How to crash a party like a gentleman

Parties are a matter of life and death for some people. In Evelyn Waugh’s novel Vile Bodies, the blacklisted Simon Balcairn decides that, should he not gain entry into Margot Metroland’s landmark mixer, he may as well ‘end it all now’. In a daring act of self-preservation, then, the young society columnist pairs a fake beard with some ceremonial medals and heads once more unto the breach. It is both his first and last outing as a party crasher. Unbearded several pages later by the wily Father Rothschild and promptly ordered to leave the party at once, Balcairn – true to his word – promptly pops his head in the Aga and joins those ancestors who’d fallen at Acre and Agincourt.

Waugh’s novel turns 86 this month, but you wouldn’t guess it from that little scene. The quiet scent of desperation, the over-egged outfit, the do-or-die attitude: these symptoms yet survive on the pavements of NoHo and Berkeley Square. And their sufferers do not go untreated. A quick Google search has just furnished me with several dozen articles with titles promising ‘x tips for crashing a party’. The advice within ranges from the painfully obvious (don’t pretend to be Madonna as ‘her face is probably too well known’) to the utterly unlikely (‘Eat breakfast at the restaurant on the day of the party, and stick around till things kick off’). Everything in the middle, meanwhile, stands as good – if well-trodden – advice for a social situation of any sort: dress appropriately, be confident and don’t overdo it.

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Photo: New Line Cinema/Courtesy Everett Collection

To that list we might add a fourth diktat: be charming. At least, that’s the view taken by an 11th-century Iraqi text that was uncovered for the first time just four years ago. Entitled, rather happily, The Art of Party Crashing, the ancient book champions humour and charm over subterfuge and gall. When asked by a gatekeeper for a name, for example, crashers are advised to smile sweetly and say simply: ‘I’m the man who saved you the trouble of writing an invitation’. After that, apparently, your entry is assured.

Unless, of course, you happen to find yourself faced with the ominously named KCD, the New York PR firm that prides itself on the impenetrability of its guest lists. Terence Edgerson, a sharp-elbowed socialite profiled in The New York Times last October, boasts that he piggybacks his way into fashion-week parties thanks to Bunch, a magazine published solely so that its editors might utter ‘press’ when faced with a velvet rope (the mag has produced just five short issues in three long years).

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Photo: Terence Edgerson party crashing, by New York Times

At a KCD event later that week, however, this stalwart gambit did little to stir the door girls from their iPads: ‘I can’t disclose our methods,’ says a KCD spokeswoman. ‘But let’s just say, if you make it out of training camp, you could probably be hired by the Secret Service.’

“Nancy Kane has a theory: ‘The crazier the venue, the easier it is to get into'”

As wise as it is to pick your battles, it might be wiser still to consider picking your battlefields, too. ‘The crazier the venue, the easier it is to get in’, writes Nancy Kane, long-time publicist to the beau monde. ‘In Cannes, people are always sneaking into Harvey Weinstein’s party at the Hôtel du Cap. You can arrive by boat, and once on the lawn, you can usually just wander in.’

Go big, it seems, or go home. That might well have been the mantra of the jolly gate-crashers over in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. ‘People were not invited – they went there,’ marvels narrator Nick Carraway of the raucous parties held in the biggest house on Long Island. ‘Sometimes they came and went without having met Gatsby at all; came for the party with a simplicity of heart that was its own ticket of admission’.

A scene from Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Village Roadshow Pictures’ drama “THE GREAT GATSBY,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Photo: Warner Brothers

Back in the real world, tickets of admission are often more literal, if equally spurious. In October, for example, a young man called James Ware went viral after crashing the world premiere of James Bond’s Spectre with a ticket he’d photoshopped from an Instagram post. One-time presidential candidate Fred Karger, meanwhile, took the idea of a golden ticket quite literally. After buying a fake Oscar statuette, Karger swanned into the Vanity Fair after-party cooing that he’d won an award for Visual Effects in 2007, before promptly dropping the dummy on the red carpet. ‘Everyone started screaming!’

Those too eager to get on the guest list might count themselves lucky not to find themselves on another sort of list entirely. ‘Party crashers are like crazy exes,’ writes Kane. ‘Very hard to get rid of, they can follow you around… and they don’t forget.’ Some promoters, then, are clearly suffering from a sort of Stockholm Syndrome.

Dispatches from the Manhattan front line tell of Shaggy (real name Steve Kaplan), a veteran gate-crasher whose presence at a party is taken as a definitive seal of approval. Lane Cherrier, a joyously-named New York publicist, remembers – in a line beyond even the satire of Waugh or Fitzgerald – Shaggy ghosting into one of her events. ‘I walked up to him and said, “Sir, thank you so much,”’ she explains, ‘because I felt like he came even though I didn’t want him there, which means that my party is a big deal.’

Main & Featured image: Warner Brothers

This article was written by Joseph Bullmore and published in our Mar/Apr issue – subscribe here.

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