Robin Lockwood thrives off entertaining - whether on national television or to close pals at home. The expert host gives Star reporter Rachael Clegg some top tips for the perfect Christmas party.
ROBIN Lockwood doesn’t host by halves.
Even his dining table is laid-out impeccably, with a whiter-than-white table cloth and gleaming, perfectly positioned cutlery.
When it comes to hosting a dinner party, Robin aims to make everything perfect - right down to the angle of the napkins.
Such is Robin’s enthusiasm for entertaining that he opened up his Woodseats home to national television to star in the gastro series Come Dine With Me, cooking up a feast for four strangers.
“It was a serious project but I think you have to take these things light-heartedly as well - you learn not to take yourself too seriously doing this sort of thing.
“It was a bit strange though - the camera men take over your home and the guests are able to wander around and have a really good nosey. Some of them even looked in my pants drawer!”
The series take place over five evenings, from Monday to Friday, each guest is allocated to a particular day - Robin’s was Monday.
Robin scored 27 for his evening, the top score was 31. “I came third but I had the most difficult night, people didn’t know each other at all whereas by the end of the week it’s a lot more relaxed.”
In spite of the fact the guests had never met before, the conversation flowed at the table during Robin’s evening.
“It was an interesting collection of guests - we had a vegan, a doctor who loved her designer bags and handbags, a theatre luvvy and a beautician who said she didn’t eat meat from animals that were ‘cute’ - she only ate the meat of animals that were ugly.
“I think the producers deliberately put people together that they think will clash. I am a huntsman and have a fox’s head in the hall but Donna was a strict vegan.”
As Christmas approaches, Robin - who works as an events and marketing manager at the Double Tree Hilton hotel at Meadowhead - gives his tips on how to host the perfect Christmas party.
“To start with you have to know who your guests are. When you get a group of friends together you need to know what they like and what they don’t like.”
This is something that Robin has learnt after starring in Come Dine With Me.
“Thinking about it - it may have been a bad idea to have grouse on the first night when there was a vegan attending. Donna - the vegan - commented on the cracking of the bones of the plate made her uncomfortable.”
He did, however, source a special vegan wine for his guest. “I couldn’t believe it - it was as I was getting ready for the night and I realised that wine is sometimes made with animal products. I dashed out to Waitrose to buy vegan wine and then - of all the dozens of bottles we have - Russell, who I share the house with, drank the vegan wine.”
When it comes to food, Robin’s conscious of how his dishes will be physically be eaten.
“I tend to avoid messy food - it’s not nice for people if it’s too faffy.”
But hosting is not just about food and drink. Ambience and social interaction is equally as important.
Conversation - according to Robin - can go anywhere. “Years ago people always said you should never talk about politics or sex at the table and that you should stick to holidays and the weather, but times have changed now and people talk about anything.”
Robin always greets his guests with cocktails when they arrive. “I am careful not to get them too bladdered before the meal though,” he laughs. “You have to pick the appropriate cocktail too - or give guests a dry Martini.
“I like to bring things to the table, like games such as cracker-pulling, reciting cracker jokes that we’ve all heard before. Even pouring the brandy over the Christmas pudding creates a spectacle. Things such as this give the dinner party a real sense of theatre.”
During the series, Robin even asked guests to wear black tie and cocktail dresses. But the formalities didn’t last long. “People were spilling their life stories only a couple of days into the filming.”
And while starring in Come Dine With Me was testing for Robin, he’d do it all over again. So it’s a good job it’s the party season. “I have friends coming around for Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve, which I make like to make a real event of.”
But the most important tip for any host or hostess, Robin says, is to remain light-hearted and make sure everybody feels relaxed in their environment.
So you can scrap your Christmas food shop, it’s dinner at Robin’s house this year.