Saturday, 9 February 2008

M&B 100th Birthday Party

On Thursday 7th January, Mills & Boon, now the British face of Harlequin Books, was 100 years old. Although Gerald Mills and Charles Boon started publishing a wide range of fiction and non-fiction books in 1908, it didn’t take long before they realised that romantic fiction was where they’re future lay. 100 years later the little company they founded sells one book every three seconds all over the world. Not doing too badly are they? Anyway, what’s the best way to celebrate a birthday? You got it! A party! And I was very excited when a lovely gold and pink invitation arrived in the post for a cocktail party at The Wallace Collection – a museum in a large London town house, filled to the brim with wonderful art and furniture.

Even though I live in the outskirts of London, I decided to stay in a hotel with my fellow M&B Romance authors Trish Wylie and Natasha Oakley. I didn’t want to be travelling home late at night on my own, and we don’t get the chance to meet together very often, so we were going to make the most of it. Unfortunately, we spent a little too much time talking, drinking tea and reading one of Trish’s many interviews in the Northern Irish press (she’s a media darling over there at the moment, dahling!), and realised we needed to get our skates on if we were going to make it to the party on time. The idea of a leisurely dinner in the hotel’s restaurant went out the window (it wasn’t open at 5.20pm) and Natasha and I ended up running across the road to a local supermarket and buying sandwiches to stuff into our faces while we put our make-up on and got dressed. Sigh, the life of an author is just so glamorous sometimes.

Pretty soon we were in our finery and dashing through the West End in a black cab. Natasha and I had made a tactical decision not to bring our invitations as they were big and square and didn't fit in our teensy tiny handbags. It was only as the cab was already on its way, that Trish pointed out that it clearly stated on the invite that we were supposed to bring them with us, otherwise we might not be let in. Should we go back? We looked at our watches. We were already 10 minutes late. Although I'm normally one to do everything by the book, I arrived at the party prepared to blag my way in if necessary.

Thankfully, it wasn't an issue and we were soon given our name badges and ushered through some of the Wallace Collection’s galleries filled with gold-framed paintings and glass display cabinets, before we emerged into a huge space, which must have once been a courtyard, but now had a huge glass roof to provide a stunning indoor space for a party. We were greeted with a waiter carrying a tray of champagne cocktails and I tried a mixture of champers and fresh raspberry juice, which was heavenly. There was a candy floss stand in one corner and two women on stilts, dressed up as pink swans, flanked the little bridge that took us across from house into the courtyard.

Now, there had been rumours that a company called Butlers in the Buff had been hired to hand drinks out at the party - which had caused a bit of a stir, as the staff are extremely attractive young men and are often found wearing nothing but a strategicly-placed apron. Much to my relief the only hint of being undressed was that their shirts were open a few buttons and their bow ties were undone. Every woman at the party was handed a single red rose tied with a pink ribbon by one of these gentlemen, a lovely touch, as a long-stemmed rose has long been one of the M&B trademarks. Maybe I'm getting old, but the butlers did not appeal. Yes, they were charming, yes, they were good-looking, but, oh, did they know it. Erm, somebody put that poor man down! Mind you, he doesn't seem to be looking too distressed, does he?

Soon it was time for speeches and the first to speak was gardener, TV presenter and romantic novelist Alan Titchmarsh, who just as charming as he is on the telly. Not only did he tell us M&B authors that we were brave, because we didn't shy away from telling some of the hardest stories to write, but he also gave us a few tips on how to keep our roses nice when we got them home, bless him! Guy Hallowes, Managing director of Harlequin Mills & Boon, who had the very first book the company published exactly one hundred years ago in his hands. He spoke a bit about the history of the company and then handed over to Donna Hayes, CEO of Harlequin Enterprises, all the way over from Toronto.

Once the speeches were done, all that was left was to mingle, chat to other authors and journalists and have fun. Along with the lovely canap├ęs were ice cream cones for those with a sweet tooth and I even saw a few people delving into bags of candy floss. Trish was whisked away to talk to the BBC, don’t you know, and managed to evade being included in a photo of all the authors who had managed to attend. There were newbies, like me, all fresh-out-of-the-box, and some of the ‘big names’, but I’m sure I missed meeting quite a few, because it was so busy. Still, I reckon there were a good 30 or 40 of us authors who had made it to London for the event. Can’t wait to see the pictures! Here are a few of mine, including one of M&B editor Tessa Shapcott being seranaded by a rather dapper-looking crooner:

Before we knew it, 9.30pm was fast approaching and the venue was emptying fast and plenty of the ladies who’d attended were wearing looks of pained desperation and the general consensus was: “My feet are killing me!”

I went back to the hotel that Abby Green and India Grey were staying in, along with Trish, Natasha and Kate Walker and her lovely husband, affectionately known as the Babe Magnet! They were staying at a funky boutique hotel just a stone’s throw from the party venue, so we continued to chat, unwind, delve into our party bags to see what was in there and, yes, you guessed it – drink more champagne – as the light-up bar changed colour from green to red to purple to blue and back again. Here's a picture of the famous bar and another one of Abby Green drinking as only an Irish girl knows how to! Unfortunately, Natasha, Trish and I were on a stricter budget and we eventually caught a taxi back to our less funky hotel and collapsed into bed.

Come back tomorrow to see what five romance authors let loose in London got up to! And visit the Pink Heart Society to see what Trish’s take on events were.


Nell said...

Fab pics, Fiona, thanks for sharing.

liz fenwick said...

Wonderful report and pics!!! Thanks :-)

Kate Hardy said...

Thanks so much for sharing - makes me feel I was there!