At Lady Sandra Bates’ Birthday Bash
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