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9 May 2005

Anyone seen Natasha Kaplinsky?

Election: the night Election night is like New Year's Eve, writes Rachel Cooke, the best party is

By Rachel Cooke

In a funny way, election nights remind me of New Year’s Eve: the action always seems to be somewhere else. You feel this as you sit at home in front of the telly, tube of Pringles in one hand, glass of wine in the other, and you feel it even when you are at the biggest and best parties. Courtesy of the editor of this paper, on Thursday night, I left my house with a clutch of weighty invitations in my bag, and a slightly smug smile on my face. Ha!

Finally, I was going to be in the right place at the right time, drinking champagne rather than cut-price cava from Majestic Wine, and nibbling on sashimi rather than home-made cupcakes with special red icing.

Which just goes to show how wrong you can be. Cut to 10.30pm, when I arrive at the Silver Sturgeon, moored at the foot of the London Eye, and venue for the ITV election-night party. A more peculiar gathering it would be hard to imagine. To my left is Maureen Lipman, sharing a banquette with Tony Benn. To my right is Joan Collins, resplendent in Pucci, with her husband Percy Gibson and Nicholas Parsons, who probably would be wearing Pucci, too, if he were allowed. Also in attendance are Elaine Paige, Max Clifford and Angela Rippon. Alistair McGowan is standing alone on the dance floor doing his world-class impression of a man who takes himself very seriously indeed. I smile at him, hoping he will mistake me for someone important. I would love to know his satirical thoughts on Hornsey and Wood Green. He blanks me.

Early doors, I know, but this party has all the atmosphere of a Ferrero Rocher ad (only without the chocolates, alas). Once Sunderland is in, I scarper. I make first to a party at the Institute of Directors, which is being thrown by Thames Water and a PR company. A bad idea. “Are you the entertainment?” asks the man on the door, a note of rising panic in his voice. Inside, I could be at a convention of estate agents. I cut my losses and whip round the corner to the Institute of Contemporary Arts, where a queue snakes outside, and the cartoonist Martin Rowson is doing sterling work trying to keep a rowdy bar amused. The din is incredible, but people seem more interested in their beer than in the results. “Bring it on!” yells a boy in trainers. He is not talking about big gains for the Liberal Democrats. He wants to make sure his mate gets the next round in.

Where, oh where, is the excitement? I head for the BBC. The great and the good – well, Margaret Jay and Mark Thompson, at any rate – are gathered in a chilly studio eating mushroom risotto. At the bar, I ask for some coffee.

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“You really need coffee, don’t you?” asks a woman at my elbow. “I can’t believe there are no chairs.” It is perhaps a sign of how people feel about this particular election – ambivalent, unhappy, bored – that the hot subjects here are coffee and, erm, chairs. For my part, I am obsessed with the loveliness of Tessa Jowell’s beads.

Still, Janet Street-Porter and Alan Yentob are having a good chat. I’d like to join in, but I once described JSP as a crazy old macaw, and I don’t have the strength for a fight. “Let’s go to Natasha Kaplinsky at the BBC party,” says David Dimbleby. Natasha appears before us and interviews the impressionist Jon Culshaw. “Ooh, now that looks like a good bash,” I think. It is several moments before it dawns on me that I am already at this party.

Time to make for home. Using Douglas Hurd’s hair as my compass, I head out of the labyrinth of BBC Television Centre. Installed in my last taxi of the night, I see a middle-aged man emerge from behind a tree; he has a transistor radio clamped to his ear. Of course, it is perfectly possible that he is listening to Radio 2, or his favourite reggae. But I prefer to think that it is results that have him so rapt. The thought is cheery enough to take my mind – albeit momentarily – off the pain in the balls of my feet.