Each party started with couples, most of them strangers, mingling over drinks and canapes served by waiters in candlelit lounges in Mayfair townhouses and country mansions.
Guests then drifted off into adjoining rooms furnished with enormous beds. The parties, attended by up to 50 couples at a time, carried on until dawn, with participants swapping partners and taking part in threesomes and foursomes.
Prospective partygoers had to supply a photograph and CV and there was also another essential requirement. ‘We choose people who are good at partying, who want to come because they are kinky, not desperate.’
The five-star orgies for swingers were run for five years around the time of the millennium by a company called Fever Parties, co-founded by an individual called Dougie Smith.
Maverick: Dominic Cummings, Boris’s former chief adviser, is friends with political aide Dougie Smith
By night, Smith, a self-confessed swinger in those days, would organise sex sessions for the fast set.
By day, he was an altogether more respectable figure as co-ordinator of Conservatives for Change, which was an influential think-tank. Board members included Theresa May, then Conservative Party chairman.
Smith, now 60, has long since left behind the louche mantle of Fever Parties. But he is still courting controversy.
For Westminster is awash with rumours that he is discreetly pulling strings behind the scenes to try to ensure the next Tory leader is Rishi Sunak, the former Chancellor whose resignation last week triggered the downfall of Boris Johnson.
What is more, Smith is closely connected to another maverick figure who is associated with Sunak. Step forward Dominic Cummings, ex-chief adviser to Boris, who has had a visceral loathing of the outgoing Prime Minister ever since he was sacked in November 2020 after a bruising power struggle with Boris’s wife Carrie.
For months, Sunak has been dogged by accusations that Cummings, an admirer, is operating as his unlicensed attack dog. So concerned is Sunak about the claims that, at his slick campaign launch on Tuesday, he tried to lance the boil.
‘Dominic Cummings has had absolutely nothing to do with this campaign and will have absolutely nothing to do with any government that I’m privileged to lead,’ he said.
Leadership bid: Former Chancellor Rishi Sunak released a slick video to launch his campaign to be the next PM
Sunak also insisted that neither he nor any member of his team had talked to Cummings since his melodramatic departure through the 10 Downing Street’s front door, carrying a cardboard box full of belongings, in time for footage of him doing so to appear on 6pm TV news bulletins.
But if Dougie Smith really is pulling the strings, could he be the one who is the connection to Cummings? Smith has always been good friends with Cummings and both are desperate for Sunak to be the next Prime Minister.
And importantly, given Sunak’s statement that this shadowy figure is not technically a member of Team Rishi, he has a Downing Street pass and is on the Tory party payroll, tasked with attacking Labour, although his name is conspicuously absent from any official party literature or staffing lists.
But he is married to Munira Mirza, a close friend of Sunak.
Mirza used to be head of No 10’s policy unit and had worked for Boris ever since his days as London Mayor in 2008. Then, in February, she unexpectedly quit amid claims the relationship was cooling.
She walked out in protest after Boris criticised Sir Keir Starmer in the Commons for failing to charge the serial paedophile Jimmy Savile when the Labour leader was Director of Public Prosecutions. Another three aides quit the Downing Street operation within the next 24 hours. And Smith, I’m told, was encouraging the exodus.
I can also reveal that, after Mirza went, Smith phoned Boris and told him he had to quit as Prime Minister. A senior source told me: ‘Smith told Boris on the phone that if he did not resign they would get him in the end.
‘Boris was shocked to the core and told officials there was a fifth column inside No 10. It seems he was right.’
Tellingly, the only senior Cabinet minister to publicly criticise Boris over the Savile jibe was . . . Rishi Sunak.
Yesterday, a spokeswoman for the Sunak campaign said that Dougie Smith and Munira Mirza had ‘no involvement in the campaign. They are friends with many candidates’.
But some believe Mirza’s resignation was the first stage of the Sunak coup which culminated in Boris’s resignation last week.
Power couple: Dougie Smith and his wife Munira Mirza, who quit as head of Downing Street’s policy unit in February
Despite Smith’s menacing call to Boris, he is still being employed by the Conservative Party. ‘He is like a dark shadow in the building,’ said another source. ‘He has huge influence.’
Just how much influence was evident in April when the Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries was pressing for Lord Grade, the former head of the BBC and Channel 4, to be the next chairman of Ofcom, the broadcast regulator. A document signed by Smith found its way into Boris’s official ministerial red box urging him to overrule Dorries and appoint an alternative candidate. Boris stuck by Dorries.
The latest stage of the coup against Boris came in the aftermath of the loss of the Tiverton and Honiton and Wakefield by-elections last month.
