The windows of London's classier (i.e. pricier) shops are celebrating at the moment. Among several others, New Bond Street's shop fronts are hosting a 300th birthday party, for an iconic Londoner. This year Tatler magazine will have graced British (and increasingly foreign) newstands for 300 years, in one form or other. Manekins peer out past stacks of back issues, modelling outfits worn by celebrities such as Elle McPherson and Rachel Weiss on past covers. Gold and black letters spell out "Tatler - 300 years" and "1709-2009" on the window-glass. In Moschino on Maddox Street, copies of Tatler have come to life, and scamper about the shopfront with champagne flutes.
Whilst Vogue and Vanity Fair, and many similar glossies, have multiple versions worldwide, translated and contextualised, Tatler remains resolutely British, and totally untransferable from its London viewpoint. Although it may review 5 star eco-lodges in Tanzania or recommend the best bars in which to drink Mai Tais in Shanghai, the comments and analysis are resolutely British, and a very particular type of British at that. Whilst class issues and the role of the aristocracy in Britain may have shifted slightly towards "not particularly bothered" on the wider public opinion scale, within the pages of Tatler they stand firm at "ooh yes, we care deeply", not so far away from "well, we care as long as they sell magazines".
No other publication still glorifies the glamour and, let's face it, sheer cash, of the upper classes in quite the same way; ploughing on today despite the fact that the majority of the country shops at Primark and Somerfield, and would regard Chinawhite as something off of which you would eat Sunday dinner, rather than a recently revamped club. Society with a capital "s" in Britain resides in the South (with another capital "s") - London is the last bastion of moneyed, ancient families, regardless of where their draughty ancestral piles actually are. Wildly romantic though 23 bedrooms, rolling acres of ancient woodland, and a plumbing system dating back to times when Jane Austen first put quill to paper may be, practical for partying they are not. What's the point of having wealth and old English style in the middle of a field where there's no one around to see it?
Open the pages of Tatler and you will see scores of lithe English Roses (although nowadays elbowing the Euro-trash and celebrities out of the way to reclaim their once uncontested spot), raised in the back of beyond who've all made a bolt for London the minute finishing school had imparted its final lesson on napkin-folding. With Daddy supporting their handbag habits they are free to sleep until lunchtime, shop until tea, and drink and dance until dawn in bars and clubs with histories as intertwined with money, royalty and high class as their own. Rather like an over-lavish parish magazine or high school yearbook, for the top echelons Tatler is a glossy reminder of that night out at wherever, or whom darling Poppy has reinvented herself as this week. Every month the same faces appear, and thirty or forty years ago, so did those of their parents, the It boys and girls of the moment.
And for those of us never likely to grace its shiny pages Tatler provides a few hours of heavenly escapism, and occasional giggles when someone you DO know appears, pictured looking surprised at a book-launch between a luxury goods heiress and a shambolic yet critically-acclaimed artist. But while the cheap chain-stores and identikit celebrity-inspired lifestyles alter the face of the average Brit, it is nice to think that someone out there still keeps our diminishing reputation of class and glamour alive, wearing grandmama's pearls with Mummy's vintage Pucci, as they drink hundreds of pounds worth of champagne in exclusive members-only Mayfair clubs. Until they stumble out in the early hours of the morning, class and composure completely forgotten, echoing the alternative ASBO-laden side of our culture. But of course, those photos never make Tatler...