Being rich can be such a bore. Choice, that most precious of things, is taken
away when you can have it all. The hotels, restaurants and bars you frequent
are restricted to the accepted few, the designers you wear prescribed with
the same rigid authority as the way you wear your hair, the expressions you
use and the company you keep.
Also, the things you are (decently) allowed to complain about are lamentably
few. Then along comes the credit crunch, knocking you off the Forbes
2009 Billionaires List, which reveals that even Bill Gates is £12.2 billion
the poorer (although he has still managed to knock Warren Buffett off the
perch as Britain's richest man).
You wait and wait to feel the hit to your daily life, closing your eyes and
holding your hand out like a child waiting to be chastised – and nothing
happens. First comes the euphoria ("I won't have to change a thing!"),
then the disappointment: no delicious commiseration sessions over apple
martinis at Cecconis, no enforced eBay shopping to pride yourself on, and no
travelling on the bus to find aubergines for 5p less.
As the country unites in Blitz spirit, you stand alone, a blushing figure with
a disgracefully expensive It-bag. Unless, of course, you pretend...
That, according to this month's Tatler, is what the tribe christened
the New Faux Poor do. They tell lies too, about being forced to downsize
their houses, bonuses and expense accounts, while exaggerating the amount of
money they've lost, chance of redundancy and the number of times they use
They sack members of their household staff, just because everyone else is
doing it; develop a utilities conscience ("even Gates tells his wife to
turn the bathroom light off these days"), force the caterers to park up
the street before a dinner party; wander, shuddering but brave, through the
aisles of Aldi and back out again, empty-handed (but resolved to tell
everyone just how marvellous it was).
Such fraudulence is our default position, says Peter York, co-author of The
Official Sloane Ranger Handbook. "Humble and threadbare is what the
English do best. This recession has given us a lovely excuse to behave in a
way that comes quite naturally to us. The boom times went against the grain
of our national character. Now there is a delight in rediscovering poverty.
It's good old Marie Antoinette again: the rich are throwing themselves into
it and loving every minute."
Desperate to chime with the zeitgeist, artfully distressed millionaires and
billionaires are competing against one another to show just how far their
fortunes have been reduced. "I told people my tan was fake the other
day," says one Notting Hill princess. "Well I couldn't say it was
from Verbier, could I? I didn't tell anyone I'd even been skiing this year."
Just this month, Vogue reinstated its More Dash Than Cash column,
dolling out "40 Tips for Fabulous Frugality" to the NFPs (it's
extraordinary the dresses you can pick up for just under £500 these days).
Nor are men exempt from the trend, says York. In fact, they're leading it. "Very
wealthy men have been sporting the faux-humble, frayed-collar look for
years, so I expect there will be more of that to come."
Postcode snobbery, as always, is rife, only inverted. "I tell people I
live in Shepherd's Bush now, rather than Holland Park," says one
banker, suffering from the geographical confusion politicians have been
afflicted by for years. Openly enjoying opulence is also a no-no.
The tables of Cipriani and the Ivy are still full, of course - what better
place for the NFPs to flaunt their new parsimony? "Just the one glass
of champagne for me," they'll say, delighting in such unnecessary
frugality, "and maybe two starters instead of a main. I always thought
the portions were positively American here, anyway..."
After a few too many forbidden Bollingers the NFPs will confess that perhaps
things aren't quite as bad as they could be. They have lost money, of
course, but there's a fair amount left in the pot. Should the pose ever
become reality, though, this game might not be so fun to play any more.