Margaret Rand remains sober and peckish at Champagne Lanson's 250th birthday celebrations at Versailles
It’s a lot better visiting Versailles as a guest than as a paying punter. Go there as a mere tourist and it’s not a particularly charming place. Go there as a guest of Lanson and the staff – those of them still on duty as the sun sets over the French countryside – will smile at you.
I’ll bet they didn’t go smiling at people in 1760.
The year 1760 comes to mind because last Sunday was Lanson’s 250th birthday party, and in modest Champagne-house fashion it had hired the orangery at Versailles to mark the occasion.
It’s a vast building, the orangery, high as a cathedral and with acoustics to match: Lanson president Philippe Baijot gave a speech which was rendered equally unintelligible in French and English. (‘And so tonight…as well as…Lanson…family for five generations…Queen Victoria…’)
Why doesn’t Lanson offer a bottle of vintage for the best attempt to fill in the gaps? How about it, gentlemen?
But never mind: it was all ravishing. The fountains were playing, the gardens were beautifully lit, and there were courtiers (all fresh from the local equivalent of RADA), in rose-coloured damask, rouge and beauty spots (I love a man in rouge and beauty spots).
There were stiltwalking angels, and dancers in plastic balls – the sort of thing people put hamsters in to send them careering across the carpet, only (naturally) bigger. There was a string quartet, and singer who sang ‘My Way’ her way. There was food, if you liked queuing, and when you got it it was delicious, though they gave you so little of it you had to start queuing somewhere else immediately.
You had to queue for Champagne, too, which did at least ensure total sobriety all round.
And then 11 o’clock struck, and there was a feeling of winding down. Oh, we thought. Oh, all right. And then a courtier arrived in a rustle of damask and whispered the magic words ‘feu d’artifice’.
Yes! Fireworks over the fountains, all gold and silver and pink. And what’s more, they were almost in time to the music. It was very Versailles.
Written by Margaret Rand