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‘Life is a party. Dress for it.’ So said Audrey Hepburn, quite possibly the most glamorous woman ever to have graced the silver screen. We’re embracing her mantra this month, tossing other more polemical issues aside (just for now) to do what human beings do best – getting together, sharing experiences and having fun.

We’ve partnered with Sipsmith to bring you the ultimate guide to party season, including a selection of festive gin cocktail recipes, and some expert hosting tips. Alongside this, we have advice on everything from the best party venues to makeup with A-list favourite Charlotte Tilbury. We’ve also got decorating ideas from Katharine Pooley, and how to make your party swing tips from ‘the party architect’ Johnny Roxburgh.

Whether it’s a cheerful get-together in a cosy pub, a sophisticated dinner party or a glitzy drinks soirée, there’s one thing all Christmas parties need: great cocktails. Of course we’re all for jazzing these up with seasonal garnishes and groovy glasses, but the most important thing is picking a good base.

You can’t go wrong with Sipsmith, a pioneer in the world of gin. Back in 2007, childhood friends Sam Galsworthy and Fairfax Hall set out to create the world’s best London Dry Gin – and two years later, the first batch was poured. Sipsmith was a key player in the gin renaissance, having been the first copper pot distillery to open in London in nearly 200 years, and has since grown into an international brand and household name. 

Expect only the finest quality when it comes to Sipsmith, with a team of dedicated distillers watching over every drop of every batch to ensure the best drinking experience possible. And with an array of flavours to choose from, there’s something for all types of gin drinker – whether you prefer a classic London Dry, or something fruity like the Very Berry. This Christmas, we’ve got our eye on Sipsmith’s Sloe Gin, which has notes of ripe winter fruits, and a velvety smooth taste. 

Looking for some ideas for cocktails to mix up this Christmas? Here are some tasty, seasonal recipes from Sipsmith. Use the arrow to scroll along for a selection of festive tipples.

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  • Christmas Thyme G&T

    Ingredients

    50ml Sipsmith Lemon Drizzle Gin

    Fever-Tree® Mediterranean Tonic Water

    Lemon twist (to garnish)

    Method

    Fill a highball glass with ice.

    Pour in Sipsmith Lemon Drizzle gin.

    Top off with Fever-Tree® Mediterranean tonic water.

    Lift with a drinks stirrer or long spoon to combine.

    Garnish with a fresh lemon twist & a sprig of thyme.

  • Merry Berry Negroni

    Ingredients

    12.5ml Sipsmith London Dry Gin

    12.5ml Sipsmith Sloe Gin 

    25ml Campari

    25ml sweet vermouth

    Orange twist, to garnish

    Method

    Fill a mixing glass with ice.

    Add all the ingredients (except garnish) to the mixing glass and stir 20-25 times with a stirrer.

    Strain into an ice-filled Rocks glass.

    Lift from the bottom of the glass with a stirrer to gently combine together.

    Garnish with an orange twist and blackberry and enjoy!

  • Sloe Royale

    A British take on the classic Kir Royale using our Sloe Gin, this cocktail is a sure-fire winner at any cocktail party.    

    Ingredients

    15ml Sipsmith Sloe Gin

    100ml Champagne or prosecco

    Method

    Add the gin to a chilled flute.

    Top with Champagne.

  • Zesty Orange Hot Chocolate

    Upgrade your hot chocolate this winter with our Zesty Orange Gin and Tony’s Chocolonely. Resulting in a deliciously indulgent yet zesty warming sip.

    Ingredients

    50ml Sipsmith Zesty Orange Gin

    300ml milk

    65g good quality milk chocolate, crushed

    Whipped cream and grated orange zest (to garnish)

    Method

    In a pan, add the chocolate and milk, and slowly stir on a low heat until melted.

    Pour into a heatproof glass or mug.

    Add the Zesty Orange Gin and stir to combine.

    Top with whipped cream and a grate of fresh orange zest.

1 Choose a venue that is slightly too small – the best parties are always crammed.

2 Parties should smell wonderful. I am a big fan of Parisian maison Cire Trudon. It has delicious room sprays and scented candles.

3 Do spend money on your invitations. Make them from thick, aspirational card and make them fun. I am a big believer in the posted invitation; it makes it all feel much more special.

4 Keep food luxe and simple. A great New York caterer makes canapé finger rings from fine pastry and the ‘stone’ is beluga caviar! A very chic way to eat a canapé.

5 Never run out of food or drink. It may sound simple, but it’s a total must. I also never serve drippy food or dips – double dipping is a horror.

6 I find that guests love their own individual little bottle of a Martini cocktail – I get the bottles blinged up with glitter at Christmas and then put a short gold paper straw in them.

7 In the colder months, have handsome and beautiful staff pass round trays of little gems of liquid fire. These are especially effective if the staff are not wearing much except a frosted costume!

8 I love an open outdoor fire. This summer I surrounded crackling log fires with Adirondack chairs lined with soft chocolate brown sheepskin. The setting was a ruined cathedral outside Madrid – cool, glamorous and romantic – but it would work very well on a fine starlit December evening.

9 Nothing makes a Christmas party go better than a grotto – Santa Claus can take on all kinds of exotic roles with a little imagination! And I do love a Christmas cabaret – think the Merry Marys!

10 The most important thing is to invite fun, interesting people. If some friends are a bit heavy weather, take great care to look after them especially well. You can create the most amazing space and experiences, but you need great guests to make it truly memorable.

johnnyroxburgh.com

How do you decide what makeup to do for a party – does the outfit come first?

I always choose my outfit first. It helps me to envision the overall look I want to create.

How would you encourage women to be more experimental?

Darlings, magic happens when you step outside of your comfort zone! Try a high-shine gloss like my Collagen Lip Bath over your usual matte lipstick; apply a wash of eye-brightening colour with my Eyes to Mesmerise or make lips sparkle with my Pillow Talk Diamonds.

What’s the biggest makeup mistake most people make?

Three out of four people wear the wrong colour foundation.

If you could only have three products in your makeup bag what would they be?

My best-selling Magic Away concealer is my secret weapon. I’m a mascara and lash obsessive, so lashings of my Legendary Lashes mascara, and my Pillow Talk Matte Revolution lipstick. It’s a sumptuous, perfect nude-pink which gives you a fuller, wider- looking, pout.

Kohled eyes and scarlet lips – is this always a big no?

Not at all! It’s seductive, statement beauty at its best.

How do we best prep our skin to keep up with the weather and the partying?

Magic Cream is magic skin. I never do makeup without it as it’s deeply hydrating and perfect for priming dry winter skin.

Which one makeup tip always makes the biggest difference?

Always curl your lashes. My Life Changing Lashes eyelash curler acts like a push-up bra for the eyes and gives the look of an eye lift in seconds.

What’s the biggest make up no-no?

Too much blush. Always smile when you’re applying blush and just swish and pop high on the apples of the cheeks.

What do we do with an unfortunate outbreak of spots?

The key is to make sure you are cleansing thoroughly every morning and evening. Good skincare is so important. You can’t have a beautiful painting without a beautiful canvas!

How do we cover tired eyes?

My new Magic Vanish! Colour correctors can help you cheat the look of a full night’s rest. Apply to the under eyes using your ring finger, then blend and build for your desired coverage.

What’s your morning skin pick me up after a hard night on the tiles?

My Instant Magic Facial Dry Sheet Mask is my party season saviour! I pop it on for 15 minutes and take it off to reveal a brighter-looking, hydrated finish.

There are so many ways to make Christmas personal. When I plan my Christmas scheme, I choose a luxurious mix of textures to give the tree a level of depth. I like to combine reflective glass baubles with matte velvet ribbons, feathered decorations and just the right amount of sparkle – after all it wouldn’t be Christmas without a little sparkle.

When choosing my scheme, I pick a colour, then use a tonal range to add interest. This year I’m going with rose pink through to claret. Without this variation in tone, your tree/dining table or even gift wrapping will look flat and uninteresting.

I love to take time to pick the perfect gifts for my loved ones, part of this is also wrapping the present in a way that will excite the recipient. This year I will use foliage from my garden with feathers and ribbons to give each present that personal touch. Matching your wrapping colours and style into your scheme keeps the colours consistent and makes for more of an impactful room.

katharinepooley.com

Christmas: the spiritual home of the canapé, the christmas pudding and the champagne-hangover (if you’re not careful).

From vol-au-vents to vegan pudding, here’s the best party food to have even to trickiest of your party guests opting for an elasticated waistline. Bon Appetit.

