Culture Listicles Magazine

Bread and Circuses

The Fence toes the party line.

You’ve felt it at some point, surely, when the £250 bar tab runs out at some miserable adult playground picked out for your team by the ‘socials coordinator’. Your hairs have stood on end as the startling thwack of axe against target board is the only sound that punctuates the din of Hotline Bling. ‘All work parties can’t be this lame,’ you wonder. ‘There’s got to be some cool ones out there.’

Don’t quit your day job just yet. To keep you from a drastic, perhaps life-­ruining change of career at your big age, we’ve panelled party drones from ten of the most banging sectors across the capital to let you know exactly what you’ve been missing out on this whole time.


The guests list are mostly made up of influencers (paid to be there, dressed by brands) or magazine journalists (not paid to be there, not dressed by brands, funded almost enti­rely by advertising revenue). They are either in unnervingly well-lit locations, like Dover Street Market and The Photographers’ Gallery, or dimly lit, overpopulated west London hotels owned by Richard Caring. You have to get to the Evening Standard’s LFW party before 8pm if you harbour any hopes of getting a drink, and equally there’s no point in going to anything held on The Standard rooftop after 10pm (they invite every person with an email address and a pair of Tabis in Zones 1 to 6).

Nobody eats or drinks much anyway because everyone is either on Ozempic or cocaine or both. Or they used to be on Ozempic or cocaine or both and are now conspicuously sober, and will tell you so. There is no point in going to absolutely anything hosted by Dazed or held in Kensington Olympia. People say things you think are clichéd and actually mean them: once Adwoa Aboah’s mother made an intern with a clipboard burst into tears when she asked for her name and cheerfully checked the clipboard, only to hear, ‘Don’t you know who I am?’. Jodie Harsh is always there, for some reason. As is Lisa Rinna.


In this very glamorous world, there are, of course, very glamorous parties – private dinners and the like. But only the VVIPs get to go to these, there’s no space for the rubberneckers here. Lower down the scale, you have launch parties at galleries, which are ‘usually full of desperate art students feigning interest in ultra-dry abstract art’. Gagosian and David Zwirner are full of beautiful people, lustrous gallerinas and perfectly coiffed ‘walkers’.

The Serpentine Summer Party – always covered extensively in the papers – is ‘full of idiots and very corporate’. The auction houses, keen to shed their fusty images, are open to partnerships. The Christie’s contemporary party, sponsored by Elle, was filled with photographers and, we are told, ‘absolutely ghastly’.


A very mixed bag. Most people attend for precisely the four minutes it takes to do a loop of Hatchards. One thing unites: ‘At publishing parties, everyone is just waiting for someone from the media world to show up. I doubt they are waiting for authors at media parties.’

There are high points: HarperCollins’s lavish sushi and profi­teroles bash at the V&A, the Canongate party at the London Book Fair at which Jamie Byng always DJs. The Daunt Books launches paid for by authors are dreadful. At least Hatchards has a labyrinthine layout where you can hide from agents with bad breath. ‘Warm white wine is ubiquitous.’

The agency parties at the end of June, beginning of July are ‘uniformly awful’. Our source continues ‘you find yourself sweating, having been parked with an author who happens to share your agent and who’s written a book about microbes or Bulgaria or fisting and can only talk about their specialist subject like the world’s dullest episode of Mastermind.’


The parties fall into two camps. The first are awards ceremonies: the Observer Food Monthly’s annual bash, the Fortnum & Mason night, the National Restaurant Awards and, for the select few, the Michelin Guide launch. They range from good to dry, like all big parties, with the same cliquishness but with nicer canapés and better goody bags. Everyone is on best behaviour, apart from the chefs, who ‘ransack the place like sailors on shore leave after a certain hour – always steer clear, they’re kept in the kitchens for a reason.’

The second, and far more common, camp is the free meal, usually hosted by the restaurants themselves or their eternally obliging PRs. Noble Rot’s contributors’ lunch is as boozy as you’d hope and Boisdale (seemingly the only other restaurant in London to keep a magazine) pays its writers in food and wine credits. A well-connected foodie can eat out for free seven days a week with the right contact book, although one inevitable drawback is seeing the same faces cadging the same freebies over and over again. Thankfully, those same freebie-chasers are usually the editors of Britain’s last remaining food publications, and they all refuse to retire, so it’s handy to make friends and swap emails.


