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

Recruitment Genius: Management Trainer

£30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Exciting career opportunity to join East...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Scientist / Research Assistant

£18000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious start-up company b...

Reach Volunteering: Chair of Trustees

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Do you love the Engl...

Day In a Page

In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible