How to ‘make’ a party: The five rules by Nicky Haslam

Celebrated interior designer and social titan Nicky Haslam shares his top five tips on how to really 'make' a party.


Image: Fritz von der Schulenburg

"Let’s face it, parties are often great fun - different people, new settings - and it’s best not to be standoffish about them: as Lady Diana Cooper told me, 'Go - you can always leave'. By going, I’ve met many of the most inspirational and historic figures at parties worldwide. Giving them is a different ball game. One either enjoys it or not. I happen to love the planning - finding the right place, deciding on the decor, the unexpected surprises."


Image: Rex Features

1.Mix up the group - that's what makes it fun

Some of my most successful parties were given at my Chelsea apartment in Drayton Gardens. Many were little dinners where I might invite an intellectual with a movie star and a top model. I had a party for Joan Collins there, and I gave one for Natasha Richardson when she was just about to marry my great friend Robert Fox. When I hosted a lunch for Diana, Princess of Wales, I only got the nod that Diana was free a few days before and many of her friends were invited. I asked her what she wanted to eat and she told me Sticky Toffee Pudding. She wolfed it. Afterwards, she sent me a dead-chic tie from Hermes which I often still wear. It was all rather delicious.

2. Your guests should give a gasp of delight when they walk into a party

halsam london flat

Image: Fritz von der Schulenburg. Haslam's Chelsea apartment in Drayton Gardens

But they don’t have to be overwhelmed with grandeur. In the 1960s, David Bailey and I shared a place in Waterloo and I used to give little parties which Francis Bacon, Kelly Clark and all that Colony Room world (a private members' drinking club in Soho London), came to. They loved that little house - it was very rare to live in that part of London. The place was so small, there was no room to dance, but all we needed was a pretty room and candlelight. I was so poor we probably ate fish and chips. Nobody drank wine then, so we drank gin (just Gordon’s, but it was delicious).

3. Manhattan in the 1960s was a crash course in entertaining

The Americans were so good at it. The old guard Americans had wonderful food, wonderful entertainment, beautiful clothes and houses with all the glamour of the 1950s and 1960s. The best were given by Babe Paley and the famous film director Josh Logan. And there were Cole Porter’s dinner parties: he would invite maybe six or eight people to dinner; he had such extraordinary friends, that he could find the most fascinating people in the hemisphere to come round. I was so lucky to be part of them. I met Cole Porter through the actress Jean Howard, who lived in Hollywood, and had an apartment in New York. She gave incredible parties. Everyone from the President John F Kennedy, to Noel Coward, from the latest actress to Jean Shrimpton would be there. I would gape at all these famous faces. The President would just breeze in, he didn’t have security.  Jean lived next to the Carlyle Hotel where the Kennedy apartment was, so he only had to walk in from across the road.

The early Oscar parties were also amazing. I used to go when they were held at the Santa Monica auditorium and I was surrounded by Ryan O Neal, Warren Beatty, Natalie Wood. The old movie stars like Jane Russell, and Angie Dickinson were there with the great old directors like Billy Wilder. I saw the end of Hollywood as Hollywood: the last of these extraordinary times when they were centred on making glamorous movies.

4. No one should behave badly at a party

If they do I send them home. I hate people who behave badly. I gave a party in 1963 for the Rolling Stones with photographer Jerry Shatzberg. This group called Goldie & the Gingerbreads who played in some sleazy nightclub on the West side arrived in beehived hair, gold dresses and painted nails and the highest heels possible as they played their instruments. I remember that the one who played the piano in high heels looked so funny, and the floor nearly fell through because everyone danced so hard.

5. A good theme is essential

hunting lodge

Image: Simon Upton © Jacqui Small. Haslam's Jacobean-revival Hunting Lodge, in Hampshire

I am also one of those people who thrives on the seat-of-the-pants adrenaline that all must be perfect, for a few hours, for one night. By giving my own parties, and designing them for other people, I've learned much sleight of hand, besides realising less is not more: opulence, fake or real, is key. Diana Cooper once told me that the real secret to a good party is 'too much to drink and a chocolate pudding'. My 40th birthday party was wonderful; thrown at the Hunting Lodge, which I’d just acquired in the Hampshire Woodlands. It had been raining for a whole month, so it was extraordinary that it was the most beautiful evening, and the whole night was balmily warm. The garden was floodlit and it was all so romantic as orchestras played in the woods. The theme of the party was La Chasse: The chase. That subject of fancy dress was something that men could wear easily: Rupert Everett was a Masai warrior. Mark Shand was a character from A Clockwork Orange. Pandora Stevens, Cara Delevingne’s mother, came as a wonderful sort of chiffon tiger. There were butterfly collectors, big game hunters, Rajs, riders. The party went on long until the sun rose.

A Designer's Life: An Archive of Inspired Design and Decor by Nicky Haslam, £50, published by Jacqui Small is available from November 20.