There are few veteran party-goers who might, on demand, produce an invitation to an evening with “Mick and Jerry Jagger, at home” from the summer of 1993 (“Anything will do!” scrawled by the host’s hand in the margin, to undermine the neighbouring, curling serif demanding French Revolution-themed fancy dress), followed by a menu from a luncheon at Buckingham Palace, on a luxurious paper-stock bearing the royal letterhead. But Michael White, of course, is not just any party-goer – his is the most frequently recurring name on the guest lists of the most fabled events of the past 50 years. To call him well-connected scarcely does his reputation justice.
A prolific film and theatre producer (Monty Python and the Holy Grail, My Dinner With Andre, and The Rocky Horror Show are just a trifle of his numerous credits), White is, as the recent documentary directed by Gracie Otto declared him, the last of the great impresarios: a playboy and a gambler, but above all an entertainer. He blazed trails in the contemporary arts from his very first production in 1959, always erring on the right side of subversion, winning audiences as he did column inches, and throwing the parties – pre-, opening, closing and otherwise, each more thrilling than the last – to prove it. Legendarily, he was the last to go home and the first to arrive in the office the following morning, Bloody Mary in hand.
White doesn’t even recall the occasion that marked his lunch with Prince Andrew at the Palace, dismissing it with a customary wave of the hand when we meet at Scott’s in Mayfair to shuffle through a box of these mementos. Besides, as his endless collection of ephemera from Thank You-notes to cocktail lists illustrates, he has had his fair share of fabulous conversations. He has also just celebrated his 80th birthday – which coincides, as he cheerily reminds me, with that of his good friend Kate Moss, with whom he has shared many a joint celebration.
The archive itself is a wildly diverse affair. A traditional gilded invitation to Elton John’s 50th birthday celebration sits atop one designed by Keith Haring for Gloria, Princess of Thurn and Taxis’ 29th. Elsewhere, a card requesting that the bearer dine with the Prime Minister and Mrs John Major is buried, somewhat ironically, beneath an oversize Art Deco typeface spelling out the name “DIVINE”. That invitations to the stuffy, political and the incendiary remain unequivocally balanced throughout White’s golden years is testament to the itinerant patron’s prowess as a guest.
The fashions and formats of his collection of invitations vary, similarly, according both to the era and the demographic they were intended for. M&C Saatchi’s summons to its 1st birthday party arrives on a traditional children’s format bedecked with balloons, a perforated RSVP slip still attached at the bottom, while the Viscountess Rothermere’s declaration that she will be “at Home – at Claridge’s” on the evening of 20th December demonstrates a preference by the upper echelons of British society for swooping calligraphic fonts and understated announcements. Equally, some requests are more discreet than others. “At the Bunnies’ request, Guest invitations have been extended only to their list of Britain’s 100 most eligible bachelors,” Playboy elucidates in a covert aside. A hand-scrawled note on the border of a save-the-date from fellow socialite Mr Haslam is just as revealing: “Michael – can you let me have the divine Kate Moss’ address so I can send her a card? Love, Nicky.”
White was a prolific host as well as an esteemed guest. “He had this extraordinary ability to combine the artistic people with those in society,” good friend Sabrina Guinness recalls in the documentary. Gael Boglione reinforces her point. “You’d go to his house, and Prince Charles was round for dinner with Bowie and Iman. He was amazing at mixing people with such different backgrounds and interests.”
An undeterrable socialite, White’s rich career has been one long party, measured out not with coffee spoons but with mornings after and nights before. “All I did was go to parties!” he whispers across the table, looking longingly at the tiny fraction of his invitations in his hands, as a waiter leans over to top up his drink. As I leave, he insists on taking my card. I half expect a phone call to arrange the next rendezvous.
This article appears in the S/S16 edition of AnOther Magazine.