There's a reason nightclubs were so much more fun when you were 17. It's not because your post-teenage tastes are too sophisticated for Calvin Harris and two-for-one Cheeky Vimtos; it's because getting into places you're not meant to be is really fucking fun. The same goes for campus graduation ceremonies and haphazardly enclosed outdoor weddings: nothing beats the thrill of drinking something you're not supposed to in a marquee you weren't invited to.
But in London's revolving social calendar of exclusive parties, venue launches, and charity dinners, gatecrashing isn't a tipsy whim, it's a semi-professional venture.
When organising the funeral of her father and celebrated writer Alan Coren in 2008, journalist Victoria Coren Mitchell discovered the "Jolley Gang," a group of terminal, finger-buffet-pilfering gatecrashers led by former magistrate, Terence Jolley. According to Coren Mitchell, the group regularly attends book launches, wine tastings, and crucially, funerals because "the food and booze are generous, and the questions few."
Two years after Coren Mitchell's canapé exposé (she had planned to trap Jolley et al. with an invite to a fake funeral but changed her mind), one of the gang's members, Alan Johnson, suffered a cardiac arrest at an event at the lavish Dorchester Hotel. Unsurprisingly, he hadn't been invited.
Thanks in part to the movements of the Jolley Gang, a crop of anonymous blogs have taken it upon themselves to list the city's most prolific gatecrashers. Along with Secret London Agent (tagline: "unmask the shameless"), MAX Gatecrasher is one of the most recently established anti-gatecrashing sites. Launched earlier this year, it aims to expose London's "freeloaders, blaggers and gatecrashers" in an attempt to combat the "increased abuse" they make of the city's events industry. So far, there are profiles of a "Julian Assange-lookalike" and a "schizophrenic prostitute" who gain entry to events using false names and phony credentials.
But is it really so bad to sneak into drinks reception and grab a few vol-au-vents? The fact that these people spend their Friday nights pretending to be German diplomats for the sake of a lukewarm glass of Champagne should probably warrant our pity, not a name-and-shame mugshot.
MUNCHIES reached out to some of the editors of these gatecrasher-profiling websites. While none wished to be identified publicly, one did agree to speak to us via email about what tricks blaggers can use to gain entry into London's elite party scene.
MUNCHIES: Hello, thanks for agreeing to speak with us. Can you tell me what you think of these gatecrasher blogs? Anonymous: Well, the term "gatecrasher" is perhaps not in all cases accurate, as oftentimes, many of these people have been invited or at least have managed to blag a space on a guest list. That's not to say that they have any legitimate interest in the event but they will have lied about credentials or responsibilities in order to snag a coveted invite.
The "better" the event (measured in terms of amount and quality of food and drink), the bigger the lie. That said, there are times when they simply just walk in uninvited and try their luck, so in that respect they can be called "gatecrashers."
Putting that aside, prior journalists and sites gave an incomplete picture of the problem which did not accurately reflect the scale of the phenomenon. So we decided to try and consolidate the fragmented information. Also, this is the first time members from all industries have supplied names and photographs of people so those who may have exhausted one sector (e.g, venues and events) and have moved on to the art world, for example, can be noted and tracked.
What are some of the techniques these illegitimate guests or gatecrashers use to get into events? Everything you can imagine and more. They sign up to a variety of industry newsletters, attend free seminars, meet people in the know and then pry information out of them. Techniques vary from scouring web pages actively looking for events, to casually eavesdropping and even literally following others to an event.
How they gain entry is a little more difficult but they've perfected several ways. They'll do things like going into venues early, hide in the toilets, and then walk straight in after the party has started. That way, they can bypass security altogether! One contributor tells of a charity auction at which invited guests spent hundreds of pounds for a ticket and some of these people used this tactic to sneak in and quaff Champagne and canapés all night for free.
They've also been known to pose as kitchen or cleaning staff, come in through the staff entrance, and then change in the toilets (you can see them at the event, carrying around their clothes in a plastic bag). Sometimes, one of their gang will have gotten on a guest list and this person then acts as an insider helping the others navigate past the door people and registration desks. Their operations are timed with military precision so as to hit events at the right time to avoid detection.
Other times, they'll just arrive late and take whoever's name badge is left on the table. Recently, one gatecrasher unknowingly outed himself by talking to a friend of the person whose badge he'd taken for the evening! Once he was removed by security, the rest of his gang quietly slipped away.
Do you think these blaggers are doing it for the free food? Or is it about the prestige of "attending" an exclusive social event? Food, mainly, judging by the way some of them grab canapés and chase waiters around the room. Though others are more reliant on the free drink at these events. Some have been called alcoholics, others look a little disheveled and could even be homeless.
A few have very junior or low-paying jobs in well-known organisations and, not being able to fund a Champagne lifestyle, will leverage their company name into getting onto prestigious guest lists. But the number one reason seems to be food. There's one person who's notorious for loading up one all kinds of goodies and can often be found in a corner eating away, oblivious to the purpose of the evening. There's no interest in participating, they're simply there to gorge. It's quite sad really.
Of course somebody always pays but it's not them. The cost is absorbed by the organisers or passed on to other paying guests, many of whom are rightly angry at having to subsidise these freeloading blaggers. Hence, there's recently been a pronounced backlash against such folks.
These gatecrashers have been known to pose as kitchen staff, come in through the staff entrance, and then change in the toilets (you can see them at the event, carrying around their clothes in a plastic bag).
What kind of impact do gatecrashers have on event organisers and legitimate guests? We've heard from guests who have been turned away at the door because of somebody fraudulently using their name to gain prior entry. There is also quite a bit of theft, some of it blatant. Anything that's not nailed down is fair game for them, including half-drunk bottles of Champagne and towels from bathrooms. Of course, they will also help themselves to goody bags, thereby denying people who have paid entrance.
We've even heard of inner fighting amongst these groups of blaggers and crashers, sometimes spilling into public altercations, with threats of and actual physical violence not altogether uncommon. You have to remember that for some, this is their livelihood and they will protect what they see as their entitlement to free food and drink at all costs.
One of these anti-gatecrasher blogs says that "much has been shared amongst individual venues about these blaggers." Have you noticed any changes from venue owners and event organisers in response to any of these sites? We have seen a tightening of the invitation and RSVP processes. Digital codes and personalised invitations are much more prevalent than they were a few months ago, but that may not necessarily be due to any particular website.
That said, venues have built up profiles of the worst offenders, though it will take time to eradicate this problem completely because some of these people use multiple names and although photographs have helped, many blaggers have tried to alter their appearance by dying their hair or growing a beard, for example.
But the biggest challenge is that oftentimes, these people do not go through a legitimate channel to attend, but simply show up or sneak in. Whilst progress has been made, there's a lot more work to be done.
Thanks for speaking with us!