The season is in full swing, and my wardrobe is at full stretch (both in terms of number of garments, and their width, as I am sadly no smaller) trying to accommodate all the events to which I have been invited. But change is in the air. Much more entertaining is being done personally. Not only do we have legislation in the form of the recent Bribery Act, which has tightened the rules on corporate hospitality, but improving corporate governance is increasing scrutiny of whom companies are entertaining with shareholders’ money.
Charlie Barnett, chief executive of Ascot Racecourse, has said they will spend up to £7m ripping out 30 of their 245 boxes and replacing them with more communal space and restaurants. The grandstand at the racecourse was completed in 2006, when the economy was in much better shape, and demand for boxes was sky high. Last month, at the royal meeting, they did not achieve 100 per cent occupancy.
At least two racegoers, however, were making an effort to fill boxes at Royal Ascot. One of them was Her Majesty the Queen, who was in the royal box with her guests every day. The other was me: I hosted 18 guests on the Saturday. I like to think people look forward to my invitations but I’m guessing those from the Queen will have been responded to in about, ooh, a nanosecond.
Yet even my event was not “corporate” entertaining, as I had borrowed the box from its long-term leaseholder. He, in turn, had bought the lease, personally, from his employer. My co-host, standing in for Mr M, was Cost Centre#2. He had finished his school career the day before, so I put him to work immediately. He even wore his father’s morning suit, although not his top hat, which does not fit him. I had therefore instructed him to purchase a second-hand one in good time – thus giving me one of my more memorable remote parenting events: paying £55 for a second-hand top hat over the phone from my bed in a New York hotel.
Game shooting, too, is changing. More and more of my invitations are offered by way of personal generosity. Obviously a congenial host and a group of guests who all gain from meeting each other are critical to a good day’s shooting – or any other entertaining of a “corporate” nature. Yet this pleasing scenario can be achieved without resorting to the corporate purse.
This coming season I am off to shoot at Ventosilla in Spain. The trip has been underwritten by a friend who works in an investment bank, but everyone is paying personally. My own “corporate” shooting hospitality this year is also a modest affair, in Hampshire. The costs will be shared with my Non-Dom Girlfriend and paid personally, and our guests will pay for their own accommodation. NDG is hosting – and cooking – the evening-before dinner at her house. Admittedly she has a spectacular house and spectacular grounds, including a kitchen garden, so I fully expect this to be a showcase of her horticultural as well as culinary skills. All this and three FTSE 100 boards too!
My Investment Banking Girlfriend, soon to relocate to Hong Kong, has for many years hosted a splendid cricket day at her country house, bringing together friends from the business world who have children and staging a cricket competition, together with a sumptuous lunch and afternoon tea. All the ingredients of a good “corporate” day out, but personally hosted.
But this weekend I am bucking the trend, and have with Mr M accepted an invitation to attend the men’s final at Wimbledon as the guests of a bank. I have come to realise, though, that whoever is paying for the hospitality I enjoy, my wardrobe is still inadequate. Perhaps I need to invest in that, rather than entertaining, when the season is finished.