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Under the Influence

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The resurgent Evening Standard newspaper in London, which still manages to look and read like a real newspaper whilst being a "free-sheet" held its annual bash for "The 1000 Most Influential" at Burberry's flagship London store in Regent's Street on Wednesday.
I have fallen off the list after a solid two years because I suspect someone discovered I am hardly even the most influential member of my household, let alone London, but an invite was despatched to me anyway; perhaps a form of parachute payment for relegation.

Nevertheless, it is a good bash with the literati, glitterati, fashionistas and politico's of London's elite supping at the cup of self-recognition. And one thing I find very striking about the evening is that I doubt anything like it in any other city in the world would have quite the same atmosphere. A party that celebrates a list of people on such an exaltedly titled list would be reasonably expected to have a smug haughtiness about it but somehow, this one escapes that fate.

Through the course of a couple of hours you are likely to meet some very interesting and successful people - something would be very wrong with London if you didn't at this kind of gathering - but you shouldn't expect to have formal and serious discussions with everybody you meet. In fact, you shouldn't expect it at all. It helped that lots of people I met appeared to be big fans of Opera Holland Park and if I had a quid for every time someone said "you don't seem like the sort of person who would run an opera festival" I might have as much money as most of my fellow guests appeared to have. Many seemed relieved to be able to confess a love of opera once they'd had a few minutes of conversation peppered with the odd expletive (they just slip out). Doug Wills, managing editor of the Standard and someone who everybody agrees is reassuringly, pleasantly "old school" does well to fend off the frequent "pitches" people make to him and quickly worked out a strategy to divert his interlocutor; he would take me by the arm and with raised eyebrows say, "have you met Michael? He runs an opera festival!" The moment of surprise and shock would give him a chance to slip away.

The evening had kicked off with a very energetic discourse with the journalist Mihir Bose about Chelsea FC, racism and growing up as a part of a minority which then moved seamlessly on to the rich and rewarding similarities between Bollywood and opera. He loves both. An animated discussion with the engaging Stefano Hatfield, executive editor of the "I" newspaper (Italian mother and another fan of OHP) and Riz Lateef (just got off air and starving) was followed by my being punched playfully in the chest by Boris Johnson (don't ask). Independent mayoral candidate Siobhan Benita was a whirlwind of commitment and ideas but we spent most of the time bemoaning the amount of drivel on Twitter, picking through our favourite examples of the absolute pointlessness of the vast majority of tweets. Then we agreed to "follow" each other. Oh, and to discuss my appointment as her cultural tsar should she decide to run again and unseat Boris. She has my vote if she does and I am about to tweet her full details of my morning coffee. Other conversations meandered through topics as diverse as Karren Brady's dress, Boris's "pale complexion", the birthweight of mixed race caucasian/Polynesian babies and the need for elective caesarian section delivery.

In fact, on reflection, the whole evening was a warm, playful giggle for me. That may say more about me than the capital's Influencers of course but London has to be unique for having the ability to hold a party like that and at the same time not take it terribly seriously. Not to mention letting me loose on the thing...