Annabel’s has witnessed the high-spirited comings and goings of the creme de la creme of British society for more than half a century.
On Tuesday night, the world’s most famous private members’ club, which is due to reopen its doors in the New Year after a £55 million revamp, was the venue for a surprise 50th birthday party for Viscount Rothermere, chairman of Daily Mail and General Trust (DMGT).
It enabled 200 family and friends to have the first sneak preview of the ravishing new club which has been relocated two doors along from its old address at 44 Berkeley Square.
Big day: Viscount and Viscountess Rothermere with son Alfred, 7
Happy Birthday, Dad! Theodora, Iris, Vere and Eleanor
Among the guests were the 12th Duke of Beaufort, the Earl and Countess of Yarborough, the Earl and Countess of Derby, former Tory party treasurer Lord Marland, Tessa Keswick, film director Guy Ritchie, clothing entrepreneur Johnnie Boden and wife Sophie, advertising tycoon Maurice Saatchi, Conde Nast chairman Nicholas Coleridge and Tatler editor Kate Reardon.
The party was hosted by Viscountess Rothermere, who arrived with her five children: Vere, Eleanor, Theodora, Iris and Alfred Harmsworth.
There could not have been a more appropriate venue, she told guests, given that her husband Jonathan’s mother, Patricia Harmsworth, was a permanent fixture at the old Annabel’s.
‘No evening was complete without Patricia holding court in the Buddha Room with her butler at her side dispensing champagne from a big black bag,’ said Lady Rothermere. ‘We all have our own special memories and stories of Annabel’s.’
With Alexander Spencer-Churchill
Dressed to impress: Johnnie Boden and wife Sophie
Lady Rothermere’s own story is that she met her future mother-in-law at the club, when she was just 19 and in her first term at Oxford.
For some inexplicable reason, Patricia Harmsworth walked over to her out of the blue and said: ‘You would be perfect for my son.’ She didn’t meet Jonathan until four years later.
Annabel’s was founded by Mark Birley, who decreed it should reek of ‘exclusivity and sex’.
It was named after Birley’s wife, Lady Annabel Vane-Tempest-Stewart, who went on to marry Sir James Goldsmith.
As Tuesday night’s guests discovered, the club now has a new muse.
Guy Ritchie. Right: Richard Caring
Pride of place in the marble foyer is a Picasso portrait of the artist’s lover Marie-Therese Walter which the club’s owner, restaurant tycoon Richard Caring, recently acquired and rechristened ‘Annabel’.
Caring, who bought the club from Mark Birley as part of a £95 million deal in 2007, explained it was a ‘builders’ hard-hat party’, as the four-storey building was far from finished.
Guests joked it must be the most elegant building site in London, as liveried waiters served them dressed in bespoke floral waistcoats.
Annabel’s gate-keeper Alexander Spencer-Churchill, who organised the surprise birthday bash, had cause for another celebration as his wife Scarlett has just given birth to a son, Jake.
No doubt Jake is already on the waiting list for Annabel’s membership.