London in the sun. There’s nothing quite like it: the parks, the lidos, the beer gardens, the smell of hot pavement and the ordeal of the pressure-cooker Tube. But for the City’s rich and famous denizens, there is one London summer phenomenon that cannot be beaten: the summer party.

With more green space and self-regarding institutions per capita than any other city on Earth, we are the world capital of the glamorous summer bash, where the great and good gather for drinks, canapés and gossip. With the summer party season kicking off this month, let us be your guide.

Political parties

At the apex of the political parties sits The Spectator summer party, where careers can be made or broken. The Right-leaning magazine, sometimes dubbed the Tory Bible, has successfully cultivated an air of exclusivity around its party for politicians, top hacks and other public figures. The Conservative party leader, by tradition, attends and last year there were two PMs in attendance — Liz Truss and her successor Rishi Sunak, notably not crossing paths in the garden of the magazine’s office which overlooks St James’s Park.

And for ambitious politicos, crashing the party has been a tradition in itself. For example, one of the Prime Minister’s close advisers, in his salad days, broke in by dressing up as one of the drinks servers. The problem with this strategy quickly became obvious — that few of the esteemed guests wanted to talk to a server!

This year’s party was inauspiciously pencilled in for July 3. When Sunak unhelpfully marked the next day as polling day, the clash was quickly deemed unworkable (politicians and journalists who need their beauty sleep don’t tend to party on Election Eve). It has now been shifted to the Tuesday after polling day to take full advantage of the post-election chaos — Speccie hacks are no doubt hoping their party will be the staging ground for the start of the inevitable Conservative Party leadership contest, with candidates desperately seeking drunken assurances from various movers and shakers.

Another top Right-wing summer party is held by Policy Exchange, a very influential think tank founded by Michael Gove, where lobbyists from sectors like defence and energy schmooze with Cabinet ministers. Usually held in a beautiful garden behind Westminster Abbey, the party has been a staging ground for major political interventions in recent years. Sunak made an ambitious speech at the party in summer 2022, just weeks before he resigned from the Cabinet and sank Boris Johnson’s government, which blottoed attendees rightly interpreted as a putative leadership bid.

Then, in the world of political parties, there is the question of influence. The regular summer parties thrown by the Leftish New Statesman and Prospect magazines have been civilised but quieter affairs in recent years. As the pendulum of government swings from Tories to Labour, so too will the party crowd. Expect these two events to become more big-ticket destinations starting this summer.

And for the real movers and shakers, you can bypass the pesky journalists entirely and get an invite to No 10 drinks. Previous attendees include Noel Gallagher, who enjoyed a Champagne Supernova with Tony Blair when he won power in 1997. Beat that, Starmer!

Fashion and art parties

From Westminster to K&C, where political influence gives way to something more powerful: real fame. Of the various art and fashion summer parties, chief among them is the exclusive Serpentine summer party. It draws the crème de la crème of actors, artists, aristos and royalty and truly proves the maxim that politics is showbusiness for ugly people. Guests gather on the lawns around the gallery in Hyde Park to see the new Serpentine Pavilion, which is designed by a different artist each year. Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas, Ai Weiwei and Frank Gehry have designed previous iterations of the pavilion.

It’s the most international of the summer parties, with Venus Williams, Nile Rodgers and Diane Kruger adding some transatlantic glam to last year’s event. They were joined by Dame Anna Wintour, Orlando Bloom, Andrew Garfield, Alexa Chung, and Tracey Emin. Chef Skye Gyngell was in charge of desserts and made a cake covered in thousands of raspberries, which graced many an Instagram feed. The party has played host to some iconic moments in history. It’s where Princess Diana wore her “Revenge Dress” in 1994, and Sienna Miller and Jude Law made their first public outing as a couple in 2004. Those who haven’t made it onto the guest list can buy a ticket for a cool £3,999. Or you could try hiding in the bushes.

Down in South Kensington, the V&A’s summer party unfolds as a bit of a two-hander, a champagne reception mixed with a pop gig. Last year the civilised proceedings were suddenly halted by the appearance, in the middle of the museum’s pond, of the Sugababes. For this and other reasons, it takes the crown as the fashion pack’s favourite party.

A free tour of the latest exhibition also comes with entry. This year the museum is celebrating the opening of Naomi in Fashion, an exhibition that looks at the career of supermodel Naomi Campbell. Expect to see aristocrats like Lady Amelia Windsor and the Marchioness of Bath there, as well as Campbell’s old model pals. Gwendoline Christie, Emily Maitlis, Dame Joan Collins and Munroe Bergdorf went along to last year’s diva-themed party, which was held in the museum’s gardens.

If you’re looking for a rich partner, you could do worse than the Royal Academy party. It celebrates its Summer Exhibition in style each year with a big preview party packed full of distinguished, filthy-rich collectors and donors. Last year’s showing was held in collaboration with Burberry, with bright young things like Lila Moss, Charli XCX, a smattering of indistinguishable Gallagher sons and Lady Jean Campbell pitching up. Sir Grayson Perry is a fixture at the bash, and his outfits get wilder by the year. The Summer Exhibition is the world’s oldest submission exhibition, and anyone can enter. The result is a sprawling hodge-podge of paintings and sculptures by artists both internationally renowned and completely unknown. This year’s exhibition is curated by British sculptor Ann Christopher.

Sadly the National Gallery is skipping its summer party this year, its 200th anniversary, because of a big renovation project, but it will return in 2025. Maya Jama, Nicky Haslam and Bella Freud were at last year’s affair, where Celeste performed in the middle of the gallery and guests knocked back oysters and champagne within spitting distance of priceless Turners and Caravaggios. Last year’s party raised money for the gallery’s mega refurb by offering £10,000 birthday parties/art lessons to the tots of wealthy attendees — relatable!

The National’s sister gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, held its own raucous summer party last year to toast its reopening, but that’s was a one-off, with Courtney Love on the DJ decks performing for Malala, and Matt Hancock enjoying the margaritas. But despair not, the revamped NPG is still a glamorous party venue. Mike Bloomberg, the American billionaire and sometime presidential candidate, is fond of the place. He flew in last year to throw his Bloomberg UK party there, with a little help from Sir Paul McCartney. Expect other plutocrats to follow suit.

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2024-06-11T10:49:11Z dg43tfdfdgfd