It's true - rich people are a different breed

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The Independent Online

It was going to be a marvellous evening. In the ballroom at Claridge's, the guests gathered for a charity evening on behalf of Sands, an organisation which supports the parents of babies who have died before, during or shortly after birth. Someone had noticed that this year was the centenary of the Entente Cordiale. What better way could there be to raise money for an important cause than to gather eight eminent chefs, four French and four English, to cook what was promoted as "the dining experience of a lifetime" for 150 well-heeled, public-spirited punters?

It was going to be a marvellous evening. In the ballroom at Claridge's, the guests gathered for a charity evening on behalf of Sands, an organisation which supports the parents of babies who have died before, during or shortly after birth. Someone had noticed that this year was the centenary of the Entente Cordiale. What better way could there be to raise money for an important cause than to gather eight eminent chefs, four French and four English, to cook what was promoted as "the dining experience of a lifetime" for 150 well-heeled, public-spirited punters?

There were celebrity appearances. There was a raffle and an auction conducted by someone from the Antiques Road Show. Each course of the meal was introduced by a plump master chef - as if, as with modern fiction, it is not enough now to produce work, but one must also be prepared to explain and deconstruct it.

A very contemporary form of caring capitalism tends to be at work at charity dinners - an efficient fusion of generosity with self-interest. Tonight it was hoped that £15,000 would be raised for Sands, while those who had sponsored, supported or contributed to the evening would benefit from some none-too-subtle puffs and product placement throughout the evening.

For a newcomer to these events, it was not so much the entertainment that intrigued - the combination of chefs, TV personalities and charity work is not that unusual - so much as the guests. This was the charity-bash crowd - smart business types with trim bow-ties and naff winged collars, women in Dior dresses and with Cartier watches on their wrists. Bids for the auction, during which a batch of wine went for £1,500 and a week's holiday in Florida for £4,250, suggested that there was rather a lot of money around in the room.

The table at which I was fortunate enough to be sitting was something of football gathering. There was George Graham, the Spurs manager, and various representatives of Queens Park Rangers - two supporters (the broadcaster Robert Elms and myself), the vice-chairman Nick Blackburn and Chris Wright, its multimillionaire proprietor who, until a few hours previously, had also been the club's chairman. He had resigned that day, blaming the abuse of fans.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Wright was in a bad mood. He glowered and growled and generally behaved in a manner which, were he not a very important millionaire, would be regarded as sulky and graceless. He had had enough of the ingratitude of fans, he told us. Football had become an ugly, ugly game.

It was an odd experience for a fan to hear the man who had once been hailed as the saviour of the club one loved fulminating like this. When he first arrived, the supporters had seen him as the perfect chairman and proprietor - a true fan, an ordinary bloke who just happened to have a few hundred million in the bank.

As it happened, Elms and myself had been among the crowd whose abuse had tipped Wright over the edge. Oddly, neither of us had been aware of the hatred which he now felt was directed at him. On the whole, QPR supporters - a weary, battered bunch - were aware of the financial problems of running a football club with small fan base in a big city.

It is a long way from the White City estate to Claridge's, but I couldn't help feeling that there were similarities in the anger and disappointment of the fans, much of whose lives are hopelessly bound up with the football team, and that of the chairman who was walking away because, in spite of all the money he had spent, he had once been a favourite and now felt unloved.

But, in the end, the rich are different. Perhaps any entente cordiale between ordinary people and the millionaires who control their dreams can never last long.

terblacker@aol.com

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