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At Lady Sandra Bates’ Birthday Bash

December 6, 2010
by the gentle author

There are some people you meet to whom you cannot say “No,” because it would simply be an affront to their overwhelming generosity of spirit, and the redoubtable Lady Sandra Bates (Bunny Sandie of 1966) who I met at the Bunny Girls’ Reunion at the Grapes in Limehouse is one such person.

So when Lady Sandra invited me and Spitalfields Life contributing photographer Sarah Ainslie to her sixty-fifth birthday bash in Mayfair, it would have been disingenuous not to accept. The truth is that we leapt at the invitation because, now that the season for celebration is upon us, we thought it would be the perfect opportunity to make a rare foray up to the West End and become society reporters for a night, to permit our readers in the East End a glimpse of how the other half lives.

We were walking down Dover St through the driving snow in search of the party venue, and feeling far from our familiar East End streets, when three young ladies imbued with festive spirit rolled out of a taxi, so we thought it pertinent to ask them if they knew where Lady Sandra Bates’ birthday party was taking place. At the very mention of the magic name, all three lit up with delight and anticipation, and the tallest cried out “Batesy, you old bitch, where are you?” to the street, in a reckless shriek of bravado, which was a cause of great relief to us because we knew we had come to the right place.

Before we knew it we were ushered into a high class cellar, where the elite were gathering, drawn together by their shared affection for Lady Sandra Bates who held the focus of attention effortlessly, glittering magnificently in a gold-sequined top, which exemplified her larger than life disposition and sparkling personality. I quickly discovered that almost no-one knew anyone else, and everyone had a different story to tell about how they met Lady Sandra – in a nightclub toilet, or an art gallery in Kensington or at one of Jason’s famous networking parties, these were explanations that cropped up several times. Yet in spite of their diversity of background, everyone was excited to be here “in society,” unified by their passion for Lady Sandra who makes it her business to be the life and soul of any party. Undertaking an impromptu survey, I asked people what they admired most about Lady Sandra and the answered ranged from, “Her hair, eyelashes and nails” – “Her balls” – “Her smile” – “Her tenacity and determination”- “Her ability to bring people together,” to “Her propensity to go in the lift in her pyjamas.”

Lady Sandra’s daughter Charlotte confessed to me how much she admired her mother’s strength of character for taking advantage of the opportunities available to her as a Playboy Bunny in sixties’ London. “She bought her first house with the diamonds Sir Charles Clore gave her, you know?” she told me, flashing her eyes in wonder. Charlotte regaled me with happy childhood tales of learning to ride her bike in Grosvenor Square, and when her mother came to the school fete in a long black wig and ankle-length fur coat, and got drunk with the headmaster. I also had the pleasure of an introduction to mild-mannered East Ender, Frank Gregory, Lady Sandra’s Bates’ gentleman, owner of a Lancia dealership and a block of flats in Whitechapel, or as she put it succinctly, “the one who buys my diamonds and furs, darling.”

The surprise of the evening was an encounter with the amiable Sean McGuigan, full of swagger and charm, flashing a rakish gold tooth, and showing off the flask of vodka that he had concealed “down me nuts.” He was delirious with glee to brag of his recent release from prison following a conviction for blackmailing the Royal family – the first attempt in over a century. The next guest to swerve into my field of vision was a fresh faced thirty-eight year old, Crystyl, from California who explained that she was delighted to be here in London because everyone at parties in Los Angeles looked young. And then she proceeded to share her discovery that Vaseline applied to the lower eyelids takes eight years off your age, as well as being cheaper and less invasive than Botox.

At last, in the midst of the lively throng vying for her attention, hungry myself to gather further morsels of information about Lady Sandra’s charmed life, I managed to snatch the privilege of a few intimate moments with the birthday girl herself. Batting her eyelashes seductively and displaying a blissful smile, she told me she woke to glass of champagne that morning, then it was off to Princess Margaret’s hairdresser to get spruced up, followed by tea at the Ritz with her two daughters. Getting a little dreamy when she admitted that she took a sentimental moment to think of George Best, with whom she once opened a club, Blondes in Dover St, and gazing up into my eyes, for a moment, in her reverie she had the look of a lost child. “That’s all I know, darling, is Dover St.” she declared – as if it were a summation of her existence – flicking her wrist in a gesture of louche resignation and assuming a tone of dreamy innocence. Then she confided she had received a diamond ring worth a quarter of a million and a Gucci handbag that cost nine hundred and fifty pounds.

When I asked about her future plans, entering her sixty-fifth year, Lady Sandra told me that she has bought “a little place in Covent Garden with a turret,” where she plans to set up a salon with all her young artists that she patronises around her. The model is Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Mansion, she explained. Apparently “Hef” has a turret where he surrounds himself with young ladies and now Lady Sandra, with characteristic flamboyance, plans to surround herself with talent in the same way. And if that is how Lady Sandra chooses to grow old gracefully, who are we to deny her such extravagant dreams?

Reluctantly, Sarah and I had to slip away from the party before midnight to catch the bus home, our heads spinning with the night’s adventures, yet although I was delighted to have glimpsed another world – almost like a painting by William Hogarth come to life – I must confess I was not unhappy to return to my modest existence in the East End.

Watch a short film of Lady Sandra Bates introducing herself by clicking here.

Three belles from Berkhamsted, Carole, Jane and Carolynne.

Fay met Lady Sandra in a nightclub toilet and Elaine met Lady Sandra at an art gallery.

Ed with new friends Wendy and Yang.

Lady Sandra and her daughter Charlotte, with legendary DJ Fitz Brown from Tramps – back in the glory days when Catherine Zeta-Jones and Mick Hucknall were dating.

