Real People: By 'eck it's Gucci

Tara be warned, says Cayte Williams. There are It Girls up north and they're as blonde, rich and publicity hungry as their southern sisters
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Indy Lifestyle Online
There was a time when glamour north of Watford was epitomised by Bet Lynch: all leopard-skin coat and no knickers. Or Lily Savage's pastiche in a six-foot wig and stilettoes. But the late Nineties has seen the rise of a new social phenomenon: the It Girl Up North. The kind of woman who has money, glitz and a wardrobe the size of a small holding in Cheshire.

Meet Jeanette, Nyree, Davinia and Georgina. These are the girls who play hard and spend hard. Manchester and surrounding Cheshire are their playground, the designer shops their Meccas, the plush bars and restaurants their watering-holes. You can see them eating (well, nibbling), drinking and shopping in Mancunian hotspots, groomed within an inch of their lives, with their best sides ready for any passing press photographer.

Unlike the Tara Palmer-Tomkinsons of this world - whose family has long- standing links with the Royals - their money is more likely to be new than old. But in every other respect they're the Northern branch of the It Girl brigade. Spend a day with these women and it comes as no surprise to learn that the Victoria Wine store in Cheshire's Alderley Edge sells more champagne than any other branch in the country.

Davinia Taylor's father is so rich (he made a mint in toilet roll) he bought her the original lyrics to Hey Jude. Davinia is the Tamara Beckwith of the north. Like TB, she's dated wild boys - her affair with footballer Ryan Giggs ended when they had a violent row in a bar - and has had her share of fame. She played the rumbustious blonde Jude Cunningham in Hollyoaks until she got the chop for apparently failing to make the early starts. (If this feels like deja vu, then you need look no further than Ms Beckwith who, it is said, dropped The Big Breakfast because she couldn't get out of bed.)

Then there's Georgina Cohen, whose father is a DIY chainstore millionaire and whose mother owns a fashion shop in wealthy north Cheshire. Georgina works as a researcher in television and insists she makes her own money. But how many researchers do you know who can afford Fendi?

Jeanette Lanz-Bergin has no such pretensions. Twenty-nine years old, she is a sort of northern Caprice who thinks nothing of flying over to New York to pre-empt the Gucci rush. Jeanette's father is a chief engineer for Swiss Air (a relatively modest start for an It Girl, admittedly) but private schooling in Greece and Hong Kong helped her on her way. Long blonde hair, expensively tanned, Mont-Blanc slim, she's aspiring to land a job... in television, of course.

"I love being in front of the camera," she says, with enthusiasm. "I want to do something in style, fashion or interior design. What I'd really like is to have my own column in the newspaper. I'm out to make my fortune."

Jeanette and I are lunching at The Reform Bar and Restaurant in Manchester's King Street (the Bond Street of the north, on account of its designer shops including Emporio Armani, Vivienne Westwood, Patrick Cox, Joseph and Hermes which opened this month).

Joining us are Nyree Sellors and her sister Suzanne, who are heiresses to their father's pounds 40m fencing supplies businesses. Nyree doesn't work - "I don't really want to do anything as a career which can sometimes be a problem in my relationships" - but divides her time between Manchester and Marbella. She's more of a Meg Mathews than a Caprice, with aubergine hair, a fur-collared leather coat and that eyebrow look favoured by Mrs Oasis. While Meg clears out Fendi, Nyree empties the local department store of all its Prada shoes.

"Loads of people are making money up here," the 28-year-old explains knowledgeably. "They earn the same as in London but benefit more because the property prices are so much lower. Also, Manchester didn't suffer the same level of negative equity as London did in the early Nineties."

Money may not be a problem for Nyree but, like her southern It sisters, love can be. "I split up with somebody over two years ago and one of the problems was money," she says. "Men see themselves as providers. My ex- boyfriend only had a bar job. He found it difficult because I had my own house and he couldn't afford to buy me flowers or take me out. As soon as I tell a man I don't work but I have my own home, I know there will be problems."

Patrick O'Neill, editor of Cheshire Life, appreciates the problem. Northern women have always had a reputation for being strong. Add money to the equation and it's all rather difficult for the male ego to deal with. "Northern It Girls are the result of Manchester's wealth and the fact that northern women are traditionally very powerful," he says. "You see it on Coronation Street and it goes back to Hobson's Choice and the Pankhursts, who came from Manchester."

Still, if there's not much sex to be had, there's always shopping. It transpires that Nyree has more than 100 skirts, which she keeps in strict colour coding for easy selection. "I found a skirt the other day that I had completely forgotten about and have never worn," she says. "Now I have to buy a whole co-ordinated outfit because so many things I have don't match."

Jeanette nods manically in agreement. "I spend all day working on buying an outfit." They swap tips. Nyree says you can get Prada shoes in Marbella without joining the 300-strong waiting list that exists in Britain. Jeanette says that the designer labels that are currently fashionable in the Far East will be the next ones to take off here.

Lunch is followed by a shopping spree. After a brief flirt at the newly- opened Hermes shop and a jewellers full of diamonds, we head for Flannels, a local clothing chain which sells Gucci, Prada and Versace. Jeanette dumps her bag on the counter like she's at home. Sales assistants flutter around all three, flapping Gucci frocks in front of them. It isn't long before a spending orgy is upon us.

While Jeanette is swanning about in a Gucci strapless black jersey number, Nyree sulks because she can't find the perfect frock. Just as the girls settle on some Prada, Jeanette's mobile rings. After a triumphant conversation she reveals that she's going on Granada Breeze's Livetime programme with "The chef from the Adelphi Hotel and Sylvia Young, that woman who made Denise Van Outen famous". Who knows, maybe a double-page spread in Loaded is just around the corner.

In fact, if a northern It Girl wants to get into telly she need never leave her home. Granada TV, the cable station Granada Breeze, the new digital TV station ITV2 and the move of the National Lottery Live to Manchester from London gives an It Girl many career choices. There's presenting, researching and, of course, making guest appearances.

And they are busy girls. Apart from the grind of shopping, there are restaurant and bar openings to go to, newspaper columns to appear in, social events organised by Cheshire Life to attend. The local magazine is the Hello! of the north and charts the social circuit of wealthy Mancunians and their lives in Cheshire - if Manchester is the London of the North, then Cheshire is its Surrey.

Magazines like Manchester Life and Cheshire Life, and the Diary section in the Manchester Evening News report on their social shenanigans. Jeanette is delighted that a profile on her in the "glammy bits" of the Diary have lead to her landing the cover of Cheshire Life.

"We come into Manchester to eat out and shop," explains Nyree, "but we go clubbing in Cheshire because the clubs here aren't really that glamorous." It Girls up north don't like the urban clubbing trend for chrome and concrete. Plush places like The Rectory and The Brasserie in Wilmslow and Kells in Hale are more likely to be stuffed with Man U footballers and It Girls than anywhere in Manchester.

"I'm a member of the Met Bar in London," says Georgina, "and it is extremely pretentious. Nobody who thinks they are important will give you the time of day." These It Girls are happy where they are. Why head for cold old London when the world is at your perfectly manicured fingertips up north?