‘Oh my God. Did you see?!’ ‘Oh. My. God. Did you SEEEE…?!’
So begins the conversation, at about three minutes past 10 every Tuesday night, between me and my sister.
‘The pink!’, ‘The net!’, ‘The battery packs under the pink net!’, ‘The mechanical butterflies. The MECHANICAL BUTTERFLIES!’
And so it goes on, until we have squawkingly dissected the whole of the previous hour. We are, of course, just two of the almost eight million viewers who have tuned in to Channel 4’s latest series of Cutting Edge documentaries, My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. It’s given the channel its highest ratings since Big Brother 2008. It’s a serious success. And why? Because we’re all such massive snobs.
Ah, snobbery – Britain’s finest homegrown product. The class system is one of our most successful and enduring creations. What’s great about it is that almost no-one – especially these days – can be sure precisely of their position within it. Except maybe the Queen, and even she is looked down on by certain elements of the aristocracy who can trace their own bloodline back to the Normans and see Liz as a German arriviste with ermine-trimmed ideas above her station. It’s not all to do with money – however many millions David Cameron makes when he moves onto the dinner party circuit after this amusing little sojourn he’s having in No 10, he will never be as posh as his wife, who is a baronet’s daughter, a fact I like to imagine gnaws day and night.
You couldn’t possibly begin to parse its intricacies for a foreigner: ‘Eating in the street is common.’ ‘You mean – not rare?’ ‘No – common. Vulgar. Although it’s not rare either. That’s part of what makes it common.’ Or ‘James Blunt’s mum rang up a radio show to complain that her son was criticised for his ‘posh’ background and private education. But she rang Radio 4, which just proved how posh they were. Except that he was actually originally James Blount and changed it to seem less posh. Which is quite common. I mean, vulgar.’ Using the word ‘common’ is quite common – meaning vulgar – too, of course. Sometimes I wonder how we manage to fit so much complicated madness into one tiny island.
“Where else does the need to invent a pecking order come from if not a perennial lack of confidence?”
The gorgeous simplicity – I’m not talking about the dresses (yet) – of something like My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding comes, then, as a blessed relief. It’s like slipping into a warm bath. ‘I may not know much,’ some primitive, reptile part of our minds whispers to us as the screen fills with visions of eight-inch tall tiaras, 15-stone dresses wrapped round teenage girls and six-year-olds being sprayed with tan, ‘but I know enough not to do that’. We are united, for one brief and shining moment, in our mutual and most assured utter rightness. Would I ever contemplate wearing a thousand layers of pink nylon gauze interleaved with battery packs and fairy lights that allow it to light up when I am on the darkened dancefloor with my beloved, we ask ourselves. No! This makes me, in some indefinable but undeniable way, Better Than Her. Hurrah!
Alas, if you scrutinise the ingredients on the side of the snobbery packet, you will find that its two main components are envy and insecurity. Where else does the need to invent and internalise a pecking order and rank ourselves according come from – if not from a perennial lack of confidence? Why else do we tune in to these series of documentaries, which might as well be entitled so-and-so channel’s new ‘Point and Laugh season’ if they didn’t feed some awful, anxious need in our bitter, cankered hearts?
As for the envy, well – at the end of our dissection, my sister and I always share a plaintive sigh. We sigh, because really – secretly – who wouldn’t want the courage, the guts, the glory, to demand a dress made of a thousand yards of dreams and diamanté and yomp down the aisle with mechanical butterflies to send you on your way? I feel the same sneaking admiration I felt for Jordan in her glass pumpkin coach and Posh and Becks on their purple thrones but to a larger, frothier degree. Next time round, I’m going to set aside all notions of good taste and go all out myself. It’s actually classier that way.
Contact Lucy Mangan at email@example.com and on twitter.com/lucymangan
Picture credit: Rex Features