At midnight last night the clocks jarred and we gained one leap second. There were concerned whispers across the globe of crashing software, flight delays and crises on the stock markets, but I was thrilled: this week of all weeks, every second counts.
In the London social calendar there are many busy periods, as regular as clockwork. It’s only June and we’ve already had a Fashion Week, London Collections: Men and the Baftas. Masterpiece comes to a close this evening, and Wimbledon will be over again before we know it. But nothing is more taxing than the summer party season.
This week sees a long list of garden parties and book launches, auctions and store openings hosted by the great and the good, all packed into a few, short days. The proceedings are simple to predict: there will be beautiful guests, perfect hair and pearls aplenty. They will sip champagne and feast on sorbet on sun-dappled lawns. And they will probably be seen at several parties a week.
But a full schedule brings problems. It’s not all about quibbling over the fruit-to-ice ratio in your jug of Pimm’s, or finding the optimum location for the ultimate canapé collection. A packed diary of parties means dress-code clashes, black-cab overloads and triple-bookings galore as the temperature rises and the reminders become more forceful. Pray for rain.
After the relative quiet of Monday — only a few hours at Wimbledon and a quick stop-off at the private view of the new Audrey Hepburn exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery — last night was the warm-up.
The night started at Lancaster House, where conservation charity Elephant Family hosted an auction of tuk-tuks designed by the biggest names in fashion, including Mulberry, Diane Von Furstenberg and Caroline Herrera. With the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall in attendance — Camilla’s late brother Mark Shand founded the initiative — entry was akin to a military operation. But those who made it through the gates were greeted with a secret garden.
Princess Eugenie, singer Natalie Imbruglia, designer Zandra Rhodes and activist Bianca Jagger wandered through the balmy St James’s grounds, devouring quail’s eggs, sipping boozy iced tea and sucking on popsicles.
Later, the 20 tuk-tuks were auctioned off to the highest bidder but I was already on the Tube, halfway to Liverpool Street and party number two. On the 38th floor of Heron Tower in Bishopsgate, cancer charity Future Dreams threw a midsummer bash at Sushisamba. I was too curtseyed-out to say hello to patron the Countess of Wessex, but distracted myself from the vertigo-inducing sights by dancing to Edith Bowman’s DJ set and pretending to know Mel C.
By the time I left I was already late for commitment three: the after-party for the film premiere of Amy. I got back on the Tube and headed to Piccadilly’s Picturehouse cinema. No sign of promised guest Lily Allen, but I managed to nod along and pass a tissue as one guest wept in distress at what, I am assured, was an incredibly moving documentary. A clumsy excuse, a swift exit, and back to the Tube toward home. Three parties on a Tuesday seem excessive? If only.
There is a world beyond Zone 1, you know. The evening will start in the east with the English National Ballet, which is relocating in 2018 to London City Island down on the Lea Peninsula. It’s a long way to go for some, but serial summer party performer Jessie Ware is on the roster while actress Cressida Bonas and model Yasmin Le Bon top a lengthy guest list of dance fans set to visit what some are calling the New Manhattan.
After that, The Spectator opens its doors in Westminster to its staff, friends and fans for their annual invitation-only summer celebration. Editor Fraser Nelson will hold court as politicos, writers and a light dusting of hangers-on discuss the Greek economy and, just maybe, the Eurovision Song Contest.
George Osborne, who seems to attend more parties than I do, has popped in in the past, and Pippa Middleton, a friend of the magazine, can usually be depended on to keep Andrew Neil talking.
Dance fan: Cressida Bonas After a drink or two, make your excuses and flee to Bloomsbury’s Bedford Square, where PR agency Edelman hosts the kind of whimsical bash that has made it famous.
A 10-minute Uber-ride away, Mayfair’s Opera Gallery toasts its 10th anniversary with a VIP reception and new exhibition, or just down on The Mall broadcaster Martha Kearney will be positively buzzing at her Bees for Development charity auction.
Then choose ice or ice cream: Magnum is launching a new store in Covent Garden with Holly Fulton, and Selfridges is unveiling a new boutique from Tiffany & Co. Model magpies Poppy Delevingne and Suki Waterhouse are expected to be among the glittering crowd as the jeweller brings Big Apple-inspired exhibition Fifth & 57th to Oxford Street. Return uninvited for breakfast for the full New York experience.
Almost the weekend, but you’re not out of the woods yet. Those with the day off on Thursday should be spending it in Richmond’s Marble Hill Park for Soho House’s House Festival, but when the sun goes down two annual highlights go head-to-head. The Serpentine Gallery officially opens its Summer Pavilion in Kensington Gardens, with designer Christopher Kane hosting alongside Alexa Chung and Zaha Hadid. Expect party games in the colourful new structure ahead of a performance from Spandau Ballet and former Klaxon James Righton (whose wife Keira Knightley will surely support from the side of the stage). But gallery director Julia Peyton Jones has competition across town as US Ambassador Matthew Barzun holds his riotous Independence Day party at his Regent’s Park residence, Winfield House. It’s a no-go zone for even the most experienced gatecrasher, but expect pop stars, writers, rock stars and, maybe, David Cameron.
Vibrant: the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2015 by Jose Selgas and Lucia Cano (Picture: Alex Lentati) That is, of course, if a pretender didn’t get her save the dates out first: Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman is launching her new novel The Parrots, and her expansive Rolodex may manage to attract the big names. At the party for her first book, held at Sotheby’s, well-wishers included Samantha Cameron, Nigella Lawson, Sophie Dahl and Christopher Bailey. We’ll see if any of the A-listers have the stamina to survive all three. And don’t worry, if you’ve made it to midnight you’ll be fine: no one throws parties on Fridays any more.
Party-hopping has its inevitable perils. Two, three or even four stops in your evening either means mad dashes for the Tube or an ever-escalating cab bill. You get to see as many friends as possible, but never quite have the time for a proper catch-up. You save a fortune on the weekly shop by surviving on the canapés, but man cannot live on mini burgers alone. You are embarrassingly overdressed at the seven o’ clock drinks, and then woefully undressed for the nine o’ clock ball. Even champagne bubbles go flat eventually.
That said, a week of air-kissing your way around London and finding new mates in surprising places can remind you that the city never really sleeps, that at any given time another party is about to start.
Suffering from Uber costs, hangovers in the office and muscle strain from those peskily heavy goodie bags? Time to check your privilege. Tired of London? Tired of life.