Friday, 6 November 2020

If there’s a duke there, he can sit somewhere opposite me

Lady Elizabeth Anson, who recently departed for Fabulon, was a cousin of Her Majesty The Queen on her mother's side - and by all accounts sounds as if she was quite the hoot. It's not every royal who counted Paul O'Grady as a best friend, or could have had the nickname for Her Maj of "Shirley Temple"...

Lady Anson's forte - her career - was as a party planner, not just for royal events such as HM's 80th and 90th birthday parties and Wills and Kate's wedding reception, but also Sting's wedding, Margaret Thatcher's 70th birthday party and events for clients such as Tom Cruise and Sacha Baron-Cohen, among many others in her 50 year career. All of them had such nicknames, to ensure confidentiality when the Lady was making her arrangements.

From an interview with The New York Times in 2016, here are a few of her tips for success, dear reader, when planning your next dinner party for several hundred people including Baronets and Earls:

  • The invitation sets the tone.
    If you have a cheap-looking invitation, she says, “you imagine there’s going to be acidic wine and miserable food.” Simple and elegant are preferable to invitation one-upmanship: “Someone wanted me to do ‘save the dates’ with Swarovski crystals costing no less than £2,500 a card, and that’s just vulgarity.”
  • Good parties don’t have to be extravagant.
    “A party with good table wine and good pasta or good sausages and mash can be just as much of a success as one with Krug, caviar, oysters and lobster,” Lady Elizabeth says. “It’s not about expensive ingredients. It’s about people.”
  • Good lighting is essential.
    After the guests, the single most important element of a party is proper illumination. “Lighting makes or breaks it. You can use it to make people look nice and to divide a big room up.”
  • Getting everyone seated.
    If you’re trying to get guests to take their seats, tell them it’s a soufflé. “I’ve never had anyone come back to me later and complain that it wasn’t,”.
  • Seat all the bores together.
    “They don’t realize they’re the bores, and they’re happy,” she says. “It’s my biggest tip.”
  • A round dining table is best
    When entertaining at home, Lady Elizabeth is always glad she has a round dining room table so she can dispense with protocol - no worries about determining who is the most important guest and thus seated in the middle. “It makes life easier. If there’s a duke there, he can sit somewhere opposite me if I think there’s somebody more amusing that I want to sit next to.”
  • Pick up the phone.
    It’s the fastest way to get organized, and there are fewer misunderstandings. “It’s old fashioned but it’s instantaneous. I don’t want endless emails and bits and bobs.”
  • End a party when there’s at least 20 people on the dance floor.
    “If you let it peter out, it’s death,” she says. “I made one mistake in the whole of my career, which was being persuaded to restart the band. It was a flop.” Announce (or have the band say) that it’s the second to last dance, and then stop the bar from serving. “People leave fast when they can’t get a drink.”.

RIP, Lady Elizabeth Georgiana Shakerley CVO (née Anson, 7th June 1941 – 1st November 2020)


  1. Replies
    1. I love her advice about seating the bores together - made me snort! Jx

  2. PS - I LOVE that first pix; what a fabu dress! great colour on the lady too!

    1. The frock is utterly splendid - I could wear that! No idea who the designer was. Jx

  3. How fabulous
    Very useful tips too

    1. We always serve bangers and mash when an Earl comes to one of our parties. Jx

  4. Sitting the bores together because they don't know they're the bores, and they're happy! LMAOROTF... but at least she was gracious enough to invite them.

    1. As a party organiser, I doubt she had much choice in who was invited, but at least she had an instinct where to place them! Jx


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