My idea of luxury in the late Seventies was to spend an evening in, but I was a gossip columnist at the time, so it was my duty to be always Out. I went to so many parties, sometimes several a night, that it became a chore. I could never totally enjoy myself as I was always working, insidiously infiltrating myself into café society. After three months on the job, I was exhausted. A routine of late nights and early starts, for openings, fashion shows or interviews was not agreeing with me. Once, the actor Terence Stamp requested I interview him at the crack of dawn in the Jermyn Street hotel. I was in a real dilemma the night before. Should I leave the Embassy club early in order to get a good night’s sleep? In the end, I stayed up all night and had breakfast with him in my evening gear.
I shall always remember interviewing the late Allan Carr, an obese Hollywood producer (who later produced ‘Grease’) over a steak tartar lunch at the extinct White Elephant restaurant in Mayfair. He was in the middle of telling me about his staple stomach operation while I was trying to eat, when Nigel Dempster, my ‘best friend’ at the time informed me that Ritz Newspaper was being sued for libel. Apparently, I had written something libellous. I was thrilled. This was my way out. Unfortunately for me, the plaintiff settled out of court, and I was unable to get off my column for years. I was trapped, and fervently wished I didn't have to go Out ever again.
In “Frantic”, my novel about the early Seventies, a character called Julian Croney was the ultimate party giver. ‘Good old Julian Croney had excelled himself by littering the Tower's vast interior with a clashing mix of Aztec daubed tombs, phosphorescent sphinxes, moss covered pyramids and revolving wishing wells. His decor might have been judged ingenious, but he looked personally ridiculous in his transparent kilt with water wings smugly glued onto his cheek bones.” In the late Seventies, the most prolific party giver was a social interior decorator called Nicky Haslam. At the time he gossiped under the pseudo-name of Paul Parsons, and usually hosted his star-studded shindigs in restaurants like Eleven Park Walk or The Casserole in Kings Road. Once he threw a fancy dress bash in his National trust house. He wore waders, some of his guests were dressed in Gestapo uniforms, and Lady Diana Cooper (fictionalised as Mrs Stitch in Evelyn Waugh's ‘Scoop’) wore a lampshade hat and rested in an upstairs bedroom. Nicky’s parties were always successful, because he always managed to invite an interesting mix of people, even though they were the same old faces. But, even he surpassed himself when he persuaded Viscountess Rothermere, commonly known as ‘Bubbles’ to host a party for Andy Warhol in the Rothermeres’ spacious apartment on the 'right' side of Eaton Square. Nicky invited his regular guest list, which included members of the British aristocracy, international socialites, art, fashion and Hollywood. The most memorable thing about Nicky’s party for Andy was Jack Nicholson’s date for the evening. Not one of the countless beautiful girls who would have happily lain down on a puddle, for him to walk over them, but a geriatric: the fashion legend, Diana Vreeland, ex-editor of American Vogue who must have been well over seventy then. Jack was glued to her side all night long.
Nicky didn’t organise the balls in Berkeley Square though. The first one I went to, I was forced to change into my evening uniform (a reversible Celia Birtwell costume) behind a tree, as I hadn’t managed to get home beforehand in order to change out of my day drag. The guest of honour was Princess Margaret, but her detective wouldn’t let anyone near her.
‘It’s like the French Revolution, off with our heads and all that,’ a wealthy wit said, viewing the curious onlookers on the other side of the square’s railings.
‘It’s a blast from the past and it’s still disgusting,’ Leonard the hairdresser proclaimed at the time.
Copyright: Frances Lynn, 2006