Salute Lady Victoria, the greatest class warrior of our time

Lady Godiva, history relates, was the beauteous young wife of the Earl of Mercia. In 1060 or so, her husband, tired of hearing her constant plea that he should reduce the heavy taxation on the people of Coventry, declared that he would do so only if she rode naked through the crowded market place - which she promptly did, long hair shielding her best assets.

Milady was the first bare-breasted (indeed, bare) class warrior. A thousand years on, she has a worthy heiress in Lady Victoria Hervey. Lady V, like Lady G, will not put up with social barriers, and is ready to sacrifice her modesty for a greater cause. The Earl of Mercia may have been uninterested in the fate of the poor of 11th-century Coventry, but his good lady wife risked her honour for them; the class-conscious prigs of today may fume about the daughter of a marquess posing topless for a tabloid, but Lady Victoria won't give up her place in the Sun.

With their daring actions, these gentlewomen have made their bid to erase the class distinction that has survived the ten centuries that divide feudal England from Blairland. Two fingers up at stodgy propriety, these free spirits say: if it takes a bit of flesh exposure to right a wrong, or at least to trumpet its existence, we are ready to do the undone thing.

History does not tell us whether Lady Godiva's ride was her only act of protest, but any reader of any newspaper knows that Lady Victoria is waging her class war well beyond page three. In the mean streets of Knightsbridge, she is tackling the age-old toff prejudice against getting one's hands dirty with money - milady, though just 24 years of age, has proved an entrepreneur of genius, raking in millions with her trendy clothes boutique. In so doing, she has taken on the equally deep-rooted prole prejudice that all toffs laze about, waiting for someone to peel them grapes: not so Victoria, a busy bee who runs her shop, writes a column, gives great quotes, and still manages to party with Baby Spice, Robbie Williams and Prince William.

And that's not all. Our Top Totty is trashing the universal prejudice that all pretty blondes are brainless: she boasts three A-level As under her Gucci belt, and has cleverly exploited her It-girl status to get free PR and advertising for her budding enterprise. The empty buzz of celebrity has stunned many a lesser woman and caused her to lose her footing. For such fragile fillies, life in the fast lane proves so unforgiving that, before long, cocktails give way to cocaine, and the Priory beckons. But while all around her lose their heads, Lady V coolly keeps hers above the paparazzi flashes. She may have been brought up in a dysfunctional family - papa was a jailbird; one of her half-brothers, John, a notorious libertine; the other, Nick, a psychopathic suicide - but this golden girl wastes no breath in talking psychobabble, confessing at NA meetings and blaming all her present trials on the way Nanny force-fed her mash. Let others - middle-class ninnies, or privileged whiners - moan about how their socially autistic families have scarred their emotions; this lady is not for turning on her dead white relatives. No, sensible Victoria is a survivor who has rolled up her sleeves and turned the gargoyles into an amusing narrative, and their title into lucrative business.

Though she may be a blueblood with a home as big as a village, Lady V refuses to be penned in the upper-class ghetto of Eton-Oxbridge-county life. Indeed, she is actively engaged in creating an inclusive society where David Yelland stands cheek by jowl with Prince William, Meg Mathews with the Duchess of Devonshire. In this world, toff territory becomes common as muck, proles are as welcome as Sloanes, and the only passport necessary is the ability to shrug off criticism.

With the energy and courage of a latter-day Amazon, Lady V is slaying the shibboleths of the establishment - and having a whale of a time in the process. Hurrah for this class warrior - and class act!

This article first appeared in The New Statesman Essay - Democracy can be bad for you

2001-03-05