Hard to be a celeb's plus-one
"Look at me," I silently beg the film producer talking to my husband. "Look. At. Me." Four minutes is a long time to be standing on the periphery of a party conversation, nodding like a dashboard dog - and being resolutely ignored.
The smile I have honed over the years - as benign as a '50s housewife's - is starting to spasm, and to stop the muscles around my mouth from palsying, I take another sip of Champagne. The glass (my second in quick succession) is empty, but no matter. The Champagne is a prop - just as I might as well be.
I will never get used to being a plus-one. Women may be naturally more adept at it than men, having grown accustomed to being conversational lubricators over the centuries, but in Hollywood, where I find myself regularly, gender is irrelevant.
It's your status that matters, and plus-ones are the industry's plankton, guided by a greater celebrity force.
Never is this dynamic more apparent than during awards season. Over the past two months, I have attended a party where the most rewarding conversation I had was with the sushi chef ("Any spicy tuna rolls left?"), I have bashed out imaginary text messages as I waited for my husband to finish a TV interview on the red carpet, and had a close encounter with a swing door as I tried to follow my other half into an event.
"I'm with him," I assured the boar-faced bouncer outside. And with those words, any last vestiges of dignity were lost.
It must be possible to play the role of plus-one gracefully. And, to that end, it's not the A-listers that I scrutinise at events, but their arm candy. Keira Knightley's musician husband, James Righton, may be famous in his own right, but in Hollywood he's considerably less important than her Chanel clutch.
Hard to imagine less of a wallflower than Camila Alves, Matthew McConaughey's model wife, or Hannah Bagshawe, the beautiful financial PR Eddie Redmayne married last year.
Yet at recent parties, I have spotted both lost in thousand-yard stares at their husbands' sides, resigned to the fact that the most probing question they will be asked that night is: "Who are you wearing?"
"What gets me through moments like those is just enjoying the charade of it all," says Christopher Noxon, husband of Jenji Kohan, the creator of the comedy-drama Orange is the New Black, and author of the hilarious new novel Plus One. "There's an invisibility that comes with being a plus-one. Nobody wants to talk to you or me. They want to talk to the famous person who they feel some sort of emotional connection with because of the media.
"So your job is to let the photographers get their couples' shot and then disappear, because nobody cares about you."
Being a male plus-one, Noxon says, is harder. "Women are just better at being graceful support players. And men are excluded even more because there's a discomfort around that role."
Whatever your gender, says Lisa Gaché, author of 24 Karat Etiquette: Golden Rules from the World's Most Glamorous Zip Code, Hollywood plus-ones need to adhere to the same rules.
"They must be on their best behaviour at all times lest they completely embarrass themselves and land a headline story as the 'Plus-One That Went Mad'," she says. "Which is why you need to act like you belong, but don't appear too comfortable. You are being watched. Be seen but not heard, unless invited to do so. Act confident, but never arrogant."
Trying to keep your mouth busy when nobody has addressed a word to you all evening by cramming in the booze or ploughing through the buffet table is a no-no. "Don't call attention to yourself by slurring your words," cautions Gaché.
Equally, behaving like an outsider at an insider event will only cause discomfort. "The last thing you want to do is ask a celebrity for a photograph or keep them hostage with your adulation. Treat them like regular people and they'll be much more likely to want to converse."
In the unlikely event that does happen, remember that Hollywood has its own exultant language. "Only positive, supportive, complimentary remarks should be expressed," says Gaché. "And learn to speak in soundbites. People out here don't have a lot of tolerance for small talk."
Just remember to avoid anything political. It's not your place to have views; unless they are of the palatable, stock kind, opinions are likely to prompt social squirming and fictional cloakroom-related exits.
Lastly, plus-ones must beware of goodie bag euphoria. Many Hollywood parties have "gifting suites", where exiting guests can help themselves to Lancôme cosmetics, premium velour bathrobes and even iPads. But there's little more undignified than loading yourself up like a camel and heading for the door, before unpacking your spoils in the driveway as you wait for the valet to bring your car around.
In the interest of full disclosure: I am one of those people. And I'm prepared to let the humiliation rain down on me if it means that every Christmas present between now and 2020 has been taken care of.
Perhaps that is how all those graceful A-list plus-ones get through these events. Maybe with every gentle nod and unacknowledged smile, they're silently totting up the booty they'll take home at the end of the night.
Or maybe, like Noxon, they have made peace with a dynamic that exists in every industry and relationship the world over.
"You can bat all these neuroses around in your head about which one in your couple people really want to meet and talk to," he explains. "But the truth is that every marriage has an alpha and a beta - and sometimes those roles can switch. You're constantly doing that dance together, and if that's the life you're in, it's better to live it than fight it."
- ©The Daily Telegraph, London