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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
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: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?