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Mariella Novotny and Horace Dibben at their wedding

"It would be humbug if I did not confess that I looked forward to the sex orgies. I have been to every type of that party — those specialising in certain perversions and those given in an elaborate setting where all the formalities were observed. 

"Many of the people who attend are rich and famous — many faces that are seen in public life and on television. If their public could only see them like this."

— Stephen Ward, osteopath and society artist, 1963

"Hod Dibben was allegedly a man of fathomless depravity in whose hands Stephen Ward was clay . . . in addition to his interests in black magic he had a tremendous appetite for sex, so long as it was perverted enough.

"Mariella Novotny was a beautiful blonde of Czech origin. She had grown up witness to the horrors of the turbulent post-war years in central Europe and [her] experience of rape and torture twisted her nature into something vile and deformed."

— Thomas Critchley, civil servant and secretary to the Denning inquiry, 1963 

It was Lord Denning who called Mariella Novotny's December 1961 orgy the "Man in the Mask" Party. She preferred to call it the Feast of the Peacocks. It took place in her husband's mansion flat at 13 Hyde Park Square. Mandy Rice-Davies and Christine Keeler arrived fashionably late. They were greeted at the door by their mentor, Stephen Ward. He was dressed in a sock. Everyone else was naked. Apart from Mariella, who was wearing a black corset and a whip. She was in bed with six men. Mariella had a ready wit and her joke du jour was that she was the Government's Chief Whip. 

She came to London as chubby-cheeked Stella Marie Capes in 1957. She made her debut as a topless dancer at the Windmill Theatre in Soho. She was 16. She said it was her mother's idea. A year after her arrival in London, aged 17, she married 56-year-old Horace "Hod" Dibben in a much-publicised ceremony at Caxton Hall. David Bailey took the photos.

Hod dealt in antiques and official secrets. He ran nightclubs in Shepherd Market and Mayfair where he played host to Anthony Armstrong-Jones, the Duke of Kent, Lord Astor and the Kray twins. He and Mariella held dinner parties for Earl Spencer. At one of these parties, Mariella met the TV producer-cum-procurer who set her to work in New York. It was 1960 and there was a new permissiveness abroad. Hod gave his blessing and off she went. In May 1961 Mariella escaped from a hotel in New York where she had been restricted by a probation order as a minor on vice charges. She arrived back in England on the Queen Mary, and sold her story to the senior crime reporter from the News of the World. It was a good one. She told him that she was the niece of Novotny. And that, as a child, she had spent four years in a Soviet Stateless Persons Camp.

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