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  1. Wealth
August 20, 2013

The hosts taking drastic measures to keep their private parties private

By Spear's

A stiffy in the post used to be cause for celebration, says Josh Spero. Now those throwing chic bashes are going to extraordinary lengths to ensure that what happens in a marquee stays in a marquee

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A stiffy in the post used to be cause for celebration, says Josh Spero. Now those throwing chic bashes are going to extraordinary lengths to ensure that what happens in a marquee stays in a marquee

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IF PRINCE WILLIAM’S christening at Buckingham Palace in 1982 was anything to go by, that of his new son, Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge, will be a small, private affair: the Royal family, more godparents than you can count on one hand and the Archbishop of Canterbury to pour the baptismal water and make a vicar-joke.

There was little chance of an invasion of privacy: the danger of an unauthorised Instagram slipping out did not exist back then, and the clan bond among the Royal family — loyalty, trust, respect for each other’s privacy and mutually assured destruction if it ever failed — is iron. But few people can rely on such omertà — and so some bash-givers are now taking extreme measures to keep their party private.

Party-throwers have the law on their side, to start with. One privacy lawyer we spoke to (who in typical privacy lawyer style shall remain nameless) said that  he often helps clients protect the sanctity of ‘life events’, and when there is a breach, punishment can be swift. Madonna won substantial damages after the Mail on Sunday published her private wedding photographs without permission.

The law says if there is a ‘reasonable expectation’ of privacy, that is enough to make publishing photos or leaking information illicit, under the European Convention on Human Rights and under our long-standing law of confidence. ‘The difficulty that some people have with it is that some people, particularly US-based, mistakenly think, “Oh, unless I’ve signed a waiver, I can do what I like.” That’s not the case in the UK, or for the US for that matter.’ 

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Waivers are now standard practice for staff at an event, but it would take a lot of front to ask guests to sign them. Instead, the lawyer says, ‘the nicer way to do it with guests is to make it clear on the invitation that this is a really private event, we would appreciate it if you could keep it confidential and that there are no photographs to be taken. That tends to work better. It’s treating your guests like adults, and being very clear on what is expected from the outset.’

Alex Fitzgibbons, whose company Fait Accompli organised the dinner and dance on the night of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding (which obviously had a privacy premium), also put together the return state banquet which President Obama gave for the Queen in May 2011 at Winfield House. On that occasion the Secret Service took a more active approach, shall we say, to weeding out potential troublemakers.

‘You have to give addresses going back ten-plus years, a mass of personal details. Also, if you are a citizen of a foreign country, then you have to fill in a form giving the Secret Service authority to get in touch and conduct background checks with national police and state authorities.’ The caterer’s head waiter was refused clearance the day before and it took higher powers to get the decision changed.


Over mille-feuille and Earl Grey at the Wolseley, Henry Conway, socialite and party promoter, takes me through some of the privacy measures he’s heard of at high-profile parties. At the wedding of Thomas van Straubenzee to Lady Melissa Percy, where Prince William was an usher, guests had different wristbands for access to the church and to the wedding breakfast. Having to provide a passport as proof of identity is now common.

People had to show ID to get on to the bus from London to Easton Neston for Leon Max’s party; this was for both security and convenience, and those on the bus were given champagne for the journey. The more security you endure, Henry says, the more desirable you feel the event must be: ‘It’s a status symbol’ for both you and the party.

What is common now, especially at parties where a star has been booked to perform and doesn’t want bootleg versions of Teenage Dream or Candle in the Wind, say, to appear online, is for staff welcoming guests to ask (force) them to leave their phones, cameras and transmitting gadgets at the door. This feels like the most draconian measure — being out of contact brings on a shudder — so hosts try to compensate by providing a designated staff member’s number you can give out to nearest and dearest. 

Given the calls most of us get on a daily basis, this feels inadequate and, I’d suggest, it is only a matter of time before a party queue turns into an Occupy movement when this manoeuvre is attempted.

Read more from Josh Spero

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