Recently I was in Harrods, admiring the D. Porthault bed linens on the third floor. Once used by the Ritz in Paris and the Kennedys in the White House, these French linens are among the finest in the world.
Look at them! The embroidered coverlets, the snowy pillowcases with scalloped edges, the darling little heart print inspired by the sketches of the Duchess of Windsor. I focus on a tiny boudoir cotton percale pillowcase, not much bigger than a paperback. How much?
‘Two hundred and fifty pounds,’ says the charming assistant. No, I say. Not for the whole set; just for this little one? ‘Yes, it is £250,’ she repeats, nonchalantly. I gasp. I retreat.
I reconsider the homely virtues of the M&S and John Lewis bedding ranges. And I realise in an instant how someone can spend £1.6 million in a year in Harrods, without even trying.
That is exactly what one banker’s wife has done, every single year for the past ten years. The mystery woman, who is married to a jailed former head of an unnamed country’s state bank, is in the middle of a complicated legal case in London.
The National Crime Agency has ordered her to explain how she can afford such a luxury lifestyle, which includes a British property portfolio worth £22 m, private jet travel, lashings of fine wines and what Piers Morgan would call varied meals of high-class culinary calibre.
Her case is part of a government crackdown on the roaring ocean of dodgy money and ill-gotten gains that wash around the capital in a high spring tide of corruption.
Wealthy foreign individuals suspected of being connected to serious crime are now served with an Unexplained Wealth Order and must explain to the NCA where they got the money to buy their properties and fund their lifestyles — then prove it was not bought with the proceeds of crime.
Holy helicopter pads! In the fine homes of Knightsbridge and Mayfair, more than a few wives of oligarchs must be trembling in their diamond-soled Louboutins, wondering where their next cashmere carpet and matching set of mink-lined luggage is coming from.
And if the NCA is serious, surely it will also turn its attentions to the kind despots from around the world who also have homes in the capital and squander taxes and foreign aid collected to help their impoverished people.
In the meantime, the case allows a rare glimpse into the secret lives of the super-rich in London. The kind of women you occasionally see floating from limousine to nightclub in a cloud of perfume, inside a knot of bodyguards, buffeted by the kind of gilt-edged privilege that only squillions in the bank can buy.
In fancy restaurants, they nibble on tuna tartare and try not to look haunted. In places such as Harrods, they comfort themselves with the sugar rush of conspicuous consumption. And if it’s of any consolation to those of us still shackled to the yoke of austerity, their lives seem to be as empty and meaningless and banal as we might have hoped.
Poor Mrs Bankers-Wife! Her Harrods haul included the £150,000 she spent on jewellery in a single bored afternoon. However, to rack up a seven-figure tab, surely she must have popped in about three times a week to indulge herself?
Imagine having all that money but so little imagination that you spend all your time wandering around the marble halls of Harrods, picking up 1lb of beluga for tea and buying a grand piano or a crystal bath tub on a whim. What about a nice Victoria Beckham evening gown, Modom? Stop it. Surely no one is that rich or that stupid.
There will always be those who are richer, but what gets me is that the gap between the haves and the have-it-alls seems to get wider and wider.
This week, both the Duchess of Cambridge and the Duchess of Sussex appeared on public duty wearing several thousands of pounds of clothes and shoes apiece, and no one batted an eye. Instagram is full of the gloating lifestyles of the rich and indulged young, while the disgusting opulence of the Kardashians’ lifestyle has had a well-documented effect on their millions of social media followers, none of it good.
Yet Mrs Bankers-Wife has hit a particular nadir of toxic affluence.
What kind of an existence do you have when Harrods — an internationally notorious shrine to vulgar consumption — is the centre of your life? I always wondered how this red-brick temple to luxury goods ever made any money as it always seems to be full of moon-faced tourists staring at the glittering displays but never buying anything. Now I know why.
For every thousand non-shoppers there is a woman like her who would sell her soul — if she had one — for another £100,000 watch. Why buy a hospital when you can buy an emerald? Why buy an ordinary pillowcase when you can buy a tiny, useless one for £250? That’s what I want to know. And so does the National Crime Agency.
Congratulations to Zoe Ball, who will take over the Radio 2 Breakfast Show from Chris Evans in January.
Her promotion, I suspect, is part of a tacit plan that will ensure that no man will ever again get a high-profile job at the BBC. At least for the next decade or two.
Zoe will not get the same £1.6 million salary as Chris Evans did — and she is fine about this.
Sensible girl! For why should she get the same? Zoe and Chris may be different genders but they are also different people, with different experience and different careers.
Equally, no one expects that Lauren Laverne will be earning the same as Kirsty Young, who she is temporarily replacing on Desert Island Discs — again under the Beeb’s strict new No Men rules.
Lauren is like a half-pint of flat bitter in comparison to the smoked whisky allure of the almighty Kirsty.
There has to be a price on talent and experience, and that applies to both sexes.
Lily Allen thinks she was hard done by as a child, but reading her new autobiography suggests something different.
My Thoughts Exactly tells of the parental neglect she experienced from her film producer mother Alison Owen, and celebrity father Keith Allen.
Yet there also seemed to be chances and opportunities galore, with the best schools, the nicest houses, summers in Ibiza and working on film sets when she was only 14.
She grudgingly accepts that her father initiated her pop career, but feels she became successful ‘in spite’ of her parents. The drugs she took, the drinks she drank, the men and women she slept with, the marriage that went wrong — it was all somehow their fault, never hers.
But there comes a time in life when you have to stop blaming your parents, and accept responsibility for yourself. Lily Allen, despite having two children of her own, is not quite there yet. I’d have a lot more respect for her if she was.
Samantha Markle has been and gone and barely caused a ripple in royal circles or elsewhere. Good.
The scheming half-sister of the Duchess of Sussex was in the UK on the last leg of her Harass & Humiliate tour of Europe, determined to embarrass poor Meghan.
She flew to London ostensibly to meet her half-sis and have a nice chat to heal the family rifts — most of which Samantha had initiated herself, of course.
Her nasty little Operation Mortification hinged on the acres of publicity she hoped would be generated by the British Press. However, hardly anyone wanted anything to do with her.
The high point of the tour was an appearance on the Jeremy Vine Show (C5) on Monday, when Samantha tried hard to be sweet and reasonable and blame the media for everything. This was in marked contrast to the bile and bitterness she has spewed out on social media over the past few years.
‘You came here to shame her,’ said firm but fair Jeremy. He drew attention to Samantha’s cruel tweets about Meghan’s royal title. ‘You called her DuchASS. Am I pronouncing that correctly?’ he asked.
Samantha Markle is fooling no one. Meghan’s new life is not her life, and she can’t bully her way into it.
Perhaps now she will see that the kindest thing she can do for her sister, herself and her family is go away. And crawl back under a rock.
All hell has broken loose in Kingussie, where members of the Scottish Women’s Institutes have broken away from the mothership.
Resentment has been boiling harder than a pan of rasp jam up in the Highlands, where all 25 members of the local SWI got fed up with sending their annual £22 subscriptions to the Edinburgh HQ, but getting nothing in return. Nothing!
‘They’d say they were running various courses,’ said a member. ‘It would be fine if you could get to Edinburgh to do them.’ The Kingussie mob could hardly make a 230-mile round trip to the Scottish capital for a Housewife Proficiency Course (‘Shake when damp means the duster, Morag, not you.’)
They also feel townies down south don’t grasp rural issues. The local high school has my admiration for teaching pupils to skin and butcher a rabbit, then turn it into a jalfrezi curry. A life skill worth having. They do things differently up there.
I’m with you all the way, girls.