The royal family are great ones for scandal. The late Queen Mum (allegedly) refused to purchase a telly for her castle in Scotland, and not only did she insist on a rented one (do they still rent tellys?) but the rented one was extremely old, and may even have been black and white and the VCR that went with it often didn’t work. Truly shocking.
I regularly watch a programme called ‘How the Other Half Live’ in which very poor people are helped out financially by very rich people. But never in any of the episodes have the poor people been without at least one proper colour telly, and none of them would still use a VCR, they would have a DVD player.
I am very fortunate to have a lot of posh friends, and having spent time staying in their houses, I can testify that the Queen Mum was not alone in her frugality. Which begs the question, now that few of us can still afford the trappings of the nouveau riche, perhaps it is about time we stopped trying to look rich and tried to seem posh instead?
I started out in life with the distinct advantage of having lived in houses with no heating, and collapsing roofs, while eating boiled eggs for lunch with Georgian silver spoons. I could have been a contender. But as soon as I left home and discovered central heating and my colour telly, my bourgeois bones revealed themselves, and now I am so spoiled I don’t stand a chance. Being posh is an extreme challenge, on every level.
To begin with, one must entirely reverse the generally accepted notion that having nice, new, expensive things makes you socially superior. One must drive the most clapped out car that one can find. My friend Marina Guinness ( an ideal role model for this game) never fails to point out how modern my car is. The height of luxury, she calls it. I know that this is clearly not a compliment, and I cringe at my own bad taste, but I did really try. I paid less than a grand for it and it’s a 1995 reg. Everyone where I live in D4 drives 2010 models, and looks down their noses at me. I snigger, because they will never, ever be posh.
But the car is only the tip of the iceberg. A properly posh person should never, ever buy new furniture, carpets, curtains or appliances, or indeed anything new at all, (except perhaps very cheap biscuits).
New houses are a total give away. If one has not inherited a crumbling mansion with no heating, one should rent the dampest, coldest, draughtiest, most cluttered and dusty house one can find, preferably with a few holes in the roof, and immediately acquire a wet dog. All of this makes one sneeze and shiver and quickly die out, if one is a member of the lower orders. Many’s the time that I have gone to bed in a posh house only to take the carpet off the floor during the night, for a bit of warmth. At one house I was informed that they were turning on the hot water especially for my visit, although they wouldn’t be putting on the heating. At another one the butler brought us three or four blankets for our knees while he served us afternoon tea in the library, which might as well have been the fridge.
Another aspect of posh-ness that I struggle with is clothing and general grooming. I adore new clothes, especially expensive ones. But for the very posh it is unthinkable to purchase new clothes. Princess Anne recently recycled a dress she wore twenty years ago, and all posh kids wear hand me downs, a thing that would mortify normal children. The posh uniform is very easy. For everyday wear, one should have old jeans and a jumper with a lot of holes in. For parties, something that one found in the attic.
The more money one spends on make up, fake tan, high-lights and such like, the more common one will appear. Being told you look frightfully glamorous (as I often am) is not good, although if you are Jasmine Guinness you are allowed red lipstick. Sir Jack Leslie still wears all the suits he had made in his twenties. Unlike Sir Jack, I would not be able to fit into the clothes I had in my early twenties, because I am not sufficiently frugal with my portions.
The lifestyle of the very posh is undeniably challenging, but the benefits are enormous. If you cultivate a nice loud, bored-sounding aristocratic monotone, you may begin to feel it a badge of honour to have lost the family home, and you will never, ever be ashamed of having last year’s handbag.
The only real stumbling block is the social niceties. Posh people, unlike most of us, are careful with their cash, but they are exceptionally lavish with their compliments. While you may be standing there wondering if your make up is smudged, they will be loudly announcing to everyone in earshot that you are simply the most charming person they ever met. And sounding like they mean it.
And that’s not easy.