Actress Maggie Steed raises a birthday toast to Lady Sandra Bates.

Maggie Steed with Mr & Mrs Collins, a happily divorced couple.

Elizabeth & Crystyl from Los Angeles by way of South Woodford.

Theodora, Davina and Lady Sandra Bates’ gentleman Frank Gregory.

Sean McGuigan and Genevieve, celebrating six months since Sean’s release from prison.

The ever-radiant Lady Sandra Bates with her proud daughters, Camilla and Charlotte.

Photographs copyright © Sarah Ainslie

20 Responses leave one →
  1. William permalink
    December 6, 2010

    “She bought her first house with the diamonds Sir Charles Clore gave her, you know?” Really? Oh dear, I’m afraid this story, with its cast of Z Lister Wanna Be’s makes me feel rather sad and only highlights the magnificence of someone like Terry O’Leary. “Lady” Sandra Bates youtube audition for Big Brother speaks volumes.

  2. Mike Petty permalink
    December 6, 2010

    Are you sure that’s Maggie Steed?

  3. the gentle author permalink*
    December 7, 2010

    Several correspondents have questioned whether the lady in the black fur hat is actually the distinguished actress Maggie Steed – but since the woman in question in assured us that she was Maggie Steed, who are we to question?

  4. jon permalink
    December 8, 2010

    That’s never the actress Maggie Steed. If you look on the web at photos of the real actress she’s got brown eyes and a different nose and generally looks completely different. Strange why she’s pretending to be her. Aren’t people odd?

  5. January 26, 2011

    one thing is certain about this post – it’s a good summary of how the other half live, the other half that most people have little or no access to

  6. Helen permalink
    February 13, 2011

    Quite glad I have no access to that particular half!

  7. Robin Bellshead permalink
    July 31, 2011

    The surprise of the evening was an encounter with the amiable ( Ever met an amiable blackmailer?) Sean McGuigan….., full of swagger and charm ( Charm? I really hope I am detecting hints of sarcasm here) , flashing a rakish gold tooth ( Classy…) , and showing off the flask of vodka that he had concealed “down me nuts.”(….. Oh what breeding! I guess even after 6 months of fredoom things are not going to well for Sean Mcguigan if he cant even afford a few Vodka’s an an old Z listers birthday) He was delirious with glee to brag of his recent release from prison following a conviction for blackmailing the Royal family – the first attempt in over a century.

    Erm, did someone say looser? At least hes looking well….erhmmm

  8. Cherub permalink
    August 19, 2011

    Definitely not Maggie Steed!

  9. August 28, 2011

    Fascinating post, as usual, but I can confirm the lady in the black hat is not Maggie Steed. Maggie’s a friend of mine and unless she’s deep, deep in character preparing for a role, that is most certainly not her.

  10. the gentle author permalink*
    August 28, 2011

    Would Maggie Steed like to confirm this in person?

  11. Fred permalink
    January 27, 2012

    Sandy of 1966 is also to be found on Helga’s Vintage Vamps website.

  12. February 14, 2012

    I would be forever in gratuitous debt if my contact details could be forwarded to my dear friend Sean mcguigan, Sally I have lost touch and have being to an avail have been trying to re establish communication with Sean or a while.
    Again I would be most grateful as I have some important information for him that he requested
    Many regards MD Vincent.-Gray.
    07712 628031

  13. Sean McGuigan permalink
    March 3, 2012

    Hi Matthew, call me on 07788 648 673 Sean

  14. t'Niqua permalink
    March 4, 2012

    That could be A “maggie steed” just not THE Maggie Steed!!! I remember her in Pie in the Sky with Richard Griffiths – if that was THE Maggie Steed, I’d be suing my plastic surgeon…

  15. t'Niqua permalink
    March 4, 2012

    Fay met Lady Sandra in a nightclub toilet … Says it all…

  16. Jackie permalink
    June 23, 2012

    I know Maggie Steed personally and the woman in black with a deep tan is DEFINITELY NOT her !!!

  17. maggiemay permalink
    July 9, 2012

    Of course it’s not THE Maggie Steed, who I also know, (a) because the lady pictured is a grotesque, which the lovely MS certainly isn’t, and (b) she cannot be a professional actress, because then she would need to have a card from Equity, the actors’ union, who won’t accept two actresses with the same name. Your MS, though elegantly dressed, would seem to have attended the same makeup school as Lady (wife of John) Prescott!

  18. Selena permalink
    September 3, 2013

    When I was in London a few years ago, doing an internship in fashion, I managed to make friends with a PR agent who took me along to Socialite Evenings by Emmanuel Ray, a soiree hosted by TV Presenter Emmanuel Ray. That is where I met “Lady” Sandra Bates for the first and last time. She was charming, friendly and nice. A woman at the party was bitching about how she adopted the title “lady” and is actually a washed up 60s throwback, but the fact that she was at Emmanuel Ray’s event made me realise that she was definitely someone. Don’t judge someone just like that. I met this woman in person, and lady or not, she was definitely very ladylike, generous and friendly and even shared hr champagne with me and offered to help me find work in London. Unfortunately, I had to return to Switzerland after my internship.

  19. Mckavitt permalink
    May 1, 2014

    No way that’s Maggie Steed. I was really worried when they put “Actress Maggie Steed”. Unless she’s ill or had disastrous facial & body surgery…Never your life!

  20. Pedantic Petrolhead permalink
    May 22, 2014

    ” I also had the pleasure of an introduction to mild-mannered East Ender, Frank Gregory, Lady Sandra’s Bates’ gentleman, owner of a Lancia dealership and a block of flats in Whitechapel….”
    I hope he gets a decent income from the flats, because Lancias have not been sold in the UK since 1994!

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