Pushy pull a fast one in SW19

Eleanor Bailey shows social climbers how to join the 'in' set at Wimbledon
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The Independent Online
THE relaxed dress code, hordes of tourists and increasing numbers of spectators who call encouragement between rallies may have led some to believe that there is no longer any chance of making a social impression at Wimbledon. Not so. All classes rubbing shoulders is merely a veneer - it is still very much a case of Them and Us in SW19.

The royal box and guests, members and debenture holders are a world away from the sticky T-shirted spectators eating their strawberries from a plastic tub. It is too late now to work your way on to the scene - a concerted effort to attend the right parties should have been undertaken by at least last autumn. If you are not a part of these most exclusive of groups - there are only 500 Wimbledon members worldwide while debenture opportunities come up rarely and at a cost of thousands of pounds - then you must fake it.

Firstly you should know that for all the hatted superiority, costlier is not necessarily classier. It is better to be a cheap-seated expert than an empty-seated debenture or, faux pas of faux pas, to be a corporate guest quaffing champagne and not setting a foot out of the hospitality tent.

"Deep resentment is felt," says Celestria Nole, the social editor of Tatler, "when there are seats lying empty during an important match because a debenture holder is off drinking Pimm's. Good tickets are very hard to come by and if you go all daffy and admit that you don't know Boris Becker from a bar of soap it doesn't go down very well."

Kate Reardon, Tatler's fashion director, agrees. "It's deeply naff," she says, "to go and not pay any attention to the tennis. Do your homework. You should have one nugget of gossip about each of the players and know at least who won the other major tournaments in the year."

Dress should be that most unpleasant of concepts - smart-casual. Enormous gaffes are committed and the tomato-tamed bikini wearers are no worse than the overdressed with offensively large hats. Nole recommends a low- key trouser suit or dress and jacket. "Wimbledon is not a great fashion opportunity," says Reardon, "Save the Jackie 'O' shades, strappy sandals and Chanel suits. Instead wear linen, cream trousers - Ralph Lauren is perfect - and keep covered up."

One should also be aware of changing times. The disapproval of the older spectators at the antics of their younger counterparts can be far from cool. An anonymous insider (who begged that his "whole life would fall apart if anyone knew I was talking") said: "It's not the gentlemanly game it was and you might be considered rather po-faced if you didn't seem enthusiastic. Among the normal people, things have visibly relaxed recently. They act more like football crowds, they paint their faces in national flags, they boo players they don't want to win. People sunbathe on the lawns and it is much more rowdy than it used to be."

While social climbers would never indulge in anything as vulgar as booing or face painting, noisy support is a sign of healthy passion. And provided it's in their favour, the players love it. Diana Edwards, chairman of the British Association of Tennis Supporters (BATS), whose members follow our Davis Cup team around the globe, said: "David Lloyd has told us to make as much noise as possible to support the British players. It definitely gives them a lift."

Patriotism is acceptable, but one can go too far. When the former British No 1, Andrew Castle, said that seeing Greg Rusedski's Union Jack headband made him cringe, he was speaking for the socially upwardly-mobile. One should politely encourage our boys while acknowledging the physical superiority of everybody else.

Eating is a problem at Wimbledon. Unless you can bluff your way into the upper-class restaurants, you will have to queue with the plebs. This can be very dispiriting. Nole sees no reason to eat at all during the day. Reardon ruefully accepts that strawberries, while tempting, are naff but bringing your own food suggests parsimony. Pimm's taste overrides its cliched associations but sip, don't swig. And the plastic receptacles? All right if your image is already good, says Reardon. "When something transcends tacky it becomes art. If you're a Duchess, plastic cartons are fine."

Then there's the Mexican Wave dilemma. The concept is very lower middle- class but not joining in seems pompous. Being in the middle of a Mexican Wave is like being caught by a downpour in the middle of a field. The best thing to do is hold still and remember that it will all be over soon. Never initiate, stop as soon as humanly possible and maintain a sour look of distaste on your face at all times.

The Mexican Wave, alas, also very often ends up on camera since there is no action on court at the time. "Always be aware," warns Reardon, "of the camera opportunities." You should have developed an attractive blank expression to hold while you watch. Reardon recommends practising poses with a mirror beforehand - bear in mind you will need to be able to maintain it for some hours. Also, of course, no snogging and go with someone you're allowed to be with. Wimbledon is not a place to hold a secret tryst. Think posterity too. In a wet patch one year, one spectator watching old Wimbledon footage was horrified to spot herself, 10 years earlier, plucked, it seemed, from a 70s retro night. Hideous. Always know that this year's high fashions are next year's dust sheets.

Tennis players are, as a breed, of above average sexual attraction. Lithe, tanned limbs, gentle perspiration, one-on-one passion not to mention bulging shorts and little skirts with their serendipitous buttock flashes. It is not surprising that the social-climbing pinnacle is to pull a tennis star. While one should ignore celebrity spectators on the grounds that they are no better than oneself - it is permissible, indeed fair play, to worship the players - particularly the talented ones and even more particularly the cute, talented ones.

Pulling a tennis player should not be done during the day. If you try to catch the eye of your favourite while he/she is at work and succeed, he/she is liable to lose the match which defeats the purpose. While success is sexy; failure is on a par with cheesy feet. So try and blag the post- match parties. All the major sponsors will hold parties that their stars will be contractually obliged to attend. Make friends with people at Nike, etc, lop on some fake tan and seductive clothing, and get in there.

Above all don't whinge. "There are no points for being a bore about rain. Another downer too is saying that Wimbledon is going downhill. The players all maintain dutifully that Wimbledon is still the best in the world, so if you take issue with this, do it quietly. Likewise, no harking back to good old days.

"It is only acceptable," says Nole, "if you remember pre-1970. If you have fond memories of Maureen Connolly or Rod Laver, you would not be letting yourself down to mention them. After that, a lot of the people at Wimbledon will have equal or better memories than you and it will seem like showing off."

And, in this most British of institutions, showing off is instant death.