Sunday, August 21, 2011

I'm not fussy. Any rich man will do

By Jennifer O’Connell

As it’s August - the time of year when real news stops for a while to allow us to properly debate which seventysomething man we’d most like to be president (I’m holding out for Pat Ingoldsby) - I’ve found myself with a bit of unexpected free time to ponder the important questions of the universe.

Do strawberries taste the same for everyone? Why is there something rather than nothing? Is Schrodinger’s cat alive or dead?

And then there’s the really big one – why should I give a toss about Pippa Middleton?

No, wait! Don’t put the paper down. It may be silly season, but I would never stoop to gratuitous mentions merely to get another Pippa picture in the paper.

I genuinely want to know. Other than having a very shapely bottom, what exactly is it about Pippa Middleton that has inspired enough hand-rubbing amongst newspaper editors worldwide to light up the city of Beijing for at least a year?

According to a Google search, the name ‘Pippa’ has been mentioned in 1,270 news articles worldwide in the past month alone. Spend a few hours trawling them (you might as well, it’s August) and you’ll come away … well, not terribly much enriched.

The Hindustan Times records that: “Pippa kisses beau during cricket match”; the Guardian wonders: “Can Pippa Middleton, a retro Sloane who dresses as if she's been raised in the pages of Tatler, be a bona fide style icon?”; the Metro brings us the startling news that “Pippa’s £40,000 BMW sports car clamped in Chelsea”; while Us magazine gets straight to the nub of the matter: “Did Pippa Middleton pad her butt at the royal wedding?”

Meanwhile, children are starving in Somalia.

But sneer though we might – I know I’m starting to resemble a blonder Simon Cowell here – Pippa Middleton has arrived as a bona fide celebrity, a strange kind of (particularly shapely) cultural barometer and, yes, a role model for younger girls.

The Telegraph reported last weekend that the ‘Pippa Butt-Lift’ has become one of the most sought-after plastic surgery products in the US. Meanwhile, back on planet earth, I could count on one thumb the number of press releases which have arrived into my in-box not invoking the name ‘Pippa’ in recent months.

In the noughties, we worried about the kind of role models Victoria Beckham and Kate Moss made for young women – but at least they earned their own money, and spent their time doing things a little more enterprising than attending endless tennis and cricket matches or shopping in Chelsea.

Kate Moss may have smoked too many fags, eaten too little food and hung around with too many unsuitable men, but you couldn’t have called her bland. And while Victoria Beckham has never mastered the art of looking like she can stand being alive, she is – at least - driven.

Her brand of set-jawed, sharp-elbowed ambition is in sharp in contrast to the Pippas of this world, whose sole aim in life seems to be to find a rich man to marry. Oh yes, I know she has a job at her parents’ company, but that’s about as convincing a cover as sister Kate’s former career as a ‘buyer for Jigsaw’.

When I was a teenager in the 1990s, some of today’s most popular career choices simply didn’t exist.

I never knew anyone who replied “famous” or “on television”, for instance, when asked what they wanted to be when they grew up. We’d have been less confused if they’d declared a lifelong ambition to work in the field of colonic irrigation.

And while I’m not naïve enough to think that at least some of my schoolmates didn’t really mean ‘married to a rich man’ when they answered with an unenthusiastic ‘nurse’ or teacher’, they at least had the sense not to say it aloud.

But the arrival into the public consciousness of the Middleton sisters has made it possible for the current crop of Harriet Smiths and Jane Fairfaxes to wobble out of the closet in their 6in Louboutins, fluttering their falsies at the nearest wallet.

Because marriage has once again become a perfectly acceptable career path.

Last week, I found myself watching a BBC3 documentary, Cherry’s Cash Dilemmas, in which one pretty teenager called Esma, growing up on a council estate, was asked what she wanted to be when she finished growing up. “A wag,” was her prompt reply.

Seeing the journalist’s look of astonishment, she added something like: “But it doesn’t have to be to a footballer. I’m not fussy. Any rich man will do.”

She wasn’t just sitting around in her bedroom, daydreaming about being a Wag, either. She and her friends were putting serious time and effort into their chosen career path: spending all their money on fake nails, fake hair and fake tan, and putting in a grueling round of nightclub appearances in the hopes of happening on a real-life footballer.

As a parent of members of the next generation of teenagers, I despair about the kind of role models they’ll be exposed to.

Since my daughter is just five, it’s still quite easy to point her in the right direction. Although she’d probably – just about – be able to cope with the literary demands of Jordan’s biography, it’s not about to find its own way onto her bookshelf.

So at the moment, her idol is Rosa Parks – mainly because they share a name and she would never give up her seat on the bus for a mean boy.

However, she’s also been watching a lot of Barbie movies, and so she would like it better if, once she’d finished being the mother of the freedom movement, Rosa had ended up married to a prince – or, at the very least, had a sister who married a prince.

I’d better start saving for the butt-lift.

This column first appeared in the Sunday Business Post on August 21, 2011


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