The perils of being a posh boy on the telly

The Tatler documentary brought me instant fame – and mockery

6 December 2014

9:00 AM

6 December 2014

9:00 AM

The first time it happened was at the cinema. I was queuing for my ticket-for-one when the woman behind me exploded. ‘Omigod I saw you on television!’ ‘Oh, er, yes,’ I mumbled. The next time was in the cinema, as I squeezed down the row: ‘Sorry, but I have to say, I saw you on that show,’ grinned the young man. I suppose we were on the King’s Road, so it wasn’t surprising everyone had been watching Posh People: Inside Tatler. It was only when I was stopped by a blonde in Shoreditch the next day that I began to worry for my ego.

I joined Tatler last year — ten years after I started my career as a receptionist at The Spectator. On my first day, filming began for the BBC’s fly-on-the-wall documentary. It’s been a funny time, what with interviewing pigeons for a jewellery shoot and writing confessionals about threesomes. Strangest of all has been the past week, since the show aired. Perhaps it was inevitable that, of the 450 hours filming for three one-hour episodes, they would make something of the new boy. But I never expected it would lead to a proposition (from an older man) on Twitter. As a print journalist, your readership is maybe a few thousand. Show your face on telly, and 1.5 million people have clocked it. Many more on iPlayer. It goes to your head. You start to think there’s something special about you. When all I did was turn up for work.

The reaction hasn’t all been favourable. In the first episode, there’s a bit in which I say that the correct way to eat a pear is with a spoon. To which someone countered — on Twitter, naturellement — that the way to eat a pineapple is to ‘shove it up your overprivileged arse’. My sister says she cringed the whole way through, and I was horrified to see every hideous spot and hangover on screen in high definition. The Guardian’s media diary was quick to point out what a useless journalist the show makes me seem to be — failing to get a member of the Bullingdon Club to speak to camera, and getting thrown out of the Royal Academy summer party.

Then came the reviews. My face, my teeth, my voice were all up for discussion. I particularly enjoyed a piece in Vice calling me ‘the poshest man alive; a kind of smart-shirted, scruffy-haired real doll operated by Richard Curtis’. I began to wonder how actual celebrities ever get anything done — googling yourself is completely addictive. Help, I’ve become an overnight narcissist!

The weirdness got a bit much when the documentary featured on Goggle-box, the show in which you watch other people watching TV. Strangers sprawled on sofas gurned in horror as I enthused about being issued with a copy of Debrett’s Guide to Modern Manners. Watching them watching me was more than ‘holding the mirror up to nature’. It was surreal.

We had been prepared for the worst. Fearing for our mental health, the HR folk at Condé Nast, Tatler’s publisher, suggested we keep away from Twitter for a few weeks. As purveyors of ‘Britain’s poshest magazine’, we were ripe for trolling.

Funnily enough, the narkiest comments have come from former Tatler journalists, who obviously feel left out. Giles Coren wrote a piece about how much better the documentary would have been 15 years ago, when he worked there. This was padded out with imaginative anecdotes about how he received blow jobs from his colleagues, made less credible by a picture of a nerdy young Coren in spectacles. Camilla Long claimed they partied in the office with their knickers off till 1 a.m., while A.A. Gill’s insight was that it was funnier in his day. Rachel Johnson, who has never worked at Tatler, tried to yank the spotlight back to her, saying how much better the documentary about her editorship of The Lady had been.

Actually, they’re all right in a way: it’s because there aren’t too many fruitcakes at Tatler any more that they let the cameras in. Then again, the little bit of fame could be just the thing to send us crazy. On the tube, I look up to see people whispering.


Matthew Bell, Sophia Money-Coutts, Kate Reardon, Gavanndra Hodge, Tibbs Jenkins Photo: Dan Burn-Forti

By Christmas, I will have slipped back into obscurity, joining thousands of half-remembered faces who were once on TV. For now, I’m enjoying it. On Tuesday morning, I was introduced to a captain of industry at Pewsey station, hub of Wiltshire society. We had met years before, when I was a junior reporter. Uh oh, I thought, as he peered at me with recognition — had I written something disobliging? No, he too had seen me on TV. He mentioned David Frost, who said that strangers often thought they knew him because he spent so much time in their sitting rooms. I basked in the comparison as we boarded the train, he into first class, me into second. There were no seats, and I wondered if David Frost ever had to sit for an hour on the floor by the loo.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Matthew Bell was formerly a gossip columnist for the Independent, and a receptionist for The Spectator.

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Show comments
  • Andrew Smith

    We have a report telling us about a man who reports about other people being reported on television whilst talking to other people (most of whom are very rich and don’t do much anything interesting) and what impact this has on said man when standing in a queue for the cinema.

    Oh my.

    • jaz

      There is nothing, absolutely nothing, the media likes better than talking about itself.

      • Frank Marker

        Verbal masturbation. There’s a lot of it about you know.

  • trace9

    The Tatler’s full of Tits
    Saddos & soft Gits
    They can’t write
    Except for sh*te
    – Soooh busy scoring Hits..

    Yahh, Boo!

    • disqus_KdiRmsUO4U

      What disappoints me is that they don’t talk very posh either.
      See BBC reporters of the 30’s and 40’s for an examples of what I mean..

      In early UK films many bus conductors spoke quite naice.

      • rodger the dodger

        I recall my mother’s ‘telephone voice’ in the seventies. That was very ‘naice’, too!

        That was when it took six months to get a telephone – if the government pulled its finger out. Ah, yes, the joys of state telephones…maybe that’s something Ed Balls can propose bringing back?

  • commenteer

    Actually, Matthew, I thought it was pretty lame that you didn’t manage to gatecrash either of your events. You clearly didn’t go to the right school.

    • rodger the dodger

      Well, it’s not so much that, but having the confidence/guile to blag your way in. He seems a bit too permanently apologetic. That’s no good for a blagger – you have to be convincing. I used to work in the media, and I, like many of my colleagues, became adept at blagging my way into all sorts of functions and dos to which I was not on the list for, or had a physical invite.

      My skills have long atrophied, but I reckon back in the day, I could’ve done it…

  • Laguna Beach Fogey

    An advertisement dressed up as an article, clearly.

    It was better in my day.

  • EricHobsbawmtwit

    Why did I read this bilge?

  • Frank Marker

    I see one of the posh gels in the Tatler staff picture is named Sophia Money-Coutts. A made up name surely?