ETIQUETTE expert Liz Brewer is best known for her role as a fearsome teacher on TV show Ladette to Lady, who miraculously transforms misbehaving girls into sophisticated debutantes.

But many may not know she also has 30 years of experience planning parties for some of the world’s biggest stars, including Dame Shirley Bassey and Ivana Trump.

Here she speaks to Victoria MacFarlaine about the importance of etiquette in the modern world, and she gives her tips on how to throw incredible parties and entertain with style.

The minute hand ticks round to 11.30am and I quickly start dialling.

I have an interview with renowned etiquette expert Liz Brewer so I daren’t be late.

And do I call her Liz or Ms Brewer?

But for 15 minutes I sit there listening to an engaged tone as I struggle to get through.

When she eventually picks up my call, I tell her of my wait and worry about punctuality and she just laughs, graciously apologises, and says ‘just call me Liz’.

Yes, the art of etiquette may appear like a set of stuffy, outdated rules, but as Liz points out, it really is just about avoiding a breakdown of social behaviour, and being decent to other people.

Liz has written the Ultimate Guide to Party Planning and Etiquette, and she speaks passionately about these subjects at lunch events, including one held recently at The Crown in Old Amersham.

Her work has also been well documented in the ITV1 show Ladette to Lady as one of the strict teachers who attempt to transform a bunch of unruly girls into sleek debutantes – with varying degrees of success.

Why is etiquette still so important today?

“When people don’t consider others and have no idea how their actions will affect people it causes an awful lot of problems. With social behaviour, what I try to explain is what good manners are and what etiquette is, often people don’t understand why it is you do things in a certain way. It is very simple, a lot of it is common sense, to do with making people feel at ease, not causing offence, and making life easier. I think where there is a rule, a rule of etiquette, or a rule of manners, there is a reason, and that reason is often common sense. When you explain that to people they then often understand it. Not just saying ‘don’t do this… ‘people will object. A lot of time this isn’t explained to young people and they don’t like it and object to it.”

How should a lady behave and what are the main rules?

“A lot of the time it is about your own self esteem. It is a question of treating others how you would like to be treated yourself and showing respect. It is a question of your attitude. In today’s world which is so competitive, when you are talking to, say a panel, you are trying to get a job, your energy which surrounds you, and your aura (actually it can be photographed) when you enter a room, and when you walk in, that energy actually proceeds you. The people sitting there make an instant decision, it isn’t just because you have got a clean shirt. It is your energy, and positive energy is very important. So what would happen is, when you get these negative thoughts, you have to actually dismiss them and when you do that you feel positive, you feel good, and that is reflected in the energy you present to those you are meeting.

Where did you learn the art of etiquette?

“I was taught it home and at school. We would sit to eat around a table and place the napkin on the lap...

Today’s world, which is so busy, there isn’t always time to sit down as a family, and they lose the art of communicating.

Texting and emailing is wonderful technology but what happens is today that we have speeded up our lives to such an extent, we almost run out of time.

And sometimes you do things too quickly, you don’t give something consideration. But go back a generation and, like letters, you considered things, you read them and replied, so there was always a day, sometimes more, between a request and an answer.

Nowadays it is instant and it is instant because we have needed to make it instant because our lives have speeded up because of technology and because we can do it. It isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Everything is too rushed and therefore people forget, they forget to say thank you, and it is very important when someone has gone to quite a length of trouble to do something for another person… I think it will find a natural level.”

Tips for holding a simple dinner party: If it is a simple dinner party and something impromptu, then keep it as that. You don’t have to do anything grand. Some people haven’t got six plates that match, but it’s ‘who cares?’ Often I have mixed cutlery and china, it doesn’t matter, it adds a talking point. If a table isn’t long enough then add tables and they might not be the same height, so put them on a load of books. Cover them with a cloth, or even cover them with a sheet. It is the effect of making people feel that they are special, that you have made a bit of an effort. At an impromptu gathering it is about making people feel at ease. So try not to run out of drink, I always say over-do the food because occasionally someone will bring an unexpected guest.

And sometimes you can’t afford it. If it is a sunny day, I do an instant party in my garden, ring up whoever is around and I say whatever you have in your fridge, put it in a basket and I’m going to have a picnic lunch in my garden. In actual fact people love it and we have an amazing lunch which often goes on until midnight in my garden. Never be afraid of asking one’s guests to help you. Not everybody can afford to have staff and someone to do everything for you.

Any ideas to make it fun?

Games break the ice. You mention charades and everyone groans until they start playing it. Then it gets so competitive and often it can get a little fruity!

It is really funny to see how people start to relax and begin to enjoy themselves. The most ridiculous games too, the other day I was at a dinner, and I haven’t done this before, but they had this pile of wooden blocks and they built a tower and had to take blocks and put them back on the top. Do you know, these grown men were behaving like children, and they wouldn’t stop. Sometimes the sillier, the better.

The most extravagant party you have ever thrown?

Years ago I did a party on Necker Island, which has since sadly burned down, Richard Branson’s island, and that was spectacular. The party which often is mentioned was Shirley Bassey’s 70th birthday at Cliveden. It was a very glamourous party but it had the budget to cover it! It was getting on for over half a million. It was quite something.

But it doesn’t have to be how much money you spend. A lot of the time you can have a party in a barn, and people have sat on bales of hay and they have eaten kedgeree or something simple and it has just been right.

What is the worst party you have been to?

“I have been stuck somewhere for dinner between two of the biggest bores in town, and you have to turn it in to a challenge. I will introduce a risqué topic into the conversation and it is quite extraordinary how that person, that biggest bore in the world changes, then they get quite boastful and it can totally turn the atmosphere.

I think it was someone so prudish and I turned to him and said: “how did you lose your virginity?” Outrageous – that was dire circumstances! But the human being came out! Holding a party is about communication. It is not about doing something to impress.”

Liz Brewer’s Ultimate Guide to Party Planning and Etiquette by Dynasty Press see www.dynasty