Meet The New Faux Poor
With wealth out of fashion, the super-rich are trying hard to flaunt their poverty-stricken credentials.By Celia WaldenPhoto: GETTY
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 public transport.
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.
16 March 2009
I like the term faux poor coined by the (UK) Daily Telegraph
Regardless of economic conditions, flaunting wealth is terribly vulgar. Unless of course, everybody is doing it.