Blonde Ambition: This year's crop of debutantes came out at the Queen Charlotte's Birthday Ball on Monday. Emma Forrest polished her social graces and cut along, only to find that she was the right age but the wrong face

The Independent photographer points to the girls he has just photographed for our cover, looks me over and says sternly, 'I'd take your jacket off before you speak to them, if I were you.'

As I'm struggling out of my brown suede overcoat with the off-white fake fur collar, Lady Cecilia Jocelyn approaches me.

'Oh, I love your jacket, my friend has one just like it.'

Lady Cecilia stands out. Most of the 28 debs are thin and busty with tumbling blonde locks and piggy noses - in fact they look disappointingly like white trash. But Lady C is elegant and serene. She's one of those blondes who look as if they were meant to be brunette - like Tuesday Weld, Ellen Barkin, Uma Thurman. She is also extremely pleasant. I suppose true aristocrats feel at ease with anyone. If you've got everything, you have no one to be jealous of. I begin to feel guilty about my scuffed black boots, which were intended as a spirited two fingers up to the establishment but which, in the light of Cecilia's friendliness, are starting to look like scuffed black boots.

'You should see us in the mornings. We troop in in our boots and jeans and we are very reluctant to take them off,' soothes Cecilia. 'I suppose we are used . . . to attract attention for charity.'

It is all for charidee, well-dressed ladies keep reminding me, like finishing school-educated Smashies and Nicies. Indeed it is - for an NHS hospital no less.

I meet reluctant deb Carina in the lavatories, who is again stupidly pretty and very friendly. She is a gamine Jean Seberg type and I tell her I love her haircut.

'Oh, thanks. They all call me helmet head.' And she toddles away clutching a packet of Silk Cut.

Down in the lobby a heavily pregnant Ulrika Jonsson is descending the staircase. 'I was supposed to walk the Channel Tunnel for the hospital, but I sustained an injury to my back.' Right. 'So I'm here instead.' Uh-huh. 'I'm here to observe. It's not something we have in Sweden.' Yup, they don't even have a class system there, the Swedes are that dull.

'Oh, look,' says the PR girl to the photographers. 'There's Sandra Dickinson]' No one looks. No one can quite remember who Sandra Dickinson is, although the fact that she is wearing a stars and stripes ballgown suggests that she is probably American.

Then the press are led away to eat from a trough, while the knobs feast on caviar. No, it's not that bad, but we do have to endure each other's company rather than that of the ravishing debs. Those of us who aren't deeply dull are deeply juvenile.

I and the man from another paper lean over the railings as the debs line up on the staircase. 'She's quite attractive.' He points at a blonde Julia Roberts type. There is a woman at a table below us wearing a plunging strapless dress. She has, quite simply, The Cleavage That Ate Cleveland. As the debs descend the staircase, the man from another paper is shouting, 'I can't get over her tits]' This doesn't calm the nerves of Miss Claudia Van Der Werff, who mimes vomiting into the dress of the girl in front of her.

Countess Bianca Vidaeff will later tell me that where you stand in the queue depends on who you know. Bianca is wearing a dress by Vivienne Westwood and a huge hairpiece of blonde and brown intertwined dreadlocks (bad enough on white people, let alone rich white people). Bianca is going to study Equine Science at Warwickshire College of Agriculture. Her right eye flicks closed as she talks, like Prunella Scales. I think she is pissed, but she might just be posh. 'There has been sniping backstage. I'm not trying to outdo anyone. I'm just trying to make a change,' she pipes, patting her hairpiece. Then she goes off to snog her boyfriend for the cameras.

The undoubted belle of the Ball is special guest, Valerie Campbell, who not only looks about 12 years old, but manages to make her daughter, Naomi, look fat and ugly. Consciously or not, she also does her best to refute the debs' claims that they are just normal teenagers. 'A lot of these girls have been away at boarding school and it's a good way of entering back into society,' she nods, approvingly.

After the procession down the staircase, the debs dance a Viennese waltz with their spotty counterparts. Lady Cecilia glides off the dance floor to meet me. 'Nicky. It is Nicky, isn't it?' Damn. Why isn't my name Nicky? She apologises in case she said anything wrong to me earlier and takes off her white satin pumps to show me the rings on her toes. By now, the debs' parents are dancing to a big band playing 'Love Is All Around' and I decide it's time to leave.

The last thing I hear is Mrs Bunty Lewis congratulating the chef who took six months creating the Queen Charlotte's birthday cake. 'A round of applause for the cake, as it moves away from the dance floor.' The cake moved beautifully.

This year's crop of debutantes came out at the Queen Charlotte's Birthday Ball on Monday. Emma Forrest polished her social graces and cut along, only to find that she was the right age but the wrong face

(Photographs omitted)

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