Even though both defeats were widely expected, Oliver Dowden, the Tory party chairman, resigned. At the time, Boris was in Rwanda for a Commonwealth summit. When he was told Dowden had gone, he told his aides: ‘Dougie Smith is behind this. Dowden is on Team Rishi.’
How right he was. Dowden was one of the first to publicly declare his support for Sunak after Boris’s resignation.
In Tory circles the friendship between Smith, Mirza and the Sunaks is well known.
Ties: Sunak’s top aide Liam Booth-Smith is also close to Cummings
But what of Sunak and Cummings? They first clicked when Boris became Tory leader in 2019. Both Oxford-educated, they were committed Brexiteers. ‘Dom Cummings thought Rishi was hugely impressive and clever from the word go,’ says a senior Tory source.
‘He decided early on he was No 10 material — and still thinks that. He has never publicly criticised Rishi. He wants him to win and has been plotting to make that happen from the sidelines ever since. He’s got all manner of ways of communicating his views to Team Sunak, not least through Dougie Smith.’
Cummings has also remained close to Sunak’s chief of staff Liam Booth-Smith, who raffishly sports a leather jacket in Whitehall and is dubbed ‘the Travolta of the Treasury’.
Booth-Smith ran the ‘joint unit’ set up by Cummings between No 10 and No 11 Downing Street when Sunak became Chancellor in February 2020, and which is now the province of the Treasury.
It is not just a mutual respect for each other’s intellect that brings Cummings and Booth-Smith together. ‘They are also united in another important respect: their contempt for Boris,’ says the Tory source. There are other links between Sunak and Cummings, too. On the day Cummings walked out of the front door in Downing Street, No 10’s head of communications Lee Cain left by the back door after losing the same power struggle with Carrie.
He has now set up his own communications company, Charlesbye, and one of his employees has taken leave to work for the Sunak campaign.
Cain and Cummings are close and talk regularly. As one senior source says: ‘All paths lead back to Cummings and Cain. Cain now has a great insight into the Rishi campaign.’
In his launch speech, Sunak went out of his way to praise Boris, describing him as ‘one of the most remarkable people I have ever met’.
This is the same Sunak who three weeks ago abruptly stopped attending the morning strategy meetings with Boris in No 10.
His absence was keenly felt as the Government was trying at the time to forge a joint policy speech between Boris and Sunak, which was due to take place this week.
‘Sunak had been pushing the boss back on tax cuts for weeks and weeks. He was never around when we wanted to talk about the joint speech which was a big part of the reset,’ said a ministerial source. ‘He clearly did not want to do anything to help Boris. He was stonewalling.’ In his glossy campaign video, Sunak made much of his background as the son and grandson of Indian immigrants.
But the man who was educated at Winchester School (annual fees today £46,000) has drafted in to his team what one minister called ‘the Tory posh boys’.
They include Eton-educated Bim Afolami; former Cabinet minister Matt Hancock, who went to the private King’s School, Chester, which was founded by Henry VIII; Robert Jenrick, the former Housing Secretary, who was also privately educated; and Anthony Browne, the former chief executive of the British Bankers Association, who went to a £20,000-a-year school in Cambridge.
Sunak has also brought in Sir Gavin Williamson, who ran Theresa May’s successful leadership campaign in 2016 (to be rewarded with the role of Chief Whip and then Defence Secretary) and Boris’s campaign in 2019 (to become Education Secretary).
There is now a row over Williamson’s tactics — and not for the first time.
Huge suspicion also hangs over the role of Michael Gove who was dismissed as Levelling Up Secretary by Boris on the eve of Boris’s own resignation last week
Culture Secretary Dorries has accused him of repeating the techniques he reportedly used in previous campaigns by lending votes to candidates Sunak thinks he could beat in the final run-off with party members, such as the arch Remainer Jeremy Hunt (who was actually knocked out of the race yesterday). Sunak has dismissed such claims as nonsense.
On top of all this skulduggery, huge suspicion also hangs over the role of Michael Gove who was dismissed as Levelling Up Secretary by Boris on the eve of Boris’s own resignation last week.
Gove is publicly backing Kemi Badenoch with whom he worked closely in the Department of Levelling Up. But Badenoch, 42, is the youngest candidate in the field and few believe Gove truly thinks she’s best placed to be our next Prime Minister having never sat around the Cabinet table.
The fact is that he, too, is an old friend of Cummings — although he says he hasn’t spoken to him for a couple of years — and is widely expected to switch to Sunak if and when Badenoch is out of the race.
It would appal Boris supporters if Gove backed his assassin.
‘It’s another reason why Boris sacked Gove,’ said an ally. ‘He thinks he’s been secretly on Team Rishi for months.’
Compared to the febrile atmosphere surrounding this poisonous race to be PM, the goings-on at those Fever Parties almost seem tame.