Sophie Morris: Lay off the middle class, Ms Winslet

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The Independent Online

Oscar-winning, Hervé Leger-wearing, multimillionaire actress Kate Winslet is worried that her adoring public thinks she is middle-class. As a quintessentially British actress, it comes as no surprise that Winslet's neuroses include that most British of social torments: an obsession with class and, specifically, a fear of being middle-class.

In fact, as Winslet makes clear in an interview with Marie Claire, she is as working-class as Billy Elliot and the first horn in the Grimethorpe Colliery Band. Her parents were both poor, out-of-work actors who pulled their four children up "hand to mouth", in Reading.

In my experience, the only people who don't ponder the class issue from time to time are the very surely upper-class, because they're confident of their own status and don't give a polo pony about anyone else's. These days, though, it's not so much an aspirational game of educating, working or marrying oneself up the ladder, but more like snakes and ladders.

How embarrassing for Winslet that people think her parents didn't have to struggle quite as hard as they did to raise their family. And what terrible PR for Reading, that the world might think there were some middle-class folk sheltering in its gritty midst.

Children born into relatively affluent middle-class families who enjoy full fridges, French lessons and foreign holidays have certain privileges that poorer children do not, and watching someone squander these advantages is annoying. Apart from this, it isn't really clear what contemporary Britain's middle-classes are doing to be seen as society's greatest pariah. They aren't avoiding taxes: the newly super-rich have created their own class schooled in this. Nor were they born into great riches in the form of country houses and estates or industries that continue to yield considerable sums of, basically free, cash. They moan quite a lot, sure, but teachers, nurses, civil servants, small business owners and whoever else who falls into the many shades of middle-class grey weren't all born with silver spoons in their mouths.

Social mobility is, tragically, on the wane in the UK, but attitudes like this from Winslet undermine the opportunities understood by it. Social mobility is not a carte blanche to stick two fingers up at your own background, but a way to navigate yourself towards a different way of living which, once achieved, you can label any which way you like.

Who is Winslet speaking to in her desperation to be considered working-class? Theatre visits, like it or not, can rarely be afforded by most working-class people. Movies have mass appeal, but the subjects of most of Winslet's films, bar Titanic, do not. In the interview, Winslet complains that she doesn't fit the working-class hero mould "because I speak nice", when we all know that she in fact speaks nicely. Condescending in this way to a potential audience is not at all nice.

While the British remain peculiarly hung up about class, Winslet could give this obsession a miss, as we only care that she can act well and look good on the red carpet. If she really wants to be considered a member of a specific class, she is way off the mark with working-class. She long ago transcended Britain's humble class system and rose to the ranks of the celebritariat.

Might be an idea to start clearing out your shelves...

Is there anyone out there who doesn't have a secret sex tape or photo album languishing in an ex-partner's storage department or hidden on an old PC, feebly protected by the same password you use for your Hotmail account?

While Carla Bruni was trying to out-glam Spain's Princess Letizia in Madrid, hundreds of "highly intimate" images of the French first lady and her former partner, the philosopher Raphael Enthoven, were stolen in Paris.

The photographs were stashed in the flat of Enthoven's brother, Julien, who is an actor, and neighbours claim that security is tight and burglaries uncommon in the area. Someone had clearly done their homework. As for Carla, she has already had to face down naked modelling shots of her unearthed after her marriage to Nicolas Sarkozy. Maybe it's time she got rid of the rest of her skeletons, unless she wants them to be found.

Spare a thought for our fragile pig industry

It is too early to tell how the swine flu epidemic will develop, but it is a shame the virus is being associated with pigs alone when it is a combination of swine, human and bird flu.

If people begin to panic and think they might catch it from eating pork, our fragile pig industry could receive a knock that it is in no shape to withstand.

British pig farmers have had a rough few years. In 2006, the price of feed, which accounts for 50 per cent of the cost of rearing a pig, rocketed. Farmers began to lose money on each pig, up to £26 per animal.

The crisis has since eased: feed prices have come down and supermarkets are paying better prices for British pork (more expensive than pork from other European countries, because of better welfare standards), but unfortunately many farmers are still shouldering the weight of the debts incurred over the past few years.

Scare stories and misinformation abound when there is a global health issue such as this. The UK's chief veterinary officer, Nigel Gibbens, has confirmed that swine flu cannot be transmitted by eating pork, so my advice is: don't panic, buy some home-grown bacon and schedule in some fry-ups.