Suits Join Arty Animals for Tate's Big Bash

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THE NEW Tate Modern gallery at Bankside will open with an unprecedented series of lavish parties for the powerful, the famous, and - most importantly - the rich.

According to the strict hierarchy of its secret guest lists, the coolest cat in the land is not a rebel who cuts cows in half but the man from Unilever.

Those who care about such things will see this mini-season as the acid test of who is in and out of fashion in Blair's Britain. But the real message is that even in the wacky, iconoclastic world of BritArt, old- fashioned cash is what really counts.

The Tate has been besieged with requests for tickets to its biggest event, a gala in the huge central space of the former power station on the South Bank, on 11 May, to be broadcast live by the BBC. Those who dance with Madonna, get pickled with Damien Hirst, or do small talk with Yoko Ono will no doubt feel themselves to be at the event of the year, with a mere 4,000 of the best people.

Others will wonder why they weren't at the civic reception that morning to see the Queen open the new gallery to the sound of a fanfare by Sir Harrison Birtwistle. And even some of the few deemed important enough to have stood by the river with Her Majesty will suffer nagging self-doubt at not having been asked to the most exclusive event of all. That will begin at 7pm on 3 May, when 250 people will meet for a private view followed by a champagne dinner in the Turbine Hall. These will be the most important guests of the lot. The invitation calls this group the Benefactors.

"They tend to be very private," said Erica Bolton, who is in charge of public relations for the launch of Tate Modern. "I wouldn't want to name them."

They definitely do not include Ivan Massow, chairman of the Institute of Contemporary Arts, whose surprising lack of an invitation has been trumpeted in diary columns.

The least secret Benefactors are bodies such as the Millennium Commission, the Arts Council, and Southwark council. Their representatives will dine alongside corporate sponsors such as Donald Fisher, the chairman of Gap, Garfield Weston of Fortnum & Mason, and Alfred Taubman of Sotheby's.

Individuals whose charitable trusts support the Tate include the publisher Baron Paul Hamlyn, the textile magnate Sir Harry Djangoly, and the art collector Janet Wolfson de Botton, who has donated a considerable number of works to the new gallery. The Benefactors also include a sprinkling of star names, including Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys, who gave the Tate pounds 10,000 the group won in a libel trial.

However, only one Benefactor gets a party all to himself: Niall Fitzgerald, the 54-year-old head of Unilever, will host a dinner on 4 May to celebrate his company's commissioning of new work from one artist a year for the next five years, at pounds 1.25m a time.

The following night the Prudential will give a party in the building, co-hosted by its chief executive, Jonathan Bloomer, and chairman, Sir Roger Hurn. …