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You’re done with turkey basting and Himalayan heaps of washing up, but there’s no time to rest – you need to prep for 2022’s big event. Perhaps you’re looking for a place to deposit teenagers for drunken revels? Or searching for a tea-and-scones vibe for Auntie Flo’s 80th sleepover? Maybe you’re shooting for the ultimate corporate jolly (clay pigeons, anyone?), or seeking a top venue for a big wedding, snug family get-together or festive extravaganza. We’ve ceilidh-ed in Scottish castles, gotten swept up on Pink Floyd’s beach and nursed sore heads in stately homes to bring you the six best party pads for exclusive hire. If you’re hunting for a house to host the ultimate bash, read on… and party.

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  • Artistocratic Antics

    For an impeccable knees-up, in the suave style of old-school press barons and politicians, bag Beaverbrook, the late Lord Beaverbrook’s Victorian mansion, now country house hotel. It’s nestled in 470 glorious Surrey acres, just 20 miles from London. After a One Night Stand (cocktail) in Sir Frank’s bar, dine on sublime Japanese food at a sit-down for 50. Solicitous staff – some in lavender waistcoats – will tend to your every whim. Afterwards, brandy in hand, you’ll loll on plump sofas overlooking the Italianate garden, or snug up for movies in the art deco cinema, where Churchill watched war newsreels. You may even sleep in his erstwhile bedroom.

    BOOK IT: beaverbrook.co.uk

  • Medieval Magic

    Mary Queen of Scots hid from Cromwell at Borthwick Castle (the huge dent left by his cannonballs serves as a reminder) but these days you don’t have to battle your way here – it’s just 30 minutes’ drive from Edinburgh. The dining room has a hearth so large you could roast a whole hog in it, but you won’t need to because the feasts laid on by the firstMasterchef winner, Derek Johnstone, are superb. For up to 26 guests – bagsy Mary’s old digs to rest your partied-out head.

    BOOK IT: borthwickcastle.com

  • Highland Fling

    Take over the Farr Estate in Inverness for bracing rambles, treasure hunts, paintballing and wild swimming in the loch. Set in 12,000 ancient acres, the star property is Farr House, a converted tenants’ hall incorporating a 19th-century chapel turned elegant party space. Chill in front of its roaring log fire playing jigsaws and sipping single malts among wood panelling and book-lined walls. In the dining room, beneath venerable portraits of the Mackenzie family owners, feast on estate-reared rare breed piggies, venison and just-picked veg. The prize bedroom is the powder blue Victorian Room, with chandelier and freestanding claw bath.

    BOOK IT: farrestate.co.uk

  • Contemporary Coastal

    It has the view to beat all views, of sand dunes, cliffs and three golden miles of Saunton Sands beach in North Devon. (It’s that Pink Floyd seashore album cover… but without the chambermaid and 700 beds.) This quirkily dubbed ‘chalet’ has six three-bed apartments plus an airy two-bed penthouse with a living space (picture windows and surround- sound hi fi) big enough for you to dance as if nobody’s looking. After the party, sit on the balcony – as Jodie Kidd did – with a glass of vino and breathe in the salty air. A mere minute down the footpath (overnight pooch guests welcome) an Atlantic surfer’s paradise beckons. If you’re into coasteering, this is the place for your coastal-cool event.

    BOOK IT: chaletsaunton.com

  • Gardens Galore

    Calling all garden lovers – this glorious Georgian gem, Bressingham Hall in Norfolk, is perfect for weddings. With its own marquee and barn, your family can stay in the house (seven bedrooms accommodate 18 guests), but what really knocks your socks off is the setting. Planted, designed and tended by the owners (suitably named Bloom) the gardens really are a wonder to behold. Bloom Senior lived in the States and returned with seeds in his knapsack, which have now grown into towering, 100ft-high, 55-year- old redwoods.

    BOOK IT: mulberrycottages.com

  • Arty Party

    This is the hottest, wittiest hotel in Scotland, boasting a Lucian Freud, a Picasso and a stuffed stag with swan’s wings, among other objets d’art. Queen Victoria (of whom there’s a waxwork) would have been amused. Take over all 46 bedrooms and dance ceilidhs in sight of Louise Bourgeois’ Spider. Drink Shocking Pink cocktails (in tribute to Schiaparelli) and sit beneath Subodh Gupta’s stainless steel chandelier to feast on wood fire-seared deer haunch. Sleep in a Victorian suffragist-style bedroom with William Morris wallpaper and theatrical Russell Sage decor. Even nursing a post-party hangover, don’t miss deer stalking in the Cairngorms.

    BOOK IT: thefifearms.com