It was during a von Bülow lunch in a St James’s club which is also mine, and I was seated next to a plump, bald man who smiled brightly and introduced himself as Julian Fellowes. ‘My wife is lady-in-waiting to Princess Michael of Kent,’ was his opening line. I burst out laughing but, in order not to be rude, I said nothing. My first thought was, is he bragging or complaining? Now that I have read an interview he gave to a tabloid newspaper, I guess it was the former. Amazing what fools men and women can make of themselves even in middle age. But to be fair, he also could have said it because he knew that I know what a phoney aristocrat Marie Christine of Kent is.
As everyone outside Hollywood and Wall Street knows, snobbishness is simply an assumption of false superiority. The Fellowes couple seem to practise it with the limitless appetite of the true parvenu. In their interview they admitted awarding black marks if they spotted someone tipping the soup plate towards them. And woe to those who ‘grasp their knife like a pencil’. Now they tell me. I know people who grasp both their knife and fork as a pencil. I also know that pointing this out is even more common than holding one’s knife like a pencil, as is awarding black marks for lack of superficial manners.
Let’s face it. There’s nothing better than exquisite manners — alas, hard to come by nowadays — but there’s also such a thing called humanity. Would the Fellowes prefer to dine with a great and interesting historian who, having grown up behind the Iron Curtain (I do have someone in mind), holds his knives and forks like pencils, or with a moron like Michael of Kent? Personally, I prefer the brain to the fork any day. Come to think of it, the Fellowes would be a great hit in Palm Beach, a place where Princess Michael is actually taken seriously.
When I read the Fellowes interview, I passed it on to a lady who never uses her title and has impeccable manners, namely the mother of my children. She looked confused. ‘Is this a joke?’ she asked. ‘Nobody says things like this any more.’ Well, yes, they do — some, that is. Promoting one’s own poshness is one reason for it, social insecurity another. The reason Princess Pushy is so pushy — she orders people to address her as HRH, nice people who say hello in a friendly manner — is that she comes from an obscure Austrian background without any cachet whatsoever — hence the snobbishness.
And, speaking of the lady in question, some of you might remember that two years ago, during the Wimbledon final between Federer and Roddick, I revealed how all the tiny éclairs in the royal box had suddenly gone missing — devoured by her. Last week another disaster took place. This time in the Berkeley Square Pavilion of Art & Design. Suddenly, all the crudités were gone, as our Marie Christine was seen emptying tray after tray of the stuff in front of astounded personnel.
Basically, the sort of snobbishness that afflicts the Fellowes is probably worse than bad manners. I cannot tolerate slobs such as Alan Sugar and Philip Green, but it’s because they put on bad manners for effect. Don’t tell me these two little Jewish boys who came up poor and learnt all the tricks early on do not know how to act properly. If there was money in it they would, but choose to act like pigs for a macho image, I suppose.
Ironically, when Maggie Smith came to lunch at The Spectator a couple of years ago, she was seated next to me and we had non-stop laughs although we had never met before. I began flirting with her and she told me to finish up ‘that ghastly pink thing you have in your mouth…’ Maggie is not only a trouper but also a real Dame, and, as everyone knows, there is nothing like a dame, nothing in the world. I have not seen her in Downton Abbey because I choose to live away from Londonistan, in Tel Aviv-on-the-Hudson, but she was terrific in Gosford Park, another Julian Fellowes creation.
What amazes and surprises me is that this incredibly talented man Fellowes can make such dumb pronouncements. The next thing we know he and his wife — who sounds far worse than him — will be suing some poor souls for having tipped their soup plate towards them, and having held their forks like pencils. I can see the letter now. A typical lawyer’s threatening epistle to freeze the hearts of those poor souls who committed those social solecisms: ‘My clients have suffered shock, pain, emotional, psychiatric, psychological and mental distress as well as injuries...’ Come on, get off it, Fellowes, you’re giving your insecurities away as if you were the All England Club’s éclairs.