Whoops! What a howler. Far be it from me to criticise a magazine I used to work for, but this week Tatler landed itself in a spot of bother for publishing a list of Britain’s top 10 social climbers, awarding the Duchess of Sussex first place and calling her “underprivileged”. Cue screaming outrage online because Meghan Markle was never underprivileged.
The daughter of a yoga instructor mum and a father who won an Emmy for lighting directing (before he moved to Mexico and embarked on his second career as a frustrated media spokesman for himself), Meghan grew up in Hollywood and went to a private Catholic school before studying at Illinois’s Northwestern University, so grand it’s almost considered Ivy League. No great hardships, there.
Thousands of protesters commented underneath an Instagram post that Tatler posted, then edited, then deleted altogether. The gist was that calling the Duchess underprivileged was ignorant and racist because it made assumptions about her upbringing, based on her race, which a three-second Google could have corrected. Well, yes, quite. But had the magazine printed these details from the start, I’m betting the list would still have been met with fury in certain quarters because accusing someone of social climbing isn’t very woke during these entrenched times of class warfare.
For Sunday Telegraph readers confused by this word, pay attention. To be woke means to be aware and perhaps fairly vocal about today’s social injustices. And look out there at the front benches where Old Etonian Cabinet ministers loll horizontal as if they’ve just had a jolly decent three-course lunch at Wiltons. Down with the class system! Down with Old Etonians! Down with three-course lunches unless they’re nut-based and served on plates made of repurposed cow dung!
Talk of social climbing is repugnant to such activists because it implies that the class system remains and that some people still want to fling themselves up it. I’m sorry to reveal this is true. The Duchess has been put in pole position on this social climbing list, ahead of Jerry Hall and Richard Caring, because for Tatler and for plenty of others, marrying into the Royal family is still seen as the pinnacle of achievement, right up there with finding a cure for malaria or owning three labradors.
Not that long ago, I overheard a 60-something Home Counties mother discussing her daughter’s engagement with a friend. “He works at J P Morgan,” said the mother. “Oh, what a clever girl!” replied the friend, practically clapping her hands with glee. Jeremy Corbyn is going to have to work much, much harder if he wants to level that playing field.
To those who are furious about this, I have two things to say. Firstly, while you might not like the phrase “social climbing”, you may well call it something else. You probably call it “networking”.
Secondly, pay no attention to magazine lists. I used to write them and they’re only designed to attract noise. There also tends to be quite literally no research behind them. “Who do you fancy at the moment?” the social editor used to ask when the annual “Most Eligible” Little Black Book issue of Tatler rolled around, and we’d fill the pages with whomever we wanted to snog at the subsequent party. I spent hours at the bar trying to chat up Josh Lewsey one year but had to take myself home when I realised I’d drunk too much.
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