Time Out’s Executive Editor Michael Hodges has been dallying with danger so you don’t have to. This week’s thing not to do in London – No 797 Gatecrash in Chelsea
Hey, that looks like really good fun.’ I follow the American woman’s gaze to the roof terrace. Music is blasting out and everybody up there appears to be having an absolutely terrific time. Excited ‘yahs’ and well-bred screeches mingle with a soundtrack of R&B apparently sung along to by 200 drunken horses. ‘Let’s go join in.’
Not for the first time today do I regret attempting to impress this woman. I met her at a party, where, dazzled by white wine and the fact she was American, I offered to show her this city.
‘Anywhere in London,’ I said. ‘Anywhere at all. You name it and I’ll take you there.’
In retrospect this was a gamble, a gamble based on the American woman replying to my offer with:
‘Catford. I’d really like to go to Catford. I’ve heard the food at the Catford Bridge Tavern is great and they have some really interesting regional ales and craft beers. Plus they make their own sausage rolls.’
To which my answer was going to be: ‘Yes, the sausage rolls are very good. I’m impressed. For a first-time visitor from America you have a remarkable understanding of the pubs of south-east London.’
But the American woman didn’t say ‘Catford’. She said ‘Chelsea’.
‘Chelsea?’ I spluttered.
‘Yes, I want to see where the “Downton Abbey” set go to party.’ ‘You know what “Downton Abbey” is?’ ‘Oh yes, we love it in New York.’
Which is why we are just off the King’s Road on Sunday afternoon, standing in a street of wisteriaclad villas and one restaurant, above which the entire British aristocracy is having an alfresco rave. It’s a popular event: the street is thronged with ravishing blondes with perfect white teeth, all wearing tight pink jeans. The women look good too.
‘I’d really like to go up. Can we do that? Can we?’
I consider the American woman again. ‘Of course we can!’
We stride into the restaurant and smile at the staff. They don’t smile back. Ignoring this, I head up the staircase. The scene we find at the top is not so much a party as a reimagining of Christina Aguilera’s 2002 ‘Dirty’ video, complete with writhing bodies and pumping beats. Of the original production it lacks only the motorbike and a fully functioning boxing ring. And all the black people. Otherwise it’s bang on: could be the real thing. Things are so wild that I stepback, treading directly on to the expensively sandalled foot of a woman. She yelps.
‘Do you mind?’ says a man wearing a salmon-pink shirt and moccasins, who is dancing with the sandalled woman.
Before I can answer, the gyrating couple disappear off into the throng of revellers waving champagne bottles. All the evidence so far suggests free champagne. I follow the sound of popping corks to the bar where I find this to be the case. In my excitement I drop my glass. It lands, as I suppose it had to, on the same sandalled foot I have recently trodden on.
‘Look, if you touch her feet again I’ll bloody do something,’ comes a familiar voice.
‘Understand?’ He sounds as though he should be running in the 3.45 at Haydock Park with a tiny Italian cocaine user on his back, but I do understand. ‘Yes,’ I reply. ‘You’d like me to leave your girlfriend’s feet alone.’
The sandalled woman gasps: I have revealed that I don’t talk like a horse. The man sticks his jaw out and plants his moccasins a little further apart.
‘Are you invited?’ he demands.
‘Of course I am.’
‘Oh, you usually come to Sam’s birthday parties?’
‘Yes, every year.’
‘Because this is Celia’s birthday party.’
Four more things not to do in Chelsea
GET THE WRONG LOOK
There is a time and place for your favourite clubbing outfit of an army-surplus parka and little running shorts. A night of Veuve Clicquot and ‘funky and commercial house’ at JuJu on the King’s Road is not it.
KEEP YOUR HEAD DOWN
Walking with your head bowed suggests you are looking for 20-pence pieces. Correct Sloane Street-style is head up and laughing. You’re laughing because you’re happy; you’re happy because you’re rich!
You are also far too happy to be serious. Consequently, successful mingling in Chelsea’s exclusive bars means finding very serious things funny. ‘There are how many dead in [insert country here, eg Syria, Sri Lanka]? Gosh! Hwa hwa hwa!’
EXPECT TO FIND ANY ACTUAL CHELSEA FANS
It’s strictly rugger and polo in the Royal Borough, so, in order to fulfil the expectations of visiting supporters, Chelsea Football Club is obliged to pay a theatrical agency to supply the thousands of oiks required for match days. And very convincing oiks they are.
Read more about Michael Hodges’ adventures.