Tom Sutcliffe: What a rich man's car says about him

Social Studies: Chris Evans can have his million pound car. But he has to attach licence plates reading "1D10T"

Share
Related Topics

Chris Evans's decision to treat himself to a very expensive vintage car raised a number of questions in the media – but none of them seemed to me the right ones. The BBC website report on this acquisition, for example, read as follows: "Radio 2 DJ Chris Evans has splashed out £12m on a rare 1960s Ferrari. Why are classic cars like this so valuable?" No interrogation of the deed itself – or the way in which it had become public, after Evans tweeted about his new toy. Just a curiosity about the price-tag.

Granted, a BBC news outlet might have felt inhibited about questioning a man who'd just added millions to his audience figures. But elsewhere the treatment seemed equally uncritical. A left-leaning Sunday paper, not famously associated with the celebration of conspicuous extravagance, even wondered whether this purchase marked a turning point in Evan's public reputation: "With his latest radio and TV successes", the writer asked, "and the purchase of a £12m Ferrari, is the one-time hellraiser now a role model for middle-aged Britain?"

The question I wanted to ask was why Evans didn't feel ashamed of himself? And this was less a question about his character (his relationship with shame has always been an on-off affair) than the character of the society we live in.

At a time of looming national austerity (and as Vince Cable and George Osborne prepare to trim bankers' bonuses, confident of almost universal public support) why didn't he think "I wonder if this will make me look like a bit of a self-indulgent twat?" He seemed assured that there would be no splash-back from the splashing out. That no one would point out that locking up £12m in a road-legal trinket when (to pick just one of an endless list of examples) the same amount of money would pay for 1,723,000 anti-malarial bed nets, might be faintly contemptible behaviour, rather than admirable.

None of us are immune to such comparisons of course. We all spend money on ourselves that might be better applied elsewhere. But then we might be inclined occasionally to feel uneasy about our priorities. And the fact that Evans felt able to boast about this purchase, to flaunt it as a credential of his social worth, surely tells us something about the society we live in – in which a billionaire is more likely to measure his status in terms of super-yacht footage than in charitable giving.

And while there are conspicuous exceptions to this rule – the Bill Gates and George Soros's of the world – it doesn't really seem to have taken off as a fashion. "I want to earn enough money to get a 250 GTO", Evans told an interviewer a while ago, before his dream was fulfilled. But is it really inconceivable that he might have said: "I want to earn enough money to open a school in Nepal"? It wouldn't really require him to be a better person – just a change in our expectations about how rich men should behave.

It made me wonder whether we need some sumptuary laws – to curb the status of frivolous and wasteful luxuries. The only problem being that in historical terms sumptuary laws have far more often reinforced class differences and status than eroded them – or introduced an ethical restraint to public life.

There is one historical example that might be useful though – one mentioned by Montaigne in his brief essay on sumptuary laws. He wisely makes the point that regal example can achieve things that red tape cannot: "Let kings but lead the dance and begin to leave off this expense", he writes, "and in a month the business will be done throughout the kingdom, without edict or ordinance". Since Chris Evans has failed to lead by example, though, and begin a virtuous contest of giving to replace the ignoble contest of having we're so familiar with, Montaigne's next suggestion might have to be applied. He borrowed it from the Greek lawmaker Zeleucus, who included in his legal code the ordinance that no woman was to wear "jewels of gold about her, or go in an embroidered robe, unless she was a professed and public prostitute". You can do it, in other words, but this is what the world will think of you.

I think this might usefully be adapted for super-rich car enthusiasts. Chris Evans – and others like him – can have their million pound cars. But they have to attach state-issued licence plates reading "1D10T" or "S3LF1SH" or "1NAD3QUATE".

A serial pirate enters choppy waters



The comedian Peter Serafinowicz offers an unusual perspective on the issue of internet piracy in an article on the technology blog Gizmodo. Performers' attitudes to this matter are usually starkly polarised. It's either livelihood-threatening-theft or creativity-nurturing-dissemination. But Serafinowicz – who outs himself as a serial pirate – recognises that it's both. Sometimes he even pirates himself – the critical issue for him being ease of access, and the arbitrary constraints that the owners of copyright material sometimes impose on its use.

Wanting to show his son The Jungle Book recently, he attempted to buy it through iTunes but discovered that Disney have it locked away in the Disney Vault, the term the company use for their policy of controlled release of their premium back catalogue. So instead Serafinowicz downloaded a copy. "My moral justification for this?", he writes, "I once bought the VHS. It's your own vault, Disney".

I'm not entirely sure that this argument would withstand a legal challenge by Disney. Or that Jonathan Cape will necessarily feel that his unsolicited puff for Ian McEwan's Solar ("Solar is a sun-tastic read") is reasonable compensation for the fact that he downloaded a pirate copy free (again after being frustrated by regional restrictions and technology). If they seek compensation for their losses though there will be a queue at the courtroom. "In the meantime", Serafinowicz concludes, "I'll be suing myself for pirating my own show. And I'm pretty scared because I have an amazing lawyer".

t.sutcliffe@independent.co.uk For further reading : Gizmodo.com

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: A widow’s tale with an unexpected twist

John Rentoul
 

For all his faults, Russell Brand is utterly sincere, something politicians should emulate

Janet Street-Porter
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing