You don't have to be a nob to be a snob. Just ask the Duchess

Blatant snobbery is again acceptable - indeed chic - in Britain. But it's the nouveau riche, not the aristos, who are at it. As Sarah Ferguson prepares to weigh in against class consciousness, Katy Guest and Anthony Barnes report on why we're all looking down our noses

She married into royalty, gave birth to princesses and has used her title to make a fortune among Anglophile Americans in love with lords and ladies. But now the Duchess of York is reinventing herself as new style champion of the people, railing against - of all things - snobbery.

She married into royalty, gave birth to princesses and has used her title to make a fortune among Anglophile Americans in love with lords and ladies. But now the Duchess of York is reinventing herself as new style champion of the people, railing against - of all things - snobbery.

Tomorrow, Sarah Ferguson will be given control of Radio 4's flagship news programme, Today, and she has chosen this forum to give the nation a stern ticking off about looking down their noses at each other.

"I believe that snobbery is a form of grandiose behaviour which really stems either from believing you're someone more important than you are, or from having too much money too quickly," she will tell listeners.

Some of them might be a bit surprised by this. After all, they will say, she is a woman who still makes ready use of her title, and has not hitherto been accused of being the People's Princess. But the duchess's spokeswoman told The Independent on Sunday: "I do know that she is absolutely not a snob and she dislikes snobs and pomposity. She doesn't subscribe to snobbery."

Her campaign has struck a chord - for, according to experts, snobbery has thrown off the shackles of class and is no longer about old money and breeding. It is more concerned with taste, brands and style. Whether it be intellectual or social, traditional or inverted, the British are all snobs now. Brand snobbery is taught to children the minute they step out to nursery school in their Baby Gap trainers. Posh and Becks are the new royal family - but at the same time as idolising them, many sneer at their taste.

Suddenly, snobbery is back in vogue. One hundred years since the birth of Nancy Mitford, whose definition of people as U and non-U was seen as the ultimate in society snobbery, Julian Fellowes's best-seller, Snobs, is to be made into a BBC television series. Meanwhile, Lynn Truss has chosen to write about our manners, in what many will see as a snooty follow-up to her runaway success, Eats, Shoots & Leaves.

According to Charles Mosley, the editor-in-chief of Debrett's Peerage, the toffs' bible, snobbery is more rife now than "at any time since pre-1780s Versailles". "Rock stars are having parties where the people who serve the canapés are told not to look the celebrity guests in the eye," he said. "A peer of the realm would never have got away with that. The staff would have walked out.

"The more fluid a society, the more rampant snobbery is," he added. "People are constantly searching for reassurance about their positions - even more so now than in Queen Victoria's time.

"They may not be kow-towing to peers any more, but they're kow-towing to footballers or rock stars or celebrities.

"It's mutated; it's a more variegated snobbery now."

Jilly Cooper, whose novel Class summed up the mood of the Eighties, agrees that snobbery is more pervasive and varied than ever. She particularly attacked television's makeover programmes for their sneery opinions, singling out Trinny and Susannah, the stars of What Not to Wear, as "a very thinly disguised form of class snobbery".

"Have you seen these programmes that tell you how to sell your house?" she complained. "They tell people to get rid of the books, the pictures, the dog - all the most important things in the world." Not everyone agrees.

Brian Sewell, the acerbic art critic, will arguethe case with Fergie on the radio tomorrow. "It's very difficult to define exactly what snobbery means now. It's like the word 'elite', which to me is a compliment and to everybody else is a term of abuse. It's one of those Humpty Dumpty words," he said, referring to Lewis Carroll's Alice Through the Looking Glass. "It means 'whatever I choose it to mean'."

John Scott, president of the British Sociological Association, who has conducted research into the British class system, believes increasing snobbery in Britain stems from the insecurity of the upper and middle classes who fear their position is under threat. "There is no longer any room for Nancy Mitford's kind of snobbery in this type of society," he said. "Those without power are now more likely to criticise them [the upper classes] than to defer to them."

Cary Cooper, Professor of Psychology at Lancaster University, said: "Snobbery used to be the preserve of the upper middle classes trying to protect their status. Now what is significant is how much money you have. The nouveau riche are the new snobs."

The Duchess of York has long been seen by some as a victim of snobbery herself. Lord Charteris - Provost of Eton College and a friend of the late Queen Mother - once called the duchess "vulgar, vulgar, vulgar". But she has also demanded airtime for serious items on obesity - she was once branded the Duchess of Pork before famously triumphing in the US by making a fortune as the face and body of WeightWatchers.

Intellectual snobs may be rather alarmed at her guest editorship, but Jilly Cooper supports her right to attack snobbery. "This beautiful, non-academic person is taking over the Today programme. People will be getting in a frightful state."

How snobbish are you? Take our test

1 It is honorary degree day at your local university and you are chancellor. Whom do you seat on your right hand?

a) The Earl of Borsetshire, whose sister you once met in Biarritz

b) Harry 'Monster' Hutchins, Australian beer magnate who is funding the new Chair in Barbecue Studies

c) Dr Hilary Bookworm, the working-class woman from your town who is now a Nobel Prize-winning physicist

d) Jonah Plagiarise, new darling of London's literary scene

e) Wayne Hubcap, top scorer for your local Premiership side

2 You see someone walking towards you wearing Burberry. Your first reaction is to:

a) Walk up and say: "Oh, hello. And where do you people come from?"

b) Stop and ask them if Burberry does a wallet for your credit cards

c) Cross the road - just in case

d) Ask them if they know how to spell Burberry

e) Reach inside your pocket for a knife

3 In your view, no one is well read until they have:

a) Studied that week's Tatler

b) Learnt Das Kapital off by heart

c) It's more important to enjoy reading than to be "well-read"

d) Consumed all this year's Booker shortlist

e) Mastered the instructions on a packet of Angel Delight

4 You refer to the room at the front of the house as:

a) Part of the south wing

b) The lounge - and proud of it

c) The living room

d) The sitting room

e) The Dolby surround-sound home cinema. Or the porch

5 This afternoon you will be:

a) Saddle-soaping your whip ready to deal with the saboteurs proles at tomorrow's hunt

b) Watching reruns of Phoenix Nights and The Royle Family while throwing Wotsits at the telly

c) Eating turkey sandwiches, like everybody else

d) Writing to upbraid the board of Mensa about this year's pitifully easy Christmas crossword

e) Unconscious

6 At an expensive restaurant, cutlery is:

a) Always used in strict order, from the outside towards the plate

b) Probably made by beleaguered steel workers who are earning below the minimum wage

c) Always used from the inside out

d) From the Middle French coutelier, from the late Latin cultellarius - obviously

e) For when you've run out of fingers

Answers: Mostly As - Congratulations, you are a good old-fashioned social snob. Mostly Bs - Inverted snobbery is still snobbery, you know. Mostly Cs - You have no snobbish tendencies at all. Mostly Ds - You are a fearsome intellectual snob. Mostly Es - Sorry, but you are an irredeemable chav.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
Arts and Entertainment
L to R: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Captain America (Chris Evans) & Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Avengers Assemble
film
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
News
Danielle George is both science professor and presenter
people
News
i100
News
Caplan says of Jacobs: 'She is a very collaborative director, and gives actors a lot of freedom. She makes things happen.'
people
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 General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015