Elton’s Winter Ball was the first party I have ever been to in which as I waited to go to the gents, I was asked if I would like my make-up ’refreshed’
To the building site of the new American Embassy – near Battersea Power Station – for Grey Goose Character & Cocktails: the Elton John Aids Foundation Winter Ball. One good thing about being Elton John is that you don’t have to worry about having a Plan B, or having a reserve singer in the wings, should your planned singer get ill as you can always step in yourself to save the day and make sure your guests (tables started at £3500) are not disappointed. This is what happened when the scheduled ‘chanteuse’ Lily Allen had to pull out at the last minute after her doctor advised her not to sing whilst heavily pregnant.
So after dinner we got Sir Elton bashing out some greatest hits on the stage. I was amused to see that amongst Elton and David’s gang of celebrity guests, James Blunt was sitting not far away from the stage, so presumably he would have done the honourable thing and jumped up to perform should Elton have got a chicken bone caught in his throat during dinner.
Although the Elton John Winter Ball is not as celebrity-heavy as the White Tie and Tiara summer party he and David Furnish throw in the garden of their house near Windsor, there were still plenty of Elton’s gang there: Elizabeth Hurley, Stephen Fry and former shoe maker turned cup-cake maker Patrick Cox, to name just a few.
One reason that people like taking tables at glamorous and intimate dinner events like the ball is that there are no roped off VIP areas to escape fro the Civilians where the showbiz brigade and A-listers huddle together doing their 'celebrity shuffles' towards each other.
Part of the reason for this is that the sort of people – tycoons, Rich Listers, business leaders, Indian retail moguls – who pay thousands for tickets to support events like the ball, and his summer party for that matter, are invariably ten times richer than many of the showbiz types who are meant to be providing the glam quotient and the social wattage. Money is a great social leveller.
The closest the party had to a discriminatory Cool Room was the outside smoking area where the mini A-list rebels huddled together on a potholed patch of the Embassy construction site. The only qualification for being allowed to stand there in the cold, surrounded by flapping plastic tarpaulin, was a fondness for a smoke, although I noticed that many of the people standing there weren't even smoking.
It's like those AA meetings you see advertised on the notice-board of church halls which state in bold type underneath: 'Open to non-AA members and visitors'. The 'non-smokers' just wanted to join in the behind-the-bike-shed social buzz.
To date the Grey Goose Character & Cocktails event – last night was the fourth – has raised over £1.6 million for the Elton John Aids Foundation. It’s a formula that works and last night’s event – with all the costs underwritten by Grey Goose so that every penny raised at the auction and ticket sales goes towards the Elton John Aids Foundation – was a perfect example of how important it is to push out the creative boundaries with the detail of the event (the 'Creative Director' of the ball was none other than John Paul Gaultier) in order to order for the bash to retain its social energy and keep the paparazzi mob hanging around outside in the cold until 2.30am (the society snappers like Richard Young and Daffyd Jones were invited as guests to table-hop).
This cutting-edge creativity – normally more to akin to a Paris fashion show than a dinner party in Battersea – was well illustrated by the cleverly contrasting literary styles of the respective dinner and cocktail menus. Perhaps the fact that John Paul Gaultier is French – maybe he is a closet post-structuralist who sits up in bed reading Roland Barthes – would explain why the respective language and diction used to describe each menu as a strange exercise in literary schizophrenia.
On arrival, for example, I was handed a cocktail called ‘The Grey Goose Le Male’ which came with the following description: ‘Inspired by Jean Paul Gaultier’s iconic fragrance… Grey Goose L’Orange muddled with fresh white grapefruit, vanilla pomegranate and pink peppercorns. Strained into a glass goblet and finished with a rose petal.'
Now compare this to the sparse, almost Beckett-like language used two pages later in the programme to describe the Main Course on the dinner menu chosen and prepared by Marcus Wareing: ‘Beef, bread, red wine, ceps, horseradish’. Yup. That’s it. No muddling or teasing. Just plain beef and bread in plain English.
This ball was the first party I have ever been to in which as I waited to go to the gents, I was asked if I would like my make-up ‘refreshed’. The fact that I wasn’t wearing any didn’t stop me from saying ‘Yes, please’. Both men and women guests were invited to have a top-up make-up session in front of a wall of brilliantly lit mirrors by a ‘ravingly gay’ make-up artist – his words not mine – before going back into the dinner tent.
After ten minutes with the powder brush and make-up, I returned to my table with my eyelashes now delicately combed with mascara and my face now ‘toned’ the same Teflon shade of orange that Tony Blair has made his own. Nobody commented, or seemed to notice any change at all which left me curiously deflated.
I could hardly turn to my host, Alexa, and say 'How do you like my make-up?’, or turn to the man to my left, Simon Rawlings, creative director at David Collins interiors, and start comparing make-up notes.
Simon and I did exchange business cards, however, at the end of dinner and I felt a small flush of shame as I compared my own rather standard issue 350 gram card with his which was close to being a work of art. His board was as stiff as an invitation to a state banquet at Buckingham Palace and embossed in a lacquered silver paint. On the other side, the card was duck egg blue. I know he does work with one of the most brilliant designers in the world today but my God, talk about making a groovy first impression.
All this whirlgig of avant-garde creativity has also been adapted as the mantra and mission of the Elton John Aids Foundation which is itself very much on the cutting-edge of pioneering Aids treatment programmes in the UK.
All the money raised last night will be going to fund a pathbreaking new treatment service called Life Plus which is designed to help people living with HIV manage their health and treatment more effectively that currently is the case by monitoring their virus levels and set new management standards by empowering patients to manage their illness. Currently, 55% of people are diagnosed long after they should have been, often when earlier treatment and diagnosis would enable them to live more normal and healthier lives’.
Life Plus will be trailled in selected HIV centres across the UK from January 2011 and will aim to greatly decrease the number of patients who fail to return to an HIV clinic after the shock of their first visit (currently a third don’t go back after their first appointment). The Life Plus programme will bring these ‘lost’ patients, and new patients, back into clinical and social care services and it will aim to increase the number of patients registered with GPs so they are ‘visible’.
Last year, at the Grey Goose Character & Cocktails, which was held at the Grosvenor House Hotel, Elton did not sing but he did make an impassioned and characteristically candid and I-don’t-give-a-fuck speech in which he revealed why – after he got ‘clean’ – he woke up one day and decided that after years of nearly destroying himself, he needed to do something to make a difference to those with HIV. A new generation needed to be educated.
I still have Elton’s words scrawled on the menu page of the programme. ‘I had lost too many friends… and I realised how lucky I was and that I had to something with my life – instead of just wasting it’. And last night proved that is exactly what Elton has done.