How can you tell a gentleman?

A list of public figures with gallant attributes by Country Life magazine throws a fascinating light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world, says Simon Kelner

What do Alan Titchmarsh and Steven Gerrard have in common? Here's a clue: Alan doesn't have a sweet right foot, and has never, as far as I know, played in a holding position in front of the back four. Also, I'm pretty certain that Steven doesn't know his narcissus from his nasturtium.

No, the answer is that they are both gentlemen. That's according to the writer and multi-purpose social commentator Jilly Cooper, who was invited on to Radio 4's Today programme in her guise as a judge of Country Life's Gentleman of the Year award and asked to name public figures who had gentlemanly attributes.

Obviously, Ms Cooper's was a highly subjective list, which, as well as Liverpool's captain and TV's gardener, included Prince William, Sir Terry Wogan and Ben Fogle, but it threw up some interesting questions about the interpretation of a gentleman in this day and age. There have been various definitions of what makes a gentleman down the ages, ranging from the ancient – Cardinal Newman in 1852 said that a gentleman is one who never inflicts pain – to the modern – the Japanese author Haruki Murakami averred that "a gentleman is someone who does not do what he wants to do, but what he should do".

Jilly's jewels: gardener Alan Titchmarsh Jilly's jewels: gardener Alan Titchmarsh Using both these definitions, it is difficult to make the case that gentlemanly behaviour should be in any way gender specific. In an age which purports to sexual equality, it seems strange that a list of gentlemen should include only men. Or are we to assume that women behave in a way that is concomitant with acts of politeness and sensitivity? If there is to be a modern definition of a gentlemen, it might be simply described as someone who would never engage in anti-social behaviour, such as talking loudly on a mobile phone in a public place, or dropping litter, or being unaware of others in a queue, or refusing to give up a seat on a bus for the old, the infirm or the pregnant. Articulated in a more positive way, a gentleman is the sort of person who would gallantly step in when he – or perhaps she – observed such anti-social acts.

Country Life's exemplars of modern-day gentlemen are possibly more contentious even than Jilly Cooper's list. Included, alongside Nelson Mandela (not much argument there) and David Beckham (ditto, although rather odd to see them both in the same category) is the Duke of Edinburgh. He is included for "his stiff upper lip". Not sure whether that quality a gentleman makes, and my only personal experience of Prince Philip doesn't speak necessarily of politeness and courtesy. At a reception held at Windsor Castle for members of the British media, he asked who I was representing. "The Independent, sir," I said. "What are you doing here?" he asked. When I told him I had been invited, his reply was admirable in its frankness. "Well, you didn't have to come," he said.

It all goes to show that gentlemanly behaviour is in the eye of the beholder. And it makes me proud to be British to know that we have a spectrum with Prince Philip at one end of it and Steven Gerrard at the other.

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.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

HR Business Partner (Maternity Cover 12 Months)

£30000 - £34000 Per Annum 25 days holiday, Private healthcare: Clearwater Peop...

Project Manager (Procurement & Human Resources)

Unpaid: Cancer Research UK: If you’re a professional in project management, lo...

Geography Teacher

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: We require a teacher of Geogr...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series