ALEXANDRA SHULMAN: Why being posh no longer means mud and clutter

ALEXANDRA SHULMAN’S NOTEBOOK: Why being posh no longer means mud and clutter

‘Very Buckinghamshire’. So what’s that meant to mean? It’s how one snobbish commentator described the interiors of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s country home in this month’s Tatler magazine. 

Oh yes, Buckinghamshire, the stockbroker-belt county of the nouveaux riches since the days when the Rothschilds set up camp there – and being Jewish outsiders, had to run their own fox hunt. 

The Cambridge’s Anmer Hall in more far-flung Norfolk is apparently ‘like a gleaming five-star hotel with cushions plumped and candles lit’. 

Whoever made that observation, suggesting the home decor, supposedly heavily influenced by Carole Middleton, was more nouveau than aristo clearly doesn’t know much about how the New Posh live. 

Prince William and Catherine’s residence at Amner Hall has been described as ‘very Buckinghamshire’

When a wealthy American friend came to live in England 25 years ago he joked that the words he most dreaded hearing when he stayed in the homes of posh Brits were: ‘There’s usually enough hot water…’ 

Well, times have changed. The old tropes of aristocratic style – doggy-haired soft furnishings, collapsed armchairs, wonky, rusty candelabra, dim lighting, muddy boots in the baronial hallway – are relics of the past. 

Current incumbents of a country pile may have inherited a place where you had to bolt from the dining room to the sitting room because the corridors were freezing, and the only warmth was the blazing fire, but if they’ve got the loot, they’re not living like that now. 

New-gen posh has changed – just as has the definition of who is posh. An old title and a crumbling estate on the Borders is no longer the key signifier of posh, if that word is meant to carry any superiority and privilege. 

By far the wealthiest in this country now are those who have made their own fortunes rather than those who inherited a Coutts account from the times of the Norman Conquest. 

In the recent Sunday Times Rich List, the only aristocrat in the top ten was the Duke of Westminster, while the Queen was a low-ranking 372.

Last week there was a photograph of Prince Charles at his desk in Birkhall which brought cheer to my heart, as the clutter of his office bore a distinct similarity to my own.

Rows of framed family photographs, piles of CDs (clearly no Sonos sound system for him), a scattering of unmatched knickknacks, papers littering the surface, a pleated silk lampshade. 

Prince Charles’s cluttered desk as he talks with Alan Titchmarsh show his ‘old posh’ credentials

Charles, like his wife Camilla, is old-guard posh. The kind of posh who would only use the term posh as code for ‘isn’t it a bit over the top?’ 

As in when Camilla was heard saying ‘very posh’ when she saw the display of trees lining the nave at the Cambridges’ wedding. 

I imagine Anmer is more in the style of the new posh of the Cambridge’s generation. 

Knick-knacks are ruthlessly edited, allowing few to hang around for simply sentimental value. 

Bookshelves, rather than being casually filled to breaking point, are ‘curated’ to look their most decorative. 

Table lights, the previous staple lighting of grand country houses, are kept to a minimum. 

Instead, a lighting designer will have installed hidden lighting with a push-button ambient glow allowing for a simple ‘statement’ standing lamp or the ubiquitous row of pendants in the kitchen. 

You would be unlikely to find the small cushions embroidered with humorous motifs that Princess Diana was fond of. 

For style inspiration you don’t have to look much further than Soho Farmhouse, the home-fromhome of the Beckhams, and every other wealthy young Cotswold dweller. 

Whereas the Old Posh delighted in the patina of age, choosing paintings, rugs, wallpaper and furniture looking as if it had been there for cen­turies (which it might well have been), the New Posh like a bit of gleam, polish and comfort. 

Sparkling copper saucepans (never used) hang in the kitchen, dust-free Crittall-style French doors open on to fire-pits, corner sofas are allowed in front of the massive plasma-screen TV. 

There won’t be many two-bar electric fires and Tupperware containers at Anmer, like those you’ll find in the Queen’s private quarters. 

If it’s true that the younger Royals’ home is ‘Very Buckinghamshire’ it’s only further proof that the couple are part of the real world where the new posh is no longer the province of old money.

End lockdown! I want to be alone… 

Lockdown has been miserable for those who live alone. I know. 

I have friends and family in that position and understand how bleak it is to have no one beside you when those moments of frustration, dismay and fear that many of us experience from time to time, strike. 

But to be honest, one of the things I crave in these days, weeks and now months is time alone. 

Our household has been together for ten weeks and, although we’re lucky to have a large enough home where we can be in different rooms, I can’t wait to have the place back to myself. 

Having stopped working in an office where I was constantly surrounded by people a few years ago, I’ve come to hugely appreciate the hours when no one else is around, safe in the knowledge that they will return at some point. 

In normal times there are many hours during the day when no one is here but me. 

I can luxuriate in the silence of the house rather than hearing other people’s Zoom or FaceTime conversations booming out in their uniquely noisy way. 

Or I can put on my own choice of loud music to do the ironing or clean the kitchen and know that no one else will be bothered by it. 

And most of all I don’t have to talk. 

To be able to keep silent without it appearing bad-tempered or critical would be a joy. 

I know I should be cherishing the companionship of my nearest and dearest, but honestly – it’s exhausting.

What do Dominic Cummings and Kate Moss have in common? Well, quite a bit, as it turns out

What do Dominic Cummings and Kate Moss have in common? Well, quite a bit, as it turns out. 

Until last Monday, most people didn’t know what either of their voices sounded like. 

Despite being one of the most famous women in the world, Kate rarely speaks in public, although in private she’s one of the chattiest people I’ve ever met. 

She’s a brilliant raconteur with the throaty chuckle and faint rasp of the naughtiest girl in the class – the one whose gang you crave to be in. 

She’s also a firm believer in the mantra ‘never complain, never explain’. 

Hearing Cummings speak – a man who has also neither complained nor, many of us think, explained – was one of Bank Holiday Monday’s most interesting revelations. 

Expecting the rat-a-tat-tat of a lean, mean political machine, his almost gentle Northern burr was a total surprise. 

Hearing Cummings speak – a man who has also neither complained nor, many of us think, explained – was one of Bank Holiday Monday’s most interesting revelations

The world’s better if you can’t see it 

It’s been a good week for the short-sighted. 

First, we learned that, if you are worried about your eyes, you can consider driving to a beauty spot in lockdown – and then Prince William explained that his poor eyesight helped him get over stage fright. 

He discovered that, when he couldn’t see the audience clearly, it was a tremendous help. And he’s right. 

There’s nothing worse than seeing your audience with crystal clarity as they scroll idly through their phones while you’re speaking (name-drop alert: I watched Kanye West doing exactly that as his wife Kim Kardashian spoke at a Vogue Festival) or worse, watch them dozing off when you know you’ve got a good ten minutes to go. 

I’m starting to wonder if the people I know who holed up in their second home outside the city when the virus struck will ever come back. 

Certainly if it were up to the men, they wouldn’t. What’s become absolutely clear is that the men are loving their new, more solitary rural life and would happily stay there permanently. 

It’s what they’ve been hankering for – a severely reduced social life, no office and constant opportunities for fire building. The women­folk, not so much… 

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