Smart set: Kate Reardon and staff at Tatler
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Rah to the people: the mad world of Tatler brought to life

A magazine peopled almost entirely by those who think Debrett’s New Guide to Etiquette and Modern Manners is full of genuinely useful advice.

Inside Tatler

Why has the BBC made three hour-long films about Tatler (Mondays, 9pm) the magazine for posh types? I’ve absolutely no idea. All I can tell you is that they’re appalling fun (emphasis on the appalling), being peopled almost entirely by those who think Debrett’s New Guide to Etiquette and Modern Manners is full of genuinely useful advice. “A gentleman is never rude unintentionally,” announced Kate Reardon, Tatler’s editor and self-confessed “honking great Sloane”, when asked to pick out her favourite bit of guidance from this hallowed text. One of the “incredibly controlling” things she does as editor is to give every new employee a copy of it – and no, this is not a joke. Across the office, Matthew Bell, one such recruit, confessed delightedly that, until now, he’d had no idea at all that the “smart way” to eat a pear is with a spoon.

Bell had come to Tatler from – ugh! – a newspaper, and when this documentary was made was still finding his feet. Reardon liked his suggestion for a feature that would explore the idea that the middle classes have “destroyed everything”, but she was markedly less keen on his attempt to gatecrash the Queen’s garden party. Poor Matthew. For him, humiliation was the order of the day. First, he had to admit to camera that his roots were middle class (his ma – just imagine it – is a teacher); then he had to pretend to be a waiter in order to blag his way into the party for the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition. (Though he “channelled” the thoughts of a waiter – convincing himself he was broke and genuinely in need of a shift serving canapés to Tracey Emin – alas, he was soon discovered and thrown out.) He also found himself offering to visit Switzerland, where he would be “finished off” – cue excited squawking from his colleagues.

The climax of this initiation was his appearance at Tatler’s art-themed fancy-dress party, clothed in breeches and a wig, like a chap from a Gainsborough portrait. Uh oh. I was reminded powerfully of the days when I used to believe that if I attached strips of pink loo roll to my cheeks with Vaseline, people would mistake me for Adam Ant.

The world of Tatler is a parallel universe, and you enter it at your peril. Long ago, I had an interview there myself – don’t all throw your shoes at me; I was very young, and somewhat desperate – and when the editor asked me where I was from, I unaccountably said: “Yorkshire,” hoping that she might picture Castle Howard rather than the Sheffield semi in which I was born. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job. My vowels, I expect. But doubtless they did me a favour. How would I have coped? I would have spent my days veering between coming over like Wolfie from Citizen Smith – “Power to the people!” – and trying not to collapse into hysterics.

As I watched Sophie Goodwin, the magazine’s style editor, perform an “ironic” dash around the Notting Hill branch of Poundland – “This place is completely brilliant!” she yelped, throwing a “luxury” shower cap into her loaded basket – I felt more than a touch bolshie. “I’ll give you cocktail umbrellas!” I thought. But then Christopher Biggins would hove into view – he was at the Queen’s Club polo, along with Jilly Cooper, Charlotte out of Sex and the City, and a couple called Andy and Patti Wong, who resembled waxworks – or some Scottish aristo would show us the ghastly mural he’d painted on the side of his castle, and my blood pressure would drop. How irrelevant these people are, and how batty.

Back at the office, Reardon bounced a cut-out-and-keep Kate Middleton doll on her desk happily. All, it seemed, was right in her world. Very soon, her 160,000 readers would discover that the whippet is now the “chic dog du jour”, that side-saddle racing for the ladies is making a comeback, and that while red cords are very “old country”, red wellies are definitely “new”. Nicholas Coleridge, the managing director of Condé Nast, which owns Tatler, had proclaimed himself thoroughly satisfied with her latest issue, so long as she was sure to move the cover line “Are you a slut?” just a little further away from the end of the Duchess of Cambridge’s nose. Her work, until next time, was done.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 27 November 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The rise of the insurgents

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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