Liz Hoggard: Sorry, but posh people are different

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The Independent Online

"I come from an ordinary middle-class family in an ordinary town," Gordon Brown pronounced, as he hit the election trail. In many ways it was an extraordinary claim. Politicians usually want to be larger than life. First-league brains. Nothing average there. But Brown is reminding us he's part of an ensemble.

"I am not a team of one," he added firmly, contrasting himself with David Cameron, the old Etonian son of a Scottish stockbroker and a baronet's daughter.

And I for one am with him. Old Etonians look away, but if you've always had to make your own fate (rather than inherit it), it is a proper test of character.

If you came from a modest family you took damp holidays in Wales, had curtain tie-backs, went to the local state school, and still feel guilty about having a cleaner. No one in our family had an overdraft or to quote David Cameron in a recent interview, a "very high" joint income. Things were recycled and saved. Coupons were cut out.

Growing up, such thriftiness was a source of major embarrassment. But now, oddly, I find it all rather touching. It's part of our DNA – trying to do the right thing, taking responsibility, working hard.

Being ordinary is a badge of courage, if you like. I can't help finding it fascinating that lookalike agencies (who have hundreds of David Camerons and Tony Blairs on their books) admit they can't find a single Gordon Brown. A proper, idiosyncratic grown-up man – with huge idealism but anger issues – isn't manufactured overnight. You can't just buy one off the shelf.

Ordinary towns can feel suffocating, of course. Teenagers are not the stars of the show. Parents have full-time jobs and elderly relatives to juggle. It's not a succession of nightclubs and picnics and coming out parties. "Life isn't always fair" was a routine response in my childhood.

But now I begin to see the point. We don't automatically assume that we are the most fascinating people in the room. We're part of a wider community. It's important to listen to the quieter voices. But try telling that to an old Etonian.

I never thought class would be my issue in the 21st century. In the past, posh people ran the City and the professions, but we're done with all that, surely? I genuinely believed that if you worked hard, the meek (in the form of comprehensive school kids) would inherit the Earth. Or at least a level playing field. But, dear God, I was wrong. Nepotism still rules.

"Why are you so chippy about posh people?" teased a wealthy friend recently. "What's your problem?" It is a good question. Posh people have a head start in life. They have better skin and hair (good genes, plenty of leisure, lack of brow-furrowing debt). They walk in expecting things to go their way.

Hell, they even have charm. But an old Etonian is only ever comfortable with a fellow old Etonian. Because posh kids are different. They may work in upmarket stationery shops and listen to the Arctic Monkeys. But at weekends they zoom on down to their parents' stately pile.

They simply can't imagine why it takes some people longer to edge up the ladder or why they live in temporary housing or can't pay their utility bills.

Don't get me wrong. I believe in a meritocracy, I really do. But there's nothing wrong with being ordinary. Or middle-class. It's the best sort of social passport.

Jemima Khan: special representative for online shopping

I've always had a soft spot for Jemima Khan. When she fell in love with the Pakistani cricketer and politician Imran Khan, she went to live on a modest farm in Islamabad, and learned Urdu. Even when she returned to London after her marriage ended, she continued to impress as a Unicef special representative – and a passionate advocate for democracy in Pakistan. And now it turns out she hates shopping!

In the forthcoming issue of Vogue she confesses that after the "sweaty, hormonal hell" of a trip to Topman at the Westfield shopping centre in West London with her sons and stepdaughter, she finally renounced the live shopping experience. Now she orders everything online – from clothes and groceries to cutlery, alcohol, DVDs and takeaway curries. She even bought her pet cat on eBay. So taken is she with the virtual world that she boasts: "I could probably even find a husband online should I ever want another one!" At last, a glamorous role-model breaks the last taboo about internet dating.

Ten years ago, people would rather have been dangled over a crocodile pit than admit they met through the Lonely Hearts section. The very name screamed "loser". But now almost everyone has dabbled. Though the mind boggles about the advert a Goldsmith heiress would place. "Jem, 36, Oxfordshire area, tawny mane, hazel eyes. Some baggage. WLTM open-minded man who does not expect stay-at-home wife." Form an orderly queue.

Farewell to a man of rare charisma

So farewell a true gentleman. Corin Redgrave, who died on Sunday aged 70, was a rare example of an actor who never sought celebrity. Obituaries have focused on his more mainstream roles – Andie MacDowell's husband in Four Weddings And A Funeral; Spooks, Shameless, Foyle's War and Trial And Retribution. But he was also a great man of the theatre, who played Lear at the RSC and Hirst in No Man's Land.

Friends who met him on the campaign trail recall a lovely man without ego or posturing. He was a leading light in the Workers' Revolutionary Party during the 1970s and a founding member of the Marxist Party. He fought racism and marched for the rights of travellers (he suffered a serious heart attack while addressing a public meeting at an Essex travellers' site in 2005).

On stage and screen, he had a rare charisma. Performing his one-man staging of Oscar Wilde's De Profundis, he moved you to tears. And I for one will never forget him playing theatre critic and flagellator Kenneth Tynan in the 90-minute monologue, Tynan, at London's tiny Arts Theatre in 2005.

The play didn't pull its punches. There was a subtext of blood and sex and humiliation. Redgrave played a husk of a man about to die at 53, of emphysema and of disappointment, and showed how the most cerebral individual can be brought to their knees – literally – by sexual obsession.

It was a bit like watching your father on stage. Embarrassing, but heart-stopping. And, thanks to the actor's skill, the performance was shot through with Tynan's trademark wit and humour.

Redgrave never lost his dignity in life or art – he will be mourned.