Northern exposure: The Cheshire set

Footballers, TV stars, the landed gentry - old and new money rubs along in the bars of Wilmslow. As a new drama celebrates the spending spree, Katy Guest explores the Surrey - or the Essex - of the North
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The Independent Online

Sipping pink champagne on a manicured lawn in Wilmslow, an immaculate blonde winces at her in-laws' hair extensions and Botox. "My parents are nice, normal people," she says. "They're from Cheshire. They didn't have to buy into it." Her husband hisses back defensively, "They couldn't afford to buy into it."

It is a scene from Channel 4's big autumn drama, Goldplated, which begins on 18 October, but it is one that is being replayed all over the county. In the "golden triangle" of Wilmslow, Prestbury and Alderley Edge, the new money is taking over.

"I went to a few bar and restaurant openings there with Barbara Blakemore from The Cops," says its writer, Jimmy Gardner, "and I was so intrigued by the people. We went to Brasingamen's nightclub, a meeting place for millionaires and their second and third wives. The golddigging just hit me between the eyes."

He calls his new drama "Dallas in Cheshire", and the catfights do justice to the Eighties classic. Cheshire has always been posh - in my Wirral childhood, the peninsula's postcode change from Cheshire to Merseyside caused howls of indignation. Now it is a festival of conspicuous consumption. Towns compete to buy the most Aston Martins or Moët in Britain. In Prestbury High Street the Ferraris queue outside the White House Manor hotel, hoping to check out local fauna. This is Dallas on coke (and lots of it). But the real battle is between the old money and the new, and new is putting up an impressive fight.

Was it always thus? Cheshire's oldest family - and by far the richest - are the Grosvenors. Better known now as the family of the Duke of Westminster, they have owned Eaton Hall, a grand, Gothic-style mansion (or "the largest petrol station in Cheshire", to some), since the reign of Henry VI. It was a long time before the first new money moved in. The railway, that brought wealthy "Cottontots" from Manchester and Birmingham and shipbuilders from Liverpool, did not arrive until 1842.

But it is the latest influx of cash that has aristocratic tongues wagging. Footballers and Corrie actors may grab the headlines with their their mock Tudor, fake tan and flashy cars, but they are vastly outnumbered by the new construction and finance pounds pouring in from over the borders - Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool. Windle Hill and Burton in Cheshire have more millionaires than almost anywhere else in the country, according to the Wilmslow Express: "Fifteen and 16 per cent respectively are worth seven figures in assets other than property." Only Mayfair has more millionaires per capita than Wilmslow. The most recent edition of the local bible, Cheshire Life, offers a map of the richest people in the area, but the editor bridles at vulgar expressions such as "new money". "People from that provincial centre called London always concentrate on the same side of Cheshire," says Patrick O'Neill. "It's two-dimensional, Botoxed, blonde, oversexed and over- blown." But Mrs Gaskell, Glenda Jackson and Gwyneth Dunwoody, the MP for Crewe and Nantwich, are all linked to the area, although Dunwoody accepts that she was born in Fulham - "long before the area became fashionable".

"Ever since the cotton barons moved out of Manchester there has a been a movement of money into Cheshire," says O'Neill. "There are three groups of people here: the Cheshire aristocracy who go back to the Norman Conquest; the farming communities around Malpas who own Cheshire dairies and make Cheshire cheese; and the people in the 'golden triangle' around Alderley Edge." New money, he says? Bring it on.

There are many who agree with this welcoming approach. Lady Elizabeth Anson, the Queen's cousin and sister of Lord Lichfield, has run a successful party planning business since the 1960s. "The people are amazing and I am utterly and totally intrigued by the place," she says of her home county.

Neil Hamilton, the former Tory MP for Tatton (the richest constituency in Britain, according to some measures), explained the attraction of his then home. "Alderley Edge is a very nice place to live," he said. "It is the time centre of the country. You are only 20 minutes from Manchester airport and you can be anywhere in the country within two hours. But you really don't have to go far to get everything you want. In Hooper's, in Wilmslow, we have the Harrods of the North."

Not everybody is so keen to encourage visitors. Another local events organiser, Juliet Maynard, despairs. "There is quite a vulgar set, quite flash with their money," she says. "Then there are the more established families in Cheshire who are much more conservative. There are definitely two different groups."

Men of the cloth are no more impressed. The Rev David Leaver, formerly of St Bartholomew's, Wilmslow, said upon leaving his flock: "I have never come across people so obsessed with money, who are so far removed from spiritual values."

