Not long ago this month’s column would have been one long gripe about how the party — as a forum of fun — was finished. Partygoers, I would have moaned, had become more interested in big names and networking than in actually talking to strangers and having fun and blah… blah… blah.
But something unexpected has recently been happening in London: people are throwing great parties again, and they are actually fun. I know, fun is one of those words that are so insipid and infantile I feel embarrassed using it. And yet the absence of fun from adult social life is a source of sadness.
Even an old grump like me has been having a good time. I went to a party full of young, pretty, clever posh girls in Chelsea and they loved me — and I loved them! I know I sound like a sad old lunatic, but we had so many laughs together — despite the fact I was old enough to be their dad. For a moment there the vast differences of age, sex, class and whatever divides us was gone and I was just one of the girls having fun — and it felt great.
My social-justice warrior woman took me to a party I was dreading. I imagined a room full of earnest-eco kill-capitalism and eat-the-rich activists sitting around weeping for the fate of the earth. No way. It was full of very cool people — stylish, successful, smart. And there was dancing too!
Until recently the only people to dance at parties were oldies — the young set were just too cool for that. Yes, we were old and white and bad at dancing, but did we care? Hell no, we shook our flabby buttocks like no one was watching. And now young and old are sharing the dance floor once again.
So why have London parties suddenly gotten good? Because instead of turning up like they just got out of bed, people are making an effort to look good. They dress up where once they dressed down. The cult of casual — in dress, work, social activities — has meant nobody had to bother to shave, wear makeup or smarten up their act. Grubbiness was a sign of authenticity. Individuals became a lot freer and funkier — but party life became a lot less sexy.
I suspect another key factor is that the popularity of cocaine as the party drug of choice is in rapid decline — thank God! I know this because you don’t have to wait outside locked bathrooms for ages listening to the sounds of snorting nasal passages and hushed conversations while you’re desperate to take a pee.
And I’ve noticed a new friendliness at parties. You go up to a gang of people and instead of getting the traditional fuck-off-loser glare, they will actually say, “Hi. Come join us.” Is this because everyone is all mellowed out on mushrooms or microdosing MDMA?
Even the recent magazine parties have been good. I never judge a magazine by its cover, its writers or political positions. Call me shallow but for me what counts are the quality of its parties. It’s a curious fact that in London, conservative publications give better parties than those on the liberal/left — and I say that as an old leftie.
The Spectator’s summer party is still regarded as the best party of the year — usually the prime minister turns up to take a bow. You see all sorts of progressive leftie types at the Spectator party who claim they hate the magazine and everything it stands for — except of course its parties! I can’t comment on the most recent Spectator party as I wasn’t invited! But did I get all cross and sulky and feel snubbed? You bet.
The notable exception to the stream of good parties was thrown by Granta, the UK’s pre-eminent literary journal. Everyone said the music was far too loud to have a conversation — and no one was dancing to the overly loud music, so it was the worst of both worlds. They’re a snooty bunch so ha-ha-ha!
One of the best parties was the Idler party —held to celebrate its thirtieth year of existence. The Idler is a small, brilliant but perfectly formed magazine that celebrates loafing about and learning the art of living. It is the voice of England at its lazy and laconic best — eccentric, kind, curious, convivial and radical without being hectoring. We all got pissed and sang songs from Monty Python.
The crowd was a collection of oddballs and charming misfits: poets, philosophers, alternative thinkers, journalists, musicians and beekeepers. There I met an academic who is writing a 2,000-year history of sodomy in Britain. How do you research a book like that, I asked? “With great difficulty!” he said.
That same night I went to the party for UnHerd, which is a kind of right-wing libertarian online journal. The last one I went to was stuffy but I did get to meet Nick Cave. (We didn’t click.) But even the UnHerd party this year was good with cool jazz in the background and people being friendly. And dare I say it — it was actually fun.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s February 2024 World edition.