Unsurpisingly, an excruciatingly dull circuit, with parties that are either deadeningly tedious or garishly OTT. At parties at the Google HQ in King’s Cross, security is so unnecessarily tight that guests get locked in corridors after going to the bathroom. The food and the drinks, we are told, are ‘unbelievably sweet’. But smoking – even on the terrace – is verboten. Lame.


In some ways, the most fascinating arena: every financier we contacted told us that, owing to new regulations, the glory days of corporate hospitality – where coked­-up rotters would eat bluefin tuna sashimi off prostrate models – are now definitively over. At the top-tier banks, all of the social events are either tightly monitored or non-existent. There are no annual parties for staffers at Goldman Sachs, would you believe it.

‘Technically, if the hospitality is worth more than £50, I have to pay my own way,’ one outraged young City type relays. Smaller places – Mayfair hedge funds, private equity houses – might still let loose behind closed doors. There’s perhaps some boring think-piece about how, in this day and age, the richest industry doesn’t feel the need to give their employees the whole bread and circuses treatment, but we’re not going to write it.


For Hollywood types, TV parties are pretty boring: ‘It’s just a load of Oxbridge people sucking each other off.’ TX parties, held to celebrate a programme being broadcast, are usually held in the room above a pub with a free bar till 9pm and offer opportunities for flirting with the head of the company. Christmas parties are ‘marked by score-settling, given that most people in TV are freelancers and they’re bitter and furious at being passed over for jobs’. We are told that ‘edgy companies’ give out colour-coded wristbands to select guests so they can gain access to the ‘drug room’.

There’s no such formality in the film world – if you can imagine that – but the awards show afterparties are ‘extremely fun’ as film types ‘love getting on it’ and ‘talking about themselves’, with most people skipping the ceremonies and heading straight to Kettner’s, Annabel’s and 5 Hertford Street to get loose and watch A-listers get messy. Premieres, however, are best avoided – ‘they’re usually stuffed with TOWIE and Made in Chelsea types’. Good to know.


Music industry parties are the platonic standard for showbiz revelry. In bygone eras, they conjured images of lowly employees rubbing shoulders with David Bowie and Shirley Bassey as they downed shots of mezcal, or witnessed a guns-drawn death match of Connect 4 between Keith Flint and Jas Mann from Babylon Zoo. In the streaming era, however, it seems that artist royalties aren’t the only thing getting scrimped on.

Quoth one streamer employee: ‘They don’t want you having fun at Christmas parties and strategically prevent that from happening – they either starve you, don’t give you booze or “Christopher Nolan you” by providing no chairs.’ Surely the entertainment should be a cut above, at least? ‘No, they provide the most depressing artists to perform. My lips are sealed on artist names but they go sad, sombre and depressing – one year it was a flute player.’


The state of medical parties depends entirely on the stage of a doctor’s career. For the long, yawning decades between junior doctoring and bow tie-clad late consultancy they are exceptionally bad: ‘boring small talk’ and people judging one another for drinking too much or, even worse, having a cigarette.

In contrast, parties for junior doctors consist of half the group discussing the undiscovered medicinal properties of magic mushrooms to aid emotional and psychological wellbeing while the other half, ‘like a pastiche of Gray’s Anatomy’, are trying to fuck, or avoid fucking, their colleagues. Medical parties for professionals over the age of about 55 still consist of lunchtimes of claret, wandering hands and deeply disturbing opinions about eugenics.


The circuit works on a seasonal schedule, but the seasons all blur together into a haze of shiny-elbowed Charles Tyrwhitt suits and cocktails themed around the names of politicians. There are the summer parties, then the Christmas parties, and in between the jewel in the crown of the politico-party circuit: conference season. ‘It’s a bunch of nerds who previously couldn’t get laid, now in an environment where they’re important and there’s non-stop boozing,’ says one veteran of the circuit, which runs from most to least horny (Lib Dem, Tory, Labour) every autumn.

In between conferences, there are parties held at the publications with the most lobby losers. The Spectator and New Statesman go head to head on these dos, with aggressively middling results. ‘Spectator is tier one,’ says one wet-lipped socialite. ‘They have the best drink, the best guests, the most glitz and power. And it’s the hardest to get an invite to. The New Statesman is always dreadful, and it’s getting worse.’ Another lispy insider referred to this as ‘utter bollocks’. ‘Spectator parties thin out at 8pm and everyone is over 60’.

Politics is understandably partisan at these events, but in a performative way that does not preclude the fact that most of the people there drink together in the Red Lion, Westminster’s answer to the Regency-era promenade, every other night of the week.


Nobody who works in journalism, and especially for a magazine, has ever been to a shit party for professional reasons.

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