. And think hard about where you put the dancefloor—it should be the beating heart of the party

Who or what could you not do it without? A sense of humour—there are days when you think you just couldn’t make it up.


Justin Tinne
By Word of Mouth (party design and catering since the 1970s)
(020–8871 9566; www.bywordofmouth.co.uk)

Why party planning? I wanted to be an actor, but I’ve been doing this for 30 years

Most precarious moment? A security alert while setting up a party for 900 government ministers, celebrities and royals. We were allowed back into the building 10 minutes before it kicked off

Highest-pressure party? A party in Azerbaijan with a transvestite opera singer, two fire-eaters, a juggling act and an eight-piece band. We had two weeks to organise it

Advice to your host? Take time to perfect the seating plan

Essential ingredient? The guests—don’t invite people who aren’t up for a party

Favourite venue? The Orangery at Kensington Palace

Cocktails or Champagne? Laurent-Perrier Rosé