Cooler, Faster, More Expensive: The Return of the Sloane Ranger
Peter York and Olivia Stewart-Liberty (Atlantic Books, £19.99)
Two years ago, over coffee in a literary agent’s Soho office, I was asked if I would be interested in collaborating with the style-writer Peter York on a new version of The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook. (Not much of a boast, I realise.) Aside from the scant appeal of working on a retread, I remembered all too clearly how the original book fell on my generation of privately educated undergraduates in the early 1980s like an asteroid from space, releasing a virulent pathogen.
It infected many of us seriously. Gold signet rings began to sprout on bare little fingers. Vowels stretched. We began to dress like our grandparents. And look what damage it did to bright young minds. I recall taking a young Sloane Scottish, velvet hairband, gorgeous in taffeta gown with tartan sash to a charity ball in London during this heady period, and, when the party eventually ended, she turned to me outside the Dorchester with a sparkle in her eyes. ‘I know what we should do now,’ she murmured. ‘Let’s go to Sloane Square and jump in the fountain.’ A chill November morning, 3am, and this was the most alluring possible end to a night out for a girl bitten badly by the bug.
The original handbook, based on a series of larky features in Harpers & Queen, was an utterly brilliant piece of social observation. It also hit the publishing jackpot, going on to sell some 300,000 copies. For years afterwards, no downstairs loo was fully furnished without a copy.So how does the new book compare? Peter York and his intrepid co-author Olivia Stewart-Liberty start by telling us, with a whiff of tragedy, that everything has changed: ‘The Sloane is a beast almost unrecognisable from twenty-five years ago. Back then, Sloanes were still nearly top of the pile? in the Army, auction houses, wine merchants, land agents, or farmers.’ All of ‘Henry’ and ‘Caroline’s’ expectations and certainties were smashed in the financial upheaval of the City’s Big Bang, and by the transformation of their adored icon Princess Diana from blushing nursery-school teacher to neurotic fashion plate.
Sloanes, the theory goes, evolved in response to these cataclysms and spawned seven young sub-tribes such as the Eco Sloane (Zac Goldsmith), the entrepreneurial Turbo Sloane (Quintessentially’s Ben Elliot), and the Burberry-clad Chav Sloane (Tara Palmer-Tompkinson). There are even three sub-tribes of Chav Sloane, apparently. With me so far? Trouble is, this is all rather complicated. It demands some sustained concentration not ideal in a loo book. And any pop analysis of social class needs to be very simple to catch on widely: Sloane or un-Sloane, ‘U’ or ‘Non U’, in the club or out?
The other problem is that the authors surely can’t persuade us that everything has changed. In just about any regiment, wine merchant, or land agent, unreconstructed Sloanes are still thriving en masse and jollying the place up, Gucci loafers and all. So little has truly changed in this particular gene pool, that if Henry VIII were to waddle into Sotheby’s or Haynes, Hanson & Clark or Dreweatt Neate, he would immediately feel as comfortable among the pink-cheeked, floppy-fringed types as with the ‘hoorays’ who jousted with him at Whitehall back when he was a braying teenager.
The new book is wonderfully witty and horribly riveting in parts. Come to think of it, I even regret ever so slightly walking down that Soho staircase without the book contract in hand.