How this Cinderella met Prince at the ball
You don't need to be dressed in Dior to stand out in a crowd, even at the fashion party of the century, writes Victoria Mary Clarke
Into every woman's life a Cinderella moment eventually comes. That moment when she has been invited to an outrageously posh and fancy ball and she says to herself, "Oh My God, I really, really want to go to this ball, but unfortunately I can't because I am only a poor relation and I haven't a thing to wear!"
I had a moment like this only the other day when, out of the blue, an invitation appeared to join the fashion designer John Galliano, Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman and the Honorable Daphne Guinness at the Victoria and Albert in London for what people have been saying for months would be the most totally crucial fashion event of the century, an event which would be attended by absolutely everyone who is anyone in that glamorous world. All the top designers, all the top models, all the socialites. American Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour was even rumoured to be coming.
To launch an exhibition celebrating the golden age of couture, and to launch an exhibition of fabulous frocks by top designers from the past 50 years, a gala dinner would be held, with a private viewing of the collection.
"How fabulous!" was my first thought upon being included. "People would kill to get into this party. But hang on a minute! All these people are much, much thinner and much, much richer than me. How can I possibly go to this ball? It will be like appearing at a Rolls Royce rally in a Nissan Micra. People will stare for all the wrong reasons."
Fortunately, I cannot bear to miss out on a good party so I rose to the challenge and contorting myself in front of the mirror, covered my back with fake tan so that I could wear a backless gold dress that was purchased in a sale. It was not couture, not by a long shot, but it would have to suffice.
Because my fiance, Shane MacGowan, is secretly an extremely enthusiastic aficionado of fashion too, he took great care to wear an eye patch under his shades (as a unique style statement).
As we posed for the paparazzi on the red carpet, we heard a cry behind us. "Vivienne! Over here!" I spun round on my vertiginous heels and spotted Vivienne Westwood behind us, looking quite astonishing in red, with her red hair to match.
"She's been drinking the blood of virgins," Shane assured me. "That's why she looks so young. She's ancient, you know."
I begged him to introduce me to her. I was on a mission to meet as many fabulous and famous people as I possibly could, so that I would have things to write about for ages and happy memories to make up for the agonising heels and very heavy dress, not to mention the corsetry underneath. He promised he would if we saw her inside.
Inside the magnificent hall, we were immediately offered champagne and cocktails. Shane got both, and we paused for a moment to survey the crowd. Quentin Tarantino was just beside us but he was engaged in conversation, so we moved on through. We sat on a bench where we were joined by Kate Moss, in a vintage wedding gown, who demanded to know why Shane was wearing an eye patch under his shades.
"To confuse the photographers," he told her.
"Good idea," she approved.
Then Vivienne approached and said hello to Kate. Kate said, "You know Shane, don't you?"
"Do I?" the great lady said. "No. I don't think so." Kate and I collapsed in a heap, laughing like drains, because Shane never, ever approaches celebrities, he always waits for them to approach him. And he had promised us that he and Viv went way back.
"Of course, I don't remember the Seventies," Viv said, apologetically. "It was a long time ago."
There were so many famous faces that, for a while, I just gazed open-mouthed at the likes of Erin O'Connor, who must be seven feet tall, and at Claudia Schiffer, Nigella Lawson and Sophie Dahl. I also gazed in awe at the astonishing array of gowns that were parading past, and the even more astonishing bodies underneath them.
Eventually, I recovered enough to speak to people. It may be egocentric, but I tend to like the people who remember me more than those who don't. Jade Jagger didn't remember me, despite having dined with me, but Jemima Khan said of course, she not only remembered me, but was thrilled that I remembered her. Not only that, but she also admired my dress, as did Bella Freud and Lulu Guinness. Kevin Spacey said he was an admirer of mine, also, when I said I was an admirer of his. Mutual admiration is what it's all about at a fashion party, I discovered.
Needless to say, I liked all of the people who seemed to like me. The highlight of the night was when Quentin Tarantino wrote: 'Victoria, I love you and I want to marry you,' on my napkin (even if I had actually ordered him to do so).
Unfortunately, some of the people who remembered me didn't like me, namely Courtney Love, who gave filthy looks. to both me and Shane and refused to say hello.
It is hard to eat anything at such an event, even if you are not dieting, because of the excitement of the surroundings. A girl at my table was wearing an enormous brooch, which I admired, and when I asked if the diamonds were real, she said yes, which made me almost choke on my crab, because the diamonds were so big and so numerous.
After a few minutes, I abandoned the food and went sight-seeing instead. I said hello to John Galliano. At Rifat Ozbek's table, I befriended Anna Piaggi from Italian Vogue, who was wearing what appeared to be a pink plastic plate on her head. We decided to join forces on the sight-seeing adventure.
"You know they say Prince doesn't want anyone he doesn't know at his table," she told me. So we marched up and introduced ourselves to him. Amazingly, he stood up and shook our hands and was extremely charming, which proves you mustn't believe what they say about anyone.
Just as we were really getting stuck in to meeting people, the auction started and we were asked to sit down. The auction, if you are not rich, is not a fun part of the night because even Kylie Minogue tickets were going for £15,000.
As soon as it was over, everyone suddenly got up and left. So we collected all the abandoned goody bags, and left too. I was tempted when Kate said we could come with her and meet Fergie the Duchess for a drink, but my shoes were killing me. Amazingly, I had had enough fabulous people for one day.
But as I tottered elegantly out to the taxi, I realised that I had learned a serious thing about high fashion from my new friend Anna Piaggi. Which is that fashion can really be fun, as long as one sees it as a medium for enjoyment, frivolity and creativity and one doesn't need to be dressed in Dior to stand out in a crowd.