26 MAY 2007, Page 79

Dear Mary

Q. I will be celebrating a ‘milestone’ birthday this summer and marking the event with a cocktail party for 60 one evening and a dinner for 100 on another. Having lived in various parts of the globe over the years (now New York), a large number of guests are flying in from far-flung lands to join in the celebrations. My dilemma, Mary, is how best to word my invitations regarding the delicate matter of gift-giving by well-meaning friends. Here are some of the concerns with which I’m presently struggling. At this point in my life I am fortunate enough to have all the material possessions one could reasonably want or hope for (with, I suppose, the exceptions of a helicopter, Bentley, etc). Given that many friends are flying to New York at not inconsiderable personal expense, additional outlay on their part is quite unnecessary. Nevertheless, many folk can be embarrassingly generous on occasions like this and I feel an impending flood of gifts for which I may have no need. How can the birthday invitation subtly suggest (without appearing presumptuous) either no gifts, or if friends really do wish to give a present, to perhaps make a donation to the charity for which I sit on the advisory board?

Name and address withheld A. You are quite right to discourage further problems with landfill sites. The charity suggestion, however, although logically correct, does not usually go down well. The concept of patronising by proxy is too great a mental leap from the pleasure of seeing a friend’s face light up when he or she opens a parcel. Instead, why not take a tip from an extremely popular social figure in this country whose recent birthday invitation signed off with the request, ‘Presents? Only your own presence would be most gratefully received.’