First published in the Financial Times on 11th March 2014.
With spring in the air and signs of the recovery firming, it’s time to throw a party
We should always remember to celebrate – remember to mark our birthdays, promotions, anniversaries, betrothals, weddings, festivals, graduations. Celebrations should usually be planned, but are occasionally better if impromptu. There are big events, and intimate soirées. As I get older I realise life is short and it is easy to forget to commemorate the highlights. The drudgery of everyday grind can blot out the achievements, and smother progress.
Stopping to enjoy the moment can be a challenge. As Stanley Bing, witty observer of the executive suite, says: “Businesspeople are like sharks . . . because we must move forward or die.” Ambition is not controlled by turning a switch off and on again. It is a roaring furnace that heats up over a long time, and cools very slowly – perhaps never to be reignited. Celebrations can smack of complacency, laziness, extravagance and self-indulgence. If they cost vast sums, then perhaps such condemnations are appropriate. But all the costly glitter is irrelevant: what matters is who turns up to a social gathering. The attendees make the evening.
Arguably, I have been in the celebration business for the whole of my working life. I started hosting parties at the age of 18 and have not stopped. I must have held at least 50 over the decades. I love every part of it: choosing the location (ideally somewhere new); picking the date (I prefer weekdays); drawing up the guest list (always ask some different faces to spark new friendships); designing the invitation; and of course enjoying the occasion itself. One’s own parties are always a blur of greetings, snatched conversations and farewells, yet also a brilliant way of making serendipitous introductions and keeping in touch. I only need a modest excuse to throw a party – a book launch, a restaurant opening, a farewell. Even wakes can be magnificent.
These days I cater to celebrations by providing lots of cakes from the various bakeries that my firm backs. We also own or manage various venues that are used for everything from banquets to balls. Such nonstop revelry is a reminder of how much entertaining is going on every week of the year, and that humanity’s convivial tendencies remain as strong as ever, despite our predilection for digital communication. Get-togethers start at birth with baptisms and carry on – until, perhaps, a final and grand memorial service.
As a constant running through one’s career, I can think of a worse theme than parties. At heart the hospitality industry, where I have made my livelihood, is about eating, drinking, dancing and general merrymaking.
Parties can be broadly divided into two categories: those with an ulterior motive – typically commercial; and those that are merely for fun and the sake of it. Obviously, the latter are preferable all-round: unfortunately, I get invited to more of the former these days. The champagne and canapés at corporate functions are usually higher class; but the company is never as amusing as when surrounded by friends and potential new companions.
I go to all sorts of trade receptions and they tend to suffer from being dominated by men in suits talking shop in loud voices. Such affairs miss the point. They might provide a networking opportunity but they are hardly mind-expanding or even celebratory. I know, of course, why they take place: indeed, we hold them at many of my companies on a regular basis. They act as a thank- you to customers and suppliers, a way of announcing good news, a reminder of a company’s existence. But they can never compare to a genuine bash.
After all, for most of us, victories do not come that often. In Britain, the outlook for the economy is about as good as it gets. The Bank of England said in February that it expects the economy to grow at the rapid rate of 3.4 per cent this year, which could be faster than any other developed nation. Interest rates remain low, so money is cheap – and the banks are lending again. The equity markets are strong, and even new issues are back in favour on the London Stock Exchange. Inflation is subdued, confidence is surging, unemployment is falling and corporate investment is finally taking off. Spring is here, the sunlit uplands await. It must be time to throw a party.