You know it's been a good event when Dr Eamonn Butler, director of the Adam Smith Institute, emails to say, "Jolliest party of the year! Thank you so much".
Last night close on 300 people squeezed into Boisdale Bar & Restaurant in London. Pausing only to pick up the first of several
complementary complimentary drinks (vodka cocktail, glass of wine or beer), many headed straight for the cigar terrace (capacity: 45) which groaned under the weight of a hundred smokers.
Star guest was an old friend of Forest - David Hockney, Britain's greatest living artist. Just back from Baden Baden, the spa town in Germany which he visits every year, David told me that he came home with 6,000 cigarettes. "I never buy them in this country."
Hockney didn't hang around long - he's a bit deaf, and large, noisy crowds make it difficult for him to hear what people are saying - but while he was there he spoke to a number of people, including the Observer's Lynn Barber, another
very welcome guest.
Others included Madsen Pirie and the aforementioned Eamonn Butler of the Adam Smith Institute; Matthew Elliott, director of The Taxpayers Alliance; Simon Richards, director of The Freedom Association; Claire Fox, director the Institute of Ideas and her colleague Tony Gilland; Rob Lyons, deputy editor of Spiked; Tom Utley of the Daily Mail; Telegraph leader writer Alex Singleton; Simon Hills of The Times; and Michael White, political editor of the Guardian.
Less well known (but no less welcome) was Sarah Bland and her husband Darren. Sarah is nine months' pregnant and even though the baby is due on Friday she still wanted to come and support our event. (You couldn't make it up.)
There was a warm welcome too for Dick Engel of the Dutch smokers' group Stichting Rokersbelangen. Dick is a former police officer (vice squad), a good man to have on our side. (His colleague Ton was supposed to come but missed the plane. I won't tell you what Dick said.)
Other long distance travellers included our own Brian Monteith (Edinburgh) and Neil Rafferty (the Borders), and Liz Barber (Stockton-on-Tees).
It was good to see (even briefly) some of the regulars on this blog: Dave Atherton, Joyce Stewart, Rose Whiteley, Dave Hook. (I don't know what happened to Peter Thurgood. If you're reading this, Peter, Joyce was looking for you.)
Friction TV came and filmed a series of "Smoking Breaks" for the Forest website (we will launch our own video player later in the year). I was interviewed by the Guardian and German radio.
Guest speakers were Philip Davies, Conservative MP for Shipley (West Yorkshire); Nigel Farage, a 60-a-day smoker (did he really say that?) and leader of UKIP; and "rebel landlord" Hamish Howitt. Michael White describes their speeches HERE.
Most poignant sight of the evening had to be Ranald Macdonald, MD of Boisdale, gently asking guests in the (enclosed) Garden Restaurant to stub out their fags. "I felt really bad about it," he told me later, "but we could lose our license."
On the cigar terrace and out on the street, at the front of the building, nothing was going to stop guests lighting up. Smoke-free England? I don't think so.
Postscript: the picture above features Forest supporter Bob Loveday with a US duty free packet of cigarettes. Note the absence of any health warning. Bob is a long-serving member of Bob Geldof's band.