Wednesday, November 11, 2009

21st century posh - why posh is back.

Once again we find ourselves on the brink of a new decade, poised to overthrow the old regime and usher in the new. A British revolution – a mild-mannered sort, which is less blocking-roads-with-lorries and more resigned-shrug-at-the-Post-Office-queue – is in the air.  But the funny thing about it this time around is that it’s ringing in the old guard, not the new: posh is back.

The end of the 90s were an exciting time that saw the daring antics of the YBA, the Mancunian posturing of Britpop and a young, fresh, highly ambitious and media-spinning New Labour in government. But the beginning of this next decade is better symbolised by London’s Mayor, Boris Johnson, with his speeches of piffle and crumpled, ill-fitting suits. We have long accepted that our opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics will most likely be delayed while Boris hunts down a match to light the flame. And we rather love him for it.

For a long time the posh have had to skulk round the back corridors of power. Being posh was hardly the key to open doors – more likely they would get slammed in your chinless face. But now, as one niece of an Earl said to me: “For ten years, one hasn’t been able to get a direct line to anyone in government but as of next year, one will be able to have the PM to lunch.”

One can hardly paint the posh as an oppressed minority but there’s no doubt that they have had to keep their naturally loud, braying voices to a hush. Afraid to be too posh in case they couldn’t get in to Oxbridge or get a job at the BBC. There wasn’t a single posh artist, writer or comedian who had a hope of getting decent PR let alone a review in The Guardian.

In fact, Armstrong & Miller, the comedy duo who now have a Friday night prime time slot on BBC1, were told ten years ago by a senior henchman at the Beeb that they were “too posh” to ever have their own show. Posh stand-up comedian Michael McIntyre has been propelled to stardom in little over a year, and tall, posh comedy actress Miranda Hart, who has been slogging on the circuit for ten years, has just debuted her own tv show on BBC2. Where are the likes of fast-talking, anarchic comics like Ben Elton? He’s just announced he’s moving to Australia.

In the media, the Sun has pledged its allegiance to the Tories. Hardly surprising, given not just Murdoch’s inclination to back the winning horse, but because the outgoing editor and News International executive, Rebekah Wade, has just married Charlie Brooks. A racing journalist, he has just written a piece for GQ on why it’s cool to be an Old Etonian again (see blogs passim). What with him and the missus hanging out with Cameron and Johnson, not to mention their Gloucestershire neighbours Matthew Freud and Elizabeth Murdoch, whose address book contains every famous, hip person alive. Up against that lot, staid Brown hasn’t a hope (although, Mandy, with a nice line in self-deprecating wit against his champagne-socialist tendencies, might).

Not that the posh of the approaching Teens decade is the same as the Sloane Ranger of the 80s. This time, the posh go to work, preferably starting their own businesses: ‘posh-preneurs’ is a phrase I used in an article for the Telegraph last year, which has been picked up by Schott for the New York Times. The best example of this is found in the food industry: with current emphasis on local and organic, who better than the landed gentry to sell the farm produce? From the future King of England’s Duchy Originals to the long legs of Maria Balfour (niece of Sir David Frost) with her instant dinner party delivery and Lord Ivar Mountbatten’s chickens sold in Marks & Spencer. All heartily backed by the posh foodies, of course: Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Valentine Warner (my cousin) and Tom Parker-Bowles.

And where the posh of the 80s wore clothes that only they would wear and were deemed pretty silly even at the time (pink jeans and Wellington boots splashing in the Sloane Square fountain) this lot are cutting edge in ways that are terrifically hard to copy. Take trendsetter Violet Naylor-Leyland, hostess of club nights, who, when asked what is fashionable, gave the ultimate boho-posh answer and said, “I wouldn’t know because I dress like no other human being on earth.” Posh models such as Rosie Huntington-Whitely and Poppy Delevigne are hot, as is Emma Watson, who may or may not be posh but certainly looks it.

But what is the face of the New Tories aka New Posh? Is it Cameron – who is, truthfully, 21st century posh (eco-sensitive, politically active, married to a posh bird with good dress sense) but tragically stuck in the baby-faced, gormless look of the old posh. He never looks casual without his tie – he just looks as if he forgot to put it on.

I think it might be Boris: shabby he may be but he is posh without pretence or pretension. He isn’t patronising and he’s showing willing by getting down and dirty on his Mayoral tasks. Because you must be sure of one thing - to be posh is not the same as to be a snob. Still, whether it’s Boris or Dave we watch enter Number 10 next year, there’s no doubt: it will hail the new era of posh, what?

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