Anyone who is anyone and some people who are no one at all go to the Henley Royal Regatta. All the women think they look like Liz Hurley, and all the men look like they need a slap. I look like I need a drink.
Getting there from London ought to be a doddle, and if you get a boat it probably is. I’m on the train, downing Prosecco for everybody’s sake, and there are two changes in who-knows-where in order to get to this staggeringly pretty town drenched in perfect countryside, the Thames a gentle vein running through it. It’s the sort of place everyone wants to live, and if you have upwards of millions and millions you probably could.
All the fun – you might want to stick inverted commas around that – starts on the edge of the town
The Regatta swamps Henley every year for five early-July days, and has had royal patronage since 1851, even though hardly any of them ever turn up, not even Beatrice. And it’s supposed to be about the rowing, with boats slicing through the water every ten minutes or so, a little Mexican wave of applause as they go that dips to indifference in certain spots. More on those certain spots later. But what it’s mostly about is showing off.
All the fun – you might want to stick inverted commas around that – starts on the edge of the town from where white tents rise and fall along the banks of the river and are called things like The Stewards’ Enclosure and Chinawhite. To get to them you have to walk a path, barely wider than a biro, between the water and the tents, bumper-to-backside with the crowd as you go.
And the crowd. It’s that eye-popping collision of two worlds that has become synonymous with events deemed “high society” – the poshest people ever plus the glorious leaders of the much-maligned chavs. And I know we’re not supposed to say chav any more, but you’re also not supposed to wear a brown belt with black shoes, and that isn’t stopping these people in front of me.
Re. the former, I’ve not been immersed in this much twattage since my heady days at Edinburgh University, where the assumption was that I was Unwins Wines, or at the very least the seeds company. “Daddy’s just a mechanic” didn’t wash with Alexandra, whose Daddy owned C&A.
I know we’re not supposed to say chav any more, but you’re also not supposed to wear a brown belt with black shoes, and that isn’t stopping these people in front of me
Chumps in white ’n’ navy smoke cigars; ladies who really ought to be afraid of colour flick the sort of hair only money can buy. Every chino ever made is here, mismatched with boat shoes and finished off with entitlement. This lot hang around the Stewards’ Enclosure in all the right blazers and it’s like a privilege expo in there.
The non-awful rich people are wearing all the make-up Mac ever made and dresses so short the whole world is their gynaecologist. It’s like something from Zola: high society being overrun by tarts.
And the certain spot I’m in is Chinawhite, an offshoot of the blingy London nightclub, where no one gives a toss about the rowing. Instead they give a very big toss about the VIP tables that come with buckets of premium vodka the price of Scotland. On that table over there sits an entire girl group, each member complaining loudly that they’re being looked at all the time, in order to ensure they’re being looked at all the time. It’s tough at the top. Scattered everywhere are BMW drivers in white linen.
But that’s not to say it isn’t fun, let alone “fun”. It is hideously enjoyable – once the warm fuzz of premium vodka kicks in – to be dumped in a world that has no place for you. It’s like living in a competition prize, all this silliness that only money or privilege or both can get you. Where a male model currently fronting a high street brand swishes in like he’s Diana Ross, refusing to take off his sunglasses while clever people slow-clap him. Where the average 19-year-old is based in Chelsea. And where two sisters from Essex, each higher on the whole thing than the other, congratulate themselves and me just for getting in. Wait, did they think I’d won this? C
Stephen Unwin is a Soho-based journalist and editor
PICTURE: From Slate.com