Leisure and pleasure have always been Scylla and Charybdis for politicians. Vacation on a yacht called Monkey Business, borrow a Caribbean pile from a billionaire, spend time with Cliff Richard, and you’re tabloid toast. Not this lot. The Cameron and Clegg sets have steered through the whirlpools without hitting the rocks.
David Cameron, the 19th Prime Minister to have been to Eton, and his Westminster-educated deputy, Nick Clegg, are wealthy, healthy, educated and entitled. They have connections to crowned heads of Europe. But neither is taking the toff path. On paper at least — in the news pages of the dailies — they’re taking the high street, loading the boot of the Espace at Waitrose, dressed in Gap and Converse, somewhere in middle England.
It helps that this set don’t have stay-at-home spouses. They have high-achieving partners. Samantha Cameron, who has just given birth to her fourth child, revamped Smythson; Miriam Gonzalez Durantez is a top lawyer; Rachel Whetstone, wife of Steve Hilton, is a top Googler; Frances Osborne, Ffion Hague and Sarah Vine (Mrs Michael Gove) are bestselling authors. All give the impression that they could run the country as well as large households without breaking sweat. It’s all very modern, classless and compassionate.
Or is it? Cameron has never hidden the fact that as a youth he went out with the Heythrop, but hasn’t hunted ‘for years’. Well, ’appens I’ve spent a few days at his in-laws’ little place on Jura. It is a comfortable laird’s lodge by the sea, a tartan carpets, open fires, chintzy, floral-wallpaper kind of place. Heaven, in fact. I swam in the sea the first day. Bruce ‘Brute’ Anderson, who was also a guest, spied on me while I changed behind a rock. At dinner, he tinged a glass and made an announcement about my collar and cuffs, so I didn’t swim again — I went stalking. An American diplomat shot a stag and a ghillie dressed it on the spot and then slung it over his shoulders for the walk home. It was lovely on Jura — there’s a nice pub but only about two roads and three grandish families on the island. It is definitely red in tooth and claw. Apart from stalking, there’s not much to do.
When it comes to holidays, Steve Hilton may take a villa de luxe in the south of France and fill it with liberal-lefty friends and get away with it, but the PM has to staycation in Cornwall, clad in Boden swimming togs, otherwise the antis call him Deerstalker Dave. Holidays in Cornwall support his claim to be a part of the sharp-elbowed middle-classes, who firmly believe it’s character-building for Hal, Posy, Christabel and Jonty (only the underclass and the truly posh have four or more children) to do sailing courses and pick their own mussels. But to imagine this is the Cornish experience you or I might have, huddled over pasties in sheeting rain on a beach, would be misleading. The Camerons rent a clifftop property in Trebetherick, where houses let for £2,500 minimum a week and most are bagged by the same families year after year. As Sally Jones, the broadcaster and writer who has summered in Rock for 20 years, points out, ‘I don’t think voters know how flash Cornwall is.’ She reels off a list of nobs and celebs she’s spotted but pretended not to recognise, from Prince William and Harry, via Lady Sarah Chatto, to Paxo, Hugh Grant, and Candida Lycett-Green, daughter of Sir John Betjeman. One of Candida’s daughters, Delly, was christened Endellion — a marvellous name that the Camerons have stolen for their own daughter. I wish I’d thought of it!
Which is the point. On the surface, where and what they eat, where they go, what they drive, is not too encrusted with privilege. It’s designed to look right in the Daily Mail. But dig underneath the surface, decode the Cleggerons and they are effortlessly… classy. They go to Poshstock (the music festival at Cornbury run by Lord and Lady Rotherwick) and make shepherd’s pie. They drink. They procreate. They laugh, sometimes at each other.
Their lifestyle choices reveal something more important than money: the resilience and charm that comes from growing up in large families and having your corners rubbed off at boarding school. As a result, these are the sort of people one wants to sit next to at cosy supper parties in Notting Hill. They are more Nigella’s Kitchen than Kennedy’s Camelot, more clothing label Superdry than grouse moor grandee Supermac. Because that’s what works these days, and they know it.
Rachel Johnson is editor of the Lady.