Even the county's most celebrated former residents, the Beckhams, who lived in a £2.3m house in Alderley Edge, met with a frosty reception from the neighbours. One lady came over all sniffy about their burly minders making the communal gardens look untidy. Victoria reportedly responded: " I don't know who she is. Some posh bird with a deckchair."

The posh birds in deckchairs can twitter all they like. But, with Manchester United showing no signs of becoming poorer, and Hollyoaks and its acolytes dazzling the Chester daytrippers, the new money continues to roll in. The Cheshire boundary is even creeping back up the Wirral peninsula, changing postcodes back from Liverpool's L to that desirable CH. Now, from the old make-out point up on Alderley Edge, today's affluent teens can look down over the glitter of a thousand swimming pools - including the lovely pink one that Wayne Rooney has just had built in his new, £3.5m, neo-Georgian mansion in Prestbury.

Meanwhile, in Goldplated world, the blondes roll their mascarad eyes as another wannabe sets up home in the county. They examine their immaculately polished fingernails. "They're coming from as far as Leeds these days," they tut.

Top 10: Rich list for the county

1 Duke of Westminster, Eaton Hall, Eccleston near Chester

Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor is worth £6.6bn.

2 Lady Grantchester and the Moores

The dowager Lady Grantchester, 80, is the daughter of the late Sir John Moores. Family founded Littlewoods Pools. Fortune, £1.16bn.

3 Michael Newton

The king of CCTV is worth £500m.

4 Brian Kennedy

A £250m fortune, mostly from Everest windows.

5 Bill Archer

His £150m fortune was bolstered by sale ofFocus to Wickes.

6 Martin Edwards

The former Man United chairman is worth about £112m.

7 Martin Dawes

Telecommunications magnate worth about £110m.

8 Rupert Webb

His share of a finance firm is worth about £90m.

9 Alex Langsam and Michael Morton

Britannia Hotels' founders are worth about £64m each.

10 Marquess of Cholmondeley

Latest in the long and infamous line of White Mischief Cholmondeleys, who "discovered" Kenya; £60m was made in land and art.

CHESHIRE LIVES

Wilmslow is the heart of new Cheshire. Actress and presenter Denise Welch lives here, as does fellow Corrie actor Bill Roache, Alex Ferguson and Rio Ferdinand. Regulars at the millionaire nightclub The Rectory say the dresscode is "as little as possible"

Freddie Flintoff and family live locally and are among the loyal clientele of the Hale Bar & Grill. Other local haunts include Est Est Est and One-Six-One - packed on Sundays by those lucky enough not to have to get up next day

England rugby star Jason Robinson works out at Handforth Dean's Fitness First gym or David Lloyd's facility just down the road. A favourite too with ladies who lunch on lettuce leaves. And there are some good shops handy

The Beluga Bar is where they drink: Piccolino is for posh dining, and the Cheshire set dines out most nights. Perfect for lunch before a trip to Angela Beer, a boutique worth a trip over the border.

Ashley Ward and his wife Dawn are one of the area's power couples. He's a Sheffield striker, she's a property developer locally and in Marbella. Clients include a plethora of footballers and Corrie stars

Channel 4's teen drama Hollyoaks is set in the Roman town of Chester. Old and new money makes a beeline for the shopping in the locale, the Michelin-starred Chester Grosvenor and Spa and the racing

Prestbury was known as the centre of old money - until Wayne 'n' Coleen moved in with their £3.5m home and their pink pool. It is also home to the ultra classy White House Manor, where Posh would lunch

Alan Murphy, father of Davinia Taylor, actress and Kate Moss disciple, lives in Macclesfield. Murphy made his considerable fortune in toilet rolls. Mottram Hall hosts celebrity weddings, including that of Everton's James Beattie

Eaton Hall has been in the Grosvenor family since the 15th century and is now home to the 6th Duke of Westminster. Some say it is a striking example of exuberant architecture. Others compare it to a huge petrol station

Tarporley is classic old money territory. It boasts the title "Britain's best kept village", two of Britain's top primary schools and the Swan Hotel, home to the Britain's oldest hunting club

Famous for Mrs Gaskell, King Canute and Neil and Christine Hamilton's famous "battle of Knutsford Heath" against Martin Bell, this is a charming village. Even more charming for having had Wayne Rooney, Posh and Becks as regulars at its Belle Epoque restaurant

Brasingamen's nightclub features in Channel 4's Goldplated as Kudos, the gold-diggers' paradise. The Beckhams once lived here, and Davinia Taylor still does (see also Macclesfield). The local Victoria Wine sells more champagne than any other branch

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