Oligarchs and oil barons might have taken over their stomping grounds, but the traditional upper classes can still be found among us, says Sophia Money-Coutts
It used to be easy to spot a posh person. They would be wearing some form of corduroy and, when they opened their mouths, all their words would rhyme with “Waaah”. Yah. Mama. Sofa. And so on. Also, they would be called Bongo or Flappy. But over the past 20 to 30 years, two things happened in this country to change this: rich foreigners started arriving, competing for a place at the top of the social pyramid, and posh-bashing became a national sport. The Bongos of this world had a momentary identity crisis. “Cripes, is it even OK to be posh?” he wondered. “Will I be lynched in the street if I wear my red trousers?”
The thing about the posh, however, is that they have always been terrifically good at survival, whether they were a Tudor baron lopping off heads, an army officer ruling a dusty bit of empire, or an Old Etonian leading the country as prime minister. This knack for self-preservation is why in the 21st century the posho is still very much with us, just slightly harder to identify. Most will have jobs, because they no longer have trust funds, poor things, and they won’t live in a castle, but they will largely have been to public school and flinch at the word “toilet”. I know I have a name that suggests I’m a tweed-wearing, labrador-owning posho, but, truthfully, I do dreadfully common things such as eating off my lap while watching TV, and I don’t even like dogs that much.
The successful assimilation of the posh partly explains the launch of the Debrett’s & Tatler School of Etiquette, offering five different courses for anyone who wants to understand their secrets. Say you’re a worried mother, alarmed by your teenage son’s general oafishness and his inability to write a thank-you letter. The one-day Coming of Age course is just the ticket for him. Offered for those aged between 13 and 16, it includes guidelines on being a good guest (what to pack, for example, and what to take as a present), and how to manage your social-media profiles. Or you might be a Russian oligarch’s wife and not sure about what to wear for Ascot. Don’t panic, Olga. The Style and the Season course will help you, as well as explain what the heck smart-casual even means.
People often confuse the rich with the posh these days, when they’re not necessarily the same thing at all. The difference, in many cases, boils down to manners. This doesn’t mean making sure you’re eating a pear with a spoon or stirring your tea without clinking against the cup (both old Debrett’s rules). It’s more an attitude, a confident, sunny way of approaching life. It means, for example, carrying on like 19-year-old Flora in The Great British Bake Off, smiling through criticism about her Aga rather than snapping back bitchily at her critics. Or take Charlie Bowmont, the future Duke of Roxburghe. A charming 34-year-old former army officer, he doesn’t sit idly on his 60,000-acre estate in Scotland. Instead, he works from London, running Capstar, a chauffeur service he launched in 2013 specifically to employ injured ex-servicemen. India Hicks, the 48-year-old granddaughter of Earl Mountbatten, is another one. A former Ralph Lauren model who lives in the Bahamas, these days she spends most of her time flying between American cities, growing her eponymous business — a sort of posh Avon — which is all about empowering women who haven’t worked for years.
They understand that the key to getting ahead in life is charm and making an effort with people, looking them in the eye and being genuinely interested. Luckily this is a social confidence that everyone can master, whether you’re called Bongo or not.