:: Article

Sohoitis II: Child’s Play – The Diamond Mind of Damien Hirst

By Sophie Parkin.

Who attended on Saturday Night, the ‘Beyond Belief 2007’ Party at The Dorchester.


“Damien Hirst is now leaving the building,” nobody announced it but they might as well have, at The White Cube Gallery in Mason’s Yard, St James, Piccadilly, at 8pm Saturday June 2nd 2007, in a silver Mercedes escorted by three body guards. Keira Knightley is a world famous film star and most of the time doesn’t have one bodyguard. Paul McCartney often goes on the tube unescorted. What is happening in the frontline of art today? When did bodyguards start getting involved? Why is it so reminiscent of Mr Warhol and his factory? For as Mr Hirst was leaving, the queue to see any of his work, let alone ‘The Skull’, was lengthening as if Kate Moss was selling a new collection, or Primark was opening a new flagship store or it was Christmas times at Hamleys Toystore.

“All that glisters is not gold” as Shakespeare said, sometimes it’s a diamond or a star, on Saturday night it was both. Damien Hirst was making his massive statement, the most intrinsically expensive piece of art ever made; platinum skull encrusted with diamonds in the manner of the ancient Aztecs. ‘Beyond Belief’ is the name of his show at both White Cubes, you must have heard, otherwise where have you been? The publicity is reaching saturation point and its all about the diamond skull that cost £40m to make with £15m pounds worth of flawless ethical diamonds that brought the diamond trade to a standstill in 2006. It was made by the unassuming Mark Evans at Bentley and Skinner (jewellers to Her Majesty the Queen) and took eight people working for a year to complete, including David Hensel, sculptor who had to invent the inside of the nose because the nasal membrane of the original 18th skull couldn’t be read by the laser scanner. Now isn’t that fascinating? More so, is that when the jeweller handed over the three skulls, the diamond, the original and a crystal one, they got some professional dowsers along to make sure that the energy was equal in all of them. The things you pick up in a party eh?

Quite frankly I’m surprised I remember any of it considering the amount of champagne (Laurent Perrier, only the finest) I quaffed at The Dorchester on Saturday where the ‘Beyond Belief’ (or Skull Party as we were calling it) celebration was held. Damien doesn’t drink, take drugs or smoke any longer (“That stuff, it’s for kids” he told Radio Four) which is perhaps why he thinks asking £50m for a piece of art is reasonable, or how he can get someone to stump up a million and a half for a party that lasted from 8.30 pm til 2am with goody bags for all (more about them later) and enough food to feed a small country. In fact I would estimate out of the approx 800 people, there were at least 150 staff catering to our needs. Since most of the women were as thin as whippets, not much of the food was eaten, try as I might I couldn’t get through it all.

As soon as we pushed through the doors there were greeters and cross examination as to our invites. People were dressed in a mix of the very smart and the very casual, there was a definite feeling unusual for the ballroom of the Dorchester, that really anything goes. Then there were little bands for our wrists and a make up welcome reception for tattoos and diamante encrustations if you wanted them.

In the main hall way a giant ice sculpture just like the Aztec crystal that sat pride of place in The Museum of Mankind, now in the British Museum. From the ceiling hung massive diamonte encrusted skulls as disco balls a joke of Damien’s, his reported fear that the £50m one would look as gaudy as a disco ball. It doesn’t, it glisters and erupts into a kaleidoscope of rainbow light, smudging it’s own form.

A massive stage is one end of the main room, the rest is lined with chefs cooking, circular bars offer anything you want to drink, the waiters walk around with jereboams, a bottle wouldn’t last a moment with the art crowd. One room leads to another, more bars, bunkette beds to roll around on, the last room has games as varied as Kerplunk to chess, backgammon to dominoes and it was where Jay Jopling was holding court. From the disco music to the magicians doing card tricks, Damien made sure that even the oldest child was well catered for, and the richest ones too. There was plenty of rich and titled, dressed and bedecked. I saw some of them fall over and a couple black out, and at least one if not three had bought the biggest toy of all, The Diamond Skull, already sold before the end of the party people gossiped.

It was a right ol’ ‘Phenomenon’.

Being at a Phenomenon Party rightly called ‘Beyond Belief’, isn’t as easy as it sounds. Everybody is waiting and watching, and drifting from one place to another, looking for something to happen, as if all that was there was, well not enough — Jesus must Rise or Belezbub show up, instead Damien’s fav band The Hours (who I last saw play at Sunday Showtime at The Colony Room) played. Mr H has done their album cover.

At one point I turned to a friend Wilma the neo-naturist painter and I said, “This party feels very much like that odd existential play, “Six Characters in Search of an Author’ by Pirandello.” She didn’t know what I was talking about, she had a few glasses too, she said she “Really must go home. Now.”

Then I lost Wilma and Karen and Vanessa. I wandered the rooms and saw David and Catherine Bailey, Jarvis Cocker holding his wife’s handbag, Charlotte Skene Caitlin, Keith Allen, Catrine Boreman, Emma Woolard, James Birch, Angelo Valentino, Kate Bernard, Dean Bright with Clare, Fergus and Margo Henderson of St John (the squirrel eating rest), Sarah Lucas, Trolley Dolley Hannah and Trolley gallery owner Gigi, amongst many. We all drank too much or just enough, and after some spurious visits to parties in Dorchester suites and other establishments, Vanessa fell asleep in her car outside, Wilma got home at 5.30am something she’s not used to in her home town of Biarritz, apparently. I got home at 8am whereby my daughter raided my goody-bag of a diamond skull t.shirt, some cake, an Hours CD and some 3D sunglasses, I however am keeping the pink leatherbound Smithson notebook. You can’t let the kids have everything, even if as it appears from Saturday night, none of us have even pretended to grow up, except Damien, who might never have met Francis Bacon properly but now he’s in full control of the show.

Sophie Parkin has written six published books. Three grown-up novels (you can’t say adult otherwise people think they might be pornography): All Grown Up, Take Me Home and Dear Goddess. For teenagers there is French for Kissing, Best of Friends, and Mad, Rich and Famous. She has also contributed to four other books, from short stories, true stories, long stories, to poetry. Mothers by Daughters, Sons and Mothers both published by Virago, Girls Just Want To Have Fun: the Cosmopolitan book of short stories, and POT 05 – Anthology of Poetry ed. Michael Horovitz.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, June 5th, 2007.