We're off on a spree to Gay Paree

With Paris now an easy train journey from Waterloo, railway fever has already gripped the Brits. Vicky Ward reports from Eurostar

Photographers' bulbs flashed, heads turned and crowds jostled last week as supermodel Helena Christensen arrived in London less than 24 hours after her supposed fianc, Michael Hutchence, had been caught leaving a hotel room with Paula Yates, Bob Geldof's wife.

It was no surprise that photographers were chasing her; what may have surprised them, however, was to find themselves snapping an international celebrity, not at Heathrow but inside a railway station.

Miss Christensen chose to travel to London by Eurostar train, via the Channel tunnel and disembarking at Waterloo station, which must have been her first encounter with the great British commuting public.

She is far from being the only celebrity user of Eurostar's London to Paris or Brussels service. Last Friday afternoon at Waterloo, a film crew from the French TV station TF1 was trailing the actress Jane Birkin, and in the mad dash between fashion shows in London and Paris the week before, the Chanel-suit-and-heels count rose noticeably.

Politicians have been commuting frequently to Brussels, Eric Cantona was spotted on it after one of his recent court appearances; actresses, publishers and writers have all taken their places on board.

Despite the much-publicised false starts to the service, the volume of two-way traffic in and out of Paris has risen dramatically. There are those who go so far as to say that the British are now infiltrating Paris, though the Paris tourist board doesn't quite buy that.

Given that Eurostar reckons to increase its Paris services by the summer from three trains a day to a train every hour, each with a capacity for 794 seats, it clearly expects a market of Brits who hitherto would not have dreamt of whizzing off to Paris for the weekend.

Certainly a trip through the tunnel is becoming a rite of passage, something it is essential to have done or plan to do. The recent experiences of a colleague and his partner in Paris for the weekend are indicative of this growing trend.

They planned Sunday breakfast at a caf in St Germain, described in a guidebook as the haunt of local intellectuals. They left their hotel with a tweedy Brit practising his golf swing and bumped into another scurrying back with the Sunday papers under his arm. They arrived at the caf to be hailed by a former colleague, who was there with his family. By the time they left, the caf had a quorum of fully paid-up liberal Brits, if not exactly intellectuals, with Peter Preston, editor-in-chief of the Guardian and Observer, ensconced in a corner with his paper.

Even their daughter did not escape her British friends. On the train back to London on Sunday evening she found one of her classmates only two rows away.

Part of this rush is, predictably, driven by novelty. About a quarter of the British crowd getting on the Eurostar at Waterloo last Wednesday lunchtime would not have been going to Paris at all had it not been for the "try-out-the-train" factor.

Jean Quick from Devon was with her husband Anthony, a retired headmaster; their son had given them a couple of return tickets for Christmas. "Actually," explained Anthony, "it isn't the easiest way for us to get to France, because we live in Devon. Flying from Exeter or Bristol would have been quicker."

"I didn't want to go to Brussels," said one man, when asked why he was going to Paris, betraying that he had clearly limited his holiday options to one of the two Eurostar adventures.

"It's the thrill of going so fast under the sea, going direct from London and avoiding all the hassle at the airport," explained Mrs Houstons, 72, from Guildford. She would not, she explained, normally pop over just for a shopping spree. This was a one-off, "for fun".

Inevitably, those acclimatising most easily to the idea of Paris as a metropolis as accessible from London as, say, Birmingham, Manchester or Liverpool, are the British businessmen.

For Bob Earl, director of a housing corporation, the city is suddenly appealing to his imagination as a possible venue for a staff training ground. "I sometimes took them to Calais for the day on a management course," he said, "so why not Paris now?"

Still, there were one or two non-business adventurers in the departure lounge showing the first signs of broadening their horizons. And then, of course, there were the inevitable anoraks, the train-spotters who can time a train by every bend and minor station it flashes through.

The trip is a mixture of the humdrum and the dramatic. For what seems like hours, the Eurostar trundles along British tracks, going no faster than the average commuter train, its passengers on seats which in standard class are no more comfortable than utilitarian.

The announcement that the train is about to enter the tunnel breeds anticipation and then excitement as the train enters. Thereafter it is just black, dark and rather boring.

The emergence on the French side is dramatic, not least because the train starts to travel at the high speeds it was designed for. But what it lacks as a train journey it might make up for in profundity as a cultural experience: some have even predicted that it will change the nation's consciousness and make us feel more European.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Sport
Gabriel Agbonlahor, Alexis Sanchez, Alan Pardew and Graziano Pelle
footballAfter QPR draw, follow Villa vs Arsenal, Newcastle vs Hull and Swansea vs Southampton
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
News
news
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
voices
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Cover Supervisor

    £75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

    Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

    Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

    £22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

    SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

    £1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam