COSTNER AT THE CHINA CLUB Stardom is a strange beast. While it must be marvellous to be as rich as Kevin Costner, life would be indeed odd if every time you left the table to go to the bathroom, half the room followed. Such was the scene at the China Club on Thursday night, where David Tang was holding a private party for a plane-full of celebs and hangers-on (including this reporter). On Friday morning, the 68-strong group including Costner, Sarah Ferguson, Michael Caine and his wife Shakira, Winston Churchill MP and interior design guru Anouska Hempel left for Beijing and the grand opening of the China Club there. Thursday's bash was a pre-party. Invitations were, of course, hotly sought-after as everybody likes to see stars 'at play'. It is a great conversation piece in the office the next day. Given Costner is still, despite Waterworld, one of the top three box-office draws in the world and rarely goes to parties, this bash boasted true 'star wattage'. Actor and Oscar-winning director Costner had flown across the world especially to support Tang: 'I know it seems a bit strange to come all this way for a party, but I had some business in Hong Kong and I've never been to China before,' he said. 'David's my friend. He's been to stay at my house. I wanted to support him and I'm here out of friendship, basically.' Business in Hong Kong - what business? Costner would not elaborate, save to mention a complicated environmentally-safe battery he is developing ('It will change the world. I don't really invest my money wisely, but I think it's important to work for the environment') and the quest for investors in a resort he is opening in the United States. The party was neatly divided in two by this stage - the stars, and the people looking at them. I could feel 50 sets of eyes boring into my back as I attempted to chat with Costner, coupled with a blinding panic that he would stop talking and the room would immediately know just how dull a conversationalist I was. Costner, casually dressed in a long-sleeved T-shirt and chinos, spent much of the night in deep conversation with a newly-slimline Duchess of York (white chiffon blouse, short black skirt). Caine, meanwhile, seemed to be having a grand old time on his table, and Hempel greatly appreciated the underwear section of Shanghai Tang's impromptu fashion show - a male model in a purple gown and amber silk boxing shorts was a particular hit. But back to Costner, who has scored a modest hit (US$50 million) this summer with the golfing comedy Tin Cup. He is, he says, now partial to a round of golf, although he knew nothing about the sport when he started filming. He hasn't been talking to reporters this year, but seems willing to make an exception, so I press on. He will be directing again in February, he said. He hasn't gone behind the camera since Dances With Wolves. 'I never thought I was good enough to direct,' he said. 'But, really, you have to do it for yourself. People think once they have me in their movie, that's it, they don't have to work at it. And then there's always the reports that Costner has taken over the movie, which is not true. The key is in the script. Casting me won't make the script better.' The movie will be a sci-fi picture, also starring his young daughter (Costner is now divorced and the object of much rapt female interest, if Thursday night's party is anything to go by). Two weeks ago I attended a lavish party at a palazzo in Venice for the world premiere of Portrait of a Lady, starring Nicole Kidman, who attended with her husband Tom Cruise. It was a very similar setup to Thursday night's party. No more than 100 people, a sit-down dinner. The difference - it started at 10pm and the place was cleared by midnight. Nicole and Tom had the kind of fixed grins on their faces that would seem to indicate they would prefer a night at a dentist. David Tang does know how to put on a relaxed show. An eight-course meal, copious wine, a fashion show, a lively band, happy stars. The Duchess of York slipped off at around midnight. Costner said his farewells at 12.30 for the quick hop back to the presidential suite at the Mandarin Hotel. Not bad going, given they all had to be on an early plane to Beijing the next day. Although you wouldn't envy Tang's job of rounding them up in the morning.