One of my favourite interviews I’ve done for The Times was with the amazing Cleo Rocos, who I’m very happy to say has become a friend. Happy because she’s the most joyful (or gleeful, as she would say) person I’ve ever met. You can’t fail to be happy around Cleo. For anyone who doesn’t know who Cleo is, firstly, shame on you. Secondly – she was Kenny Everett’s sidekick on the Kenny Everett show, was on Celebrity Big Brother at one point, and now makes a hangover-free tequila. I’m not lying – I’ve had a night of 12 margaritas with Cleo, and we were both SO HAPPY and excitable rather than woozy drunk, and I had not a sniff of a hangover since. I’ve tried the margarita experiment several times since with her tequila (Aquariva – it’s all natural), and it works every time. So if someone knows her parties, Cleo knows her parties.
Here are her party rules:
CLEO ROCOS’ PARTY RULES
What a party needs, is throbbingly happy people. Never, ever drink with dreary people. Put fabulous people together who wouldn’t normally end up together, but who you know would get on. Mix it up so that it’s an odd bunch – a politician with a pop star, for example
The venue isn’t always terribly important. But do make sure that as soon as people walk into the room, they know that it’s a party. I get those cheap thin ribbons for present-wrapping, in ice blue, cream, silver or red, and curl them slightly with scissors and drape them over all the picture frames and all the lamps and it just says party.
The quality of outfits is important. People should be their favourite, most celebratory version of themselves for the night. Everyone has something in their cupboard that they ‘never get the chance to wear’. Well, just wear it!
Always feed people/serve food that serves a purpose. Don’t do anything pretentious. I hate being served those pretty, flimsy little things with a dangly that, wrapped in a bit of that – yes, it looks pretty, but it’s not going to fill you up. At a party, sometimes I even make it as simple as dismantling a roast meal for a standing-up affair. I will simply make enormous platters of beautifully crisped roast potatoes, or delicious glazed roast parsnips, or even a plate of lovely roast beef, mini sausages or meatballs – anything that is easy to pick up in one hand, or stab with a cocktail stick with a glass in one hand, and it just goes in the stomach and lines it for all the drink that will follow – and it just tastes divine.
Don’t interrupt your hostess if she’s still getting ready. As the hostess, and people come into your room to chat to you, just say to them Oh hello, how fabulous to see you! Would you be marvellous and pop downstairs and check that all the guests are ok? Or ask that she should check what’s happening with the oven. Make them feel important, and crucially, get rid of them while you’re putting yourself together.
Arrive no more than 15 minutes late. A good host should detail the timings of the party: cocktails from 6pm, dinner will be served at 8pm. A perfectly-behaved guest would arrive between 6 and 6.15.
Drink until the peak of your fabulousness. Instead of dealing in units (which is absolutely pointless, and not a proper measurement), deal in fabulousness. If you have been fabulous, and start to think that you might not be as fabulous any more, then stop. Drink until the peak of your fabulousness! It’s always good to have a palate cleanser of water occasionally, even if it isn’t very jolly.
How to deal with a bad drunk at a party. Make sure that they get home safely. The next day, when they phone you in a completely mortified fashion, you must deny that they were anything other than divine company. They will be beating themselves up anyway, unable to come out from under the duvet, so as a host, it is terribly rude to tell someone that they were not properly behaved. You would not have invited them if they were not people that you wanted to be around, so treat them as such.
Don’t look for problems, look for solutions. If someone turns up late it is probably because they work in a different industry to you, and are stuck at work. I am hugely forgiving if anyone is late, because they are never deliberately trying to mess up your plans. So just leave the oven on, and feed them when they get there.
Be flexible. I am always encouraging people to be happy. If people feel so happy that they want to dance on the tables or swing from the chandeliers, then that they should do. I will always say – Do that. Absolutely, please do that. I really do want people to have a wonderful time.
Flirting. Flirting should just be to the point that people are complimented rather than anything sleazy or untoward, or indicating anything improper.
Keep a paint pot at the ready. Don’t be stuffy. If you serve red wine, you have to imagine that it’s going to be spilt. Instead of trying to wipe spillages off the walls, just always keep a pot of paint ready, and just repaint it the next day – no problem. These are things that really don’t matter. They are part of the journey.
Make fake cocktails for drunk people. I make my fake ‘Pink Gin’, which I press into the hands of people who are a bit too drunk, to help them out. It’s a fake cocktail. It’s just tonic water with a few drops of Angostura bitters, some ice and some lime and lemon. If they really are too drunk, then I simply order them a cab, and say ‘Oh! Your cab is here!’.
If you need help, it’s fine to ask your closest friends. We all offer to help in the kitchen, but quite often it can be more of a hindrance than a help. One should never feel compelled to offer to wash the dishes, unless you are staying the night in their house, in which case you must offer. I would always rather that my guests to end their party by dancing on the tables, not in the sink!
THE CANAPES: roast potatoes
It goes without saying that all the rules are brilliant. But I remember thinking that it was such a good idea to serve a deconstructed roast dinner. Since then, I have had a drinks party and served little bowls of roast potatoes and they went down brilliantly. Don’t even bother with cocktail sticks, because it’s a pain being stuck with one in your hand. I think that it’s best to cut the potatoes really small, so that you get maximum crispiness.
Mini roast potatoes
Lots of potatoes. Say, 1kg. If you can, go for new potatoes or Maris Piper.
Peel the potatoes (unless they’re new potatoes, in which case do not bother), and cut them up small – small enough to be eaten in one bite. Put them in a pan of salted (don’t be shy with the salt – and use Maldon as the taste is softer) boiling water until they’re completely cooked and a knife slips straight through (I like them slightly overcooked because of the next stage…). Preheat the oven to 220C. Put them into a colander and shake shake shake until the bashing together means that the edges start to go all fluffy.
Meanwhile, put a big baking tray into the oven with a few generous glugs of olive oil. After 2 minutes, then put your bashed up little potatoes into the hot oil, shake it around, make sure that all the potatoes are covered but not drowned in oil and sprinkle lots of Maldon sea salt and a bit of cayenne pepper over them (and all in a single layer). Put them into the oven for 15 minutes to start, then give them a toss and a turn over, then 15 minutes more, until they’re really crispy and golden. Scatter with more Maldon sea salt, then serve them in bowls on every available sideboard.