Cate Haste remembered: Political and literary greats at Hampstead parties
- Credit: courtesy of Tom Bragg
Cate Haste, who died in April, was known for throwing parties attended by some of the area's brightest figures.
Remembering her, the thoughts of some of her oldest friends inevitably turned to some of the soirées she held with former husband Lord Melvyn Bragg, lighting up a corner of Hampstead.
Piers Plowright – best man at Cate's wedding to Lord Bragg – recalled the lovely birthday parties Melvyn and Cate held in the Villa Bianca, along with "play readings" held at their previous Gayton Road home.
“One of the lovely things we used to do was Cate and Melvyn organising regular play readings in Gayton Road – it was Shakespeare – and we used to come up and take part in that. Several others took part, like David Jones the theatre director, and Sheila Allan,” he said.
Composer Alan Blaikley, another old friend, also remembered convivial times.
“Cate was a wonderful hostess," he said. "I recall parties in that wonderful house in Hampstead Hill Gardens.
“I particularly remember the election night, when Tony Blair was elected. It was a wonderful occasion, and Michael Foot and his wife were there, with Cate sitting around the kitchen table. All the parties that Cate had at Hampstead Hill Gardens tended to drift into the kitchen and end up round the kitchen table.”
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Cate's home seemed to attract all manner of Hampstead notables.
"Cate introduced people to one another and was very good at making people feel at home in that nice house," Alan said.
"I remember a party at Hampstead Hill Gardens with Harold Pinter and Antonia Frazer sitting in the kitchen and Cate introducing others to them.”
Cate's great friend – and colleague from decades working in broadcasting – Norma Percy was another to remember that 1997 election night party fondly.
She said: "I left the party at the BBC party to come. Their parties were great because there were the political people and all the literary people.
"The political people – I have to say, including me – were quite angry at the literary people ignoring what was going on and having such fantastic conversations; interrupting my watching the results of such-and-such constituency. That night, I sat watching the election at the foot of Michael Foot."
Norma compared the atmosphere at Cate's events to "a nineteenth century salon".
She said: "I met Greg Dyke, and it was an important bit of my career that I got know him then.
"They really were parties like they ought to be. It’s the kind of thing you miss in lockdown. Cate and Melvyn were both so good at it. Cate was so cool, and good at taking one person and putting them together with someone else without anyone noticing.
"The only thing equivalent is the Hay festival, where you see all these people whose books you’ve read and you’ve never met them before. It’s really an important part of what you do, as much as making a television programme."
Cate's co-host was the man who was her husband until 2018, Lord Bragg, said: "I didn’t feel Cate and I were part of a Hampstead group. We liked the fact that we were somewhere so pleasant. There was a feeling of writers and artists; these people were around the corner.
“After a while, I kept bumping into people in Hampstead because of the work I did in television. We liked giving parties and we had enormous parties. Beryl Bainbridge would come, and a lot of local people would come, and then Normal Mailer would come, and Tina Brown would come, and Joseph Heller would come.
"They were in town and I’d bump into them and ask them along, and of course they wanted to come, because they were in town and it was a nice place to come to.
"Well, it wasn’t a particularly nice house, but there were lots of people to talk to, and we laid on a nice buffet and plenty of drink. We had parties in Cumberland as well. We liked giving parties."
Lord Bragg said heading to Villa Bianca came later.
"It was a bit of a step up for us," he said. "It was run by very nice people and we liked it. We didn’t go all that often to start with, but then we just became very fond of it, and it became the place we would go to.
“There was a feeling that it was a time when Hampstead was changing a bit, and we were changing with it. "