The return of the party! How London’s getting its groove back

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Party on: DJ Fat Tony with Pam Hogg (Dave Benett/Getty Images for MCH)
Party on: DJ Fat Tony with Pam Hogg (Dave Benett/Getty Images for MCH)

Have you had it yet? No, we’re not talking about the jab, we’re talking about an invite to your first post-lockdown party.

Gone are the awkward small gatherings in parks and on pub terraces to meekly toast birthdays and threats of moving to Margate. Hedonism is back. It has been nearly two weeks since Freedom Day and we are making up for lost time. At the launch of the restaurant Park Row on Wednesday, the dancefloor was packed; sequins seemed to be de rigueur, with everyone drinking champagne and flirting. Meanwhile, at an Alexa Chung-hosted Mulberry party on Thursday at 180 The Strand, there was an impromptu vogueing competition.

“The first week was like a champagne bomb,” says Robbie Smith, editor of the Londoner’s Diary. “Long-planned parties, well-stocked with champagne, were held in hotels and restaurants, on rooftops and terraces and scorching boat decks. There was a nervous energy as people stepped gingerly out of the lockdown cage.”

It kicked off on July 19 with arguably the most fabulous gathering of the lot. The great and good of London’s party people were out in force at the launch of pandemic meme king and DJ Fat Tony’s memoir, I Don’t Take Requests, at the restaurant Isabel in Mayfair. In a flashback to the early Noughties, Kate Moss and Sadie Frost held court. They were joined by Goldie, actor Russell Tovey, Lady Amelia Windsor and designer Pam Hogg, all celebrating not just the new book, but that much missed feeling of human connection.

Creative consultant Michael Hennegan was I Don’t Take Requests’ co-writer and helped host Fat Tony’s bash. “Tony’s been quite vocal throughout lockdown about the fact that people need to get back out dancing,” he says. “So that’s what we gave everyone.”

But things are different now. Gone are the days of looking moody with a Martini until midnight. This summer, night-life is all about relishing every second and never shying away from the dancefloor. “There’s a real appetite for it,” says Hennegan. “Everyone there was dancing by 8.30pm and carried on until 1am.”

With long-time London face Jodie Harsh playing disco classics alongside BBC Radio 1’s Arielle Free, Hennegan notes that despite all that bottled up anticipation — and the first open bar in months — no-one caused a scene. Guests were asked to do lateral flow tests and temperatures were taken. Sure, it might ever-so-slightly dampen the spontaneity of a big night out, but we can’t hear anyone complaining. “It’s not about getting messy,” says Hennegan. “It’s about enjoying being together again.”

Eternal London party boy Henry Conway was at Fat Tony’s party to soak up the fun, swinging the likes of Anna Friel around the floor with gusto. “Everyone was embracing each other as if they hadn’t seen each other for years and years, which indeed, some of them hadn’t,” he says. “It was like VE Day and the war was over!”

Friel packed multiple parties into last Monday night — starting her night at the Evening Standard’s summer party and then another gathering at J Sheekey before Isabel. Actors, writers, musicians, politicians and artists were all out in force at The Londoner hotel for our bash. Tim Davie, the director-general of the BBC, mingled with the vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi and the BBC’s Emily Maitlis. Champagne cocktails flowed and all agreed that summer parties had been much missed.

Later in the week, Lady Amelia Windsor followed Fat Tony’s gathering with the Bulgari party at The Serpentine, with Dominic West, Daisy Lowe and Ncuti Gatwa. Lady Amelia and Lowe all wore black, accessoried with statement jewellery. Meanwhile at the opening of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, the great and the good of the arts world wore summery dresses and Whispering Angel wine flowed.

The stars were out in force again for the launch of the lavish Park Row — a new immersive restaurant experience based on the DC Comics universe — earlier this week. More than a thousand people were invited and it was another slice of much-missed decadence and drama. Hosted by Hennegan and Conway with Hot Chip and Groove Armada DJing old school anthems, and a live band tearing through Earth, Wind & Fire numbers, the mood of guests like model Lottie Moss, actors Hugh Skinner and Pearl Mackie, musician Jamie xx, boxer Nicola Adams and the cast of Netflix’s Sex Education was never less than utterly joyful.

Founder of high-end brand agency Kendal and Partners, Anthony Kendal, has been back out and about too, supplying lashings of his client Bird In Hand’s wine to the Alexa Chung-hosted Mulberry party. There the majestic Marianne Faithfull recited the poetry of Lord Byron before Laura Marling sang for a rapt crowd that included fellow musician Arlo Parks, the Royal Ballet’s principal dancer Francesca Hayward and artist and activist Wilson Oryema. “Dom Chung — Alexa’s brother — curated the music and it was unbelievable,” says Kendal. “And aside from it being a great party, it was a special way for everyone to get back together again.” Guests had dinner in rotational seating, drinking on the terrace until it was their turn to eat and a light pasta dish was on the menu.

The return of going out also marks a long-overdue chance for the party set to reacquaint themselves with their glad rags. Conway gleefully notes the somewhat unseasonal appearance of the sort of shiny outfits usually reserved for Christmas dos. “There were so many sequins,” he says of the Park Row launch. “I’m a man with seven capes, I need opportunities to wear these things!”

Also on the guest list for Park Row was Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels actor Nick Moran, who noted that when he’d last been inside the vast Brewer Street space it was Marco Pierre White’s Titanic — the scene of much Cool Britannia-era debauchery. In fact, Moran admitted to Conway that he was once thrown out — something of a badge of honour in 1998. But just like everybody else, he’s now on his best behaviour.

Despite the need for a full-throttle collective experience, this isn’t a mindless pursuit of pleasure. Covid etiquette is real and responsibility is high on the list. Some of the party scene is migrating for the summer — in Somerset, for example, Pikes Ibiza has opened a pop-up — but if it is safe, they will be back for the August bank holiday. Now bring on London Fashion Week.

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