What is the Dunbar’s Number of Young Tatler?
Robin Dunbar was an evolutionary psychologist who came up with the theory that we all have a maximum of around 150 friends, because that is the maximum number of stable connections our monkey brains are capable of dealing with.
On the basis of recent research, I’d instead like to propose Haynes’ Number: the theory that “Young Tatler culture is the culture of people with about 2,000 Instagram followers”.
It seems to have become a baked-in assumption that these gilded youth must pupate before they go off, to the City, and what dim hinterland lies beyond the City: property development. They must have their wild years, their part-time art careers. They must grow their Instagram following into the high hundreds. Above all, they must be models.
So you have Max Hurd, prime example, here glimpsed at some boozy do. A quick chat with gossip queen google.com tells us that Max is the sire of not one but four Tory MPs – father Nick Hurd, and grandfather Douglas, Baron Hurd of Westwell, who was Foreign Secretary as the Berlin Wall came down and Bosnia went up. He’s also the great-grandson of Lord Anthony Hurd, and great-great grandson of yet another squire from the shires.
But Max, like so many of his Tatler generation, has been given the opportunity to dodge the family firm of benefit-slashers. Max is a model – modelling being something it seems almost everyone can pick up and put down at will. In the paradise of Tatlerland, your face might not quite be your fortune, but it’s probably a Scotch & Soda campaign and a handy £30k a year in pin money.
Though it’s not immediately obvious whether this Tatler generation will ever move itself off of the "portfolio career" track-lines into the world of serious things. Like the birth crisis affecting European societies, perhaps something has irretrievably broken down. Perhaps this generation will simply fritter its fortunes away in Nashville-filtered pine nut salads and DJ sets on Red Bull Radio.
Max apparently has his own fashion website, called thetrendpear.com. Or at least, that’s the one in his Twitter bio. But click the link and you’re back in the land of GoDaddy, international harbinger of vanity projects gone pear-shaped. The Trendpear’s Instagram has 2,044 followers. Haynes’ Number in action.
One of the most artful ways Tatler keeps its tribe centred is with its sublime steer between joking/notjoking. Hence “Marry For The Mother In-Law”, in which the breeding game is lightly lampooned, but also taken ever more seriously. “With no eligible members of the Royal Family available, the next status symbol is the trophy mother-in-law,” the sub-head trills. “Which one is right for you?”
Prospects include: ”Tall and elegant Carolyn Warren”. Lady Annabel Goldsmith (“Warm and witty, she’s the ultimate matriarch.”). Or The Duchess of Wellington (“Expect royals on your wedding list and summer holidays at the family estate in Granada”).
It works precisely because it is so insular. Tatler is a kind of gossip Heat can’t reproduce, because tabloid fame feels like an ever-expanding club of popstars, troubled Love Island shills and former spouses of Prem strikers. But Tatler feels like a world where the precise number of stars in the firmament is constant – fixed by birth. The idea that there are perhaps 10,000 people in Britain who are just like you, who you need to know about, is a very addictive feeling.
In his 1976 novel Slapstick, Kurt Vonnegut floated the idea of state-ordained artificial families – that if we could all be issued by the government with an arbitrary extended clan of a few thousand people whose last name we’d then share, it’d instantly eliminate our modern plague of isolation/alienation. Tatler is essentially that – a vast but finite extended family’s Christmas letter to itself.
MARKLES OUT OF TEN
Which is why this month’s Meghan Markle overload is so effective. This month, there’s a big splash on her year in frocksm and a feature in which a writer wrinkles his brows at her. It’s a confusing read, because it simultaneously tries to be very supportive but also warns her of coming danger, like a sinisterly obsequious courtier in one of Shakespeare’s history plays.
Meghan is a maker of unforced errors, it concludes. Meghan is California cool, but out-of-step here. She’s getting bad advice. Of course we’d dearly love to support her, but she’s never quite going to be one of us, is she?
The piece only hints at the personality flaws the tabloids have splashed hard on, and in its soft, sad whisper, is far more damning than they could ever be.
Mainly because it is being written by the kinds of people who don’t need to disguise themselves as an Arab sheik to meet Meghan day in and day out. Where the writer has actually reached out to people who’ve met her, it’s obvious he hasn’t had to stray far beyond his personal address book.
Reading it, I found myself struck by the full suffocating horror of being at the very top of the aristocratic Christmas tree.
Anyone can survive being pasted in the red tops. Numbers in the millions are meaningless. But this is Haynes’s Other Number: The Ten Thousand. The fact that this is the house journal of exactly the people whose country houses you will be swanning about in – that is the true terror, not the 10 million red-top reading plebs.
All images courtesy of the author