Fantasy Dinner Party Part 4

Our leading journalists host a motley crew of characters from the past and present, while cartoonist Michael Heath draws the selfies

By Olivia Utley

July 20 2023

Perhaps the most fun I’ve ever had at one of my own dinner parties was the night of the 2019 General Election. I’d spent weeks carefully crafting the perfect list of friends and a delicious but uncontroversial menu. It was to be a sophisticated soirée, filled with intelligent, witty — and relatively high brow — conversation. That is until one of my guests, who’d recently been through a bad break-up, called me four hours before, asking if she could bring a plus one. Happy to meet her new partner, I enthusiastically agreed, whereupon she announced they’d never actually met but had matched on a “kink app” (don’t ask), were planning to go to a “kink party” after, and, conveniently, my house was en route. Oh, and would it be ok if they both wore lycra?

Not wanting to sound prudish, I said yes. It was an inspired decision. Instead of an evening filled with stilted conversation about the election, the night transformed into something so delightfully absurd it could have come from the pages of a (particularly fruity) Lewis Carroll novel. My friend’s “partner”, who sure enough arrived in head-to-toe leather and Lycra (plus, incongruously, a pair of very thick-lensed square spectacles), turned out to be one the strangest and most entertaining people any of us had ever met. As we marvelled at his anecdotes and eccentric behaviour, the exit poll completely passed us by. By the time it was clear Boris Johnson was on course for a shock majority, our cat had somehow got hold of a whip and the night descended into full-on farce.

With that in mind, my dream dinner party is an eclectic mix of a) personal idols with a well-developed sense of the ridiculous, and b) ridiculous people who would be happy(ish) to join the fun. In the first camp are novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard, Queen Camilla and JK Rowling. I had EJH’s autobiography in my bag when I came across Hadley Freedman’s excellent profile of the Queen in The Times after the Coronation. The two women sounded remarkably similar: a racy past, get-up-and-go attitude, sparkling perspicuity and a kind but gently teasing manner. I was delighted to discover later that the EJH’s wonderful Cazalet Chronicles are in fact Queen Camilla’s favourite books.

JK Rowling would fit in here like a dream. She’s been the celebrity I’ve wanted to meet ever since I was eight, and both her staunch defence of women’s rights and hilarious take-downs of Twitter trolls in recent years have only increased my admiration.

As for my absurd characters, I’m almost reluctant to say it but I can’t help thinking Boris Johnson would be ideal. Ludicrous he most certainly is, but if you’re looking for magnetism, he’s got
it in spades.

Rogue though it sounds, I think my final guest would be Meghan Markle. I’m truly intrigued by the way she inspires such strong feelings in almost everyone on both sides of the Atlantic (as a commissioning editor at The Telegraph, we knew that putting Meghan Markle in the headline was a sure-fire way to make sure an article did very well indeed!) and I’d love to see what the woman behind the chaos is really like. Perhaps for everyone’s comfort I’d move her a few seats away from Camilla, though.

And the menu? The temptation to stick with a tried and tested Ottolenghi Middle Eastern shepherd’s pie would be strong, but I’d overcome it in favour of trying out a suckling pig. A friend once made one for a Shakespeare’s birthday-themed dinner party, and not only did it make the most spectacular centrepiece, it was the tastiest meat I’d ever tried. I have a funny feeling it might not be Ms Markle’s cup of tea, but hey, you can’t please everyone.

Olivia Utley is Political Correspondent at GB News