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A Big Day Out with... Britain's Nouveau Riche!

A horse raced a car and Prince Harry flew in on a chopper at Sandbanks Beach Polo tournament.

by Clive Martin, Photos: Inès Elsa Dalal
05 August 2013, 1:00pm

For those of you who don't know where Sandbanks is, it's in Dorset. For those of you who don't know what Sandbanks is, it's basically the British Monte Carlo – a playground peninsula for the domestic nouveau riche. Media moguls, entrepreneurs and people who split their fortunes with Balkan war criminals are willing to part with more money than you'll ever see to swim in its turquoise surf, pace its golden sands, fuck about on luxury yachts and help maintain one of the UK's highest speeding rates.

Property developers have exploited its sea views to turn the site into a mile-wide bubble of decadence in a country where people are committing suicide due to government austerity cuts. Former Premier League football managers go there to die and a couple recently bought a dilapidated beachfront bungalow for £3.5 million. You may turn up your nose, but who wouldn't pay that much to watch the sun set with Harry Redknapp and Tony Pulis every night?

For those of you who don't know what polo is, it's kind of a mix between croquet and jousting. It's primarily played by "hard toff' types in the mould of James Hewitt, massive horses and middle managers willing to take a few mallet blows to the brain to clinch that invite to the brandy and cigars room. If you think about it, it's a sport that could only really have been invented by people who'd spent so long riding horses around together that they needed to add another element to it to stop it getting boring.

Put the old money pursuit of polo and the new money pleasureland of Sandbanks together, and you have beach polo: surely the next sport to make it onto the national PE curriculum. And, of course, such an event should have a party, complete with a fashion show judged by some bloke who was on the British remake of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and a disco where old men in stripy ties grind to Avicii. We went down to see what was up.

Passing through the entrance was like walking from one gene pool to another – a class system Stargate that plonks you down into the world of velvet blazers, patronised toilet attendants and men called "Tobes".

The fake grass path leading up to the stage, bar areas, luxury dining hall, VIP area and outdoor polo pitch was flanked by the “retail village”, where people could buy "luxury lifestyle suites". I'm not sure a big TV and two stools constitute a "luxury lifestyle" so much as the lifestyle of a paranoid drug dealer, but then who am I to talk? I haven't even got my own yacht.

Another early highlight was the fashion show. The real housewives of Sandbanks congregated at this watering hole to salivate over bucket-jawed polo gods and showcase their own recent cosmetic upgrades. 

The array of looks on show was strange, ill thought out and totally off the mark. The ladies' grins seemed to get wider the more likely the men looked to get beaten to death in a Wetherspoons.

Oh sweet, they decided to dress this guy as Date Rape Ken. What does this man do when he's not dancing around to Rizzle Kicks at T4 On the Beach? Every winter must be a kind of emotional hibernation, listlessly watching the hours drain away before he can return to the VIP moshpit.

As we've seen from Ollie Proudlock's clothing label and Francis Boulle's occasional donning of an Obey hat, posh people don't really "get" streetwear. I guess with this combination they were trying to jump on that Supreme/Palace tip but the model ended up looking more like a blind guy who'd asked his nan to make him "look cool" in Marks and Spencer.

The girls had the standard-issue big hair, low neckline and dead eyes kit to work with. To be honest, there's really no need to mess with this formula, girls like this could go out wearing coats made from human shit and they'd still be able to make you feel like you're a different species.

Overseeing the event was this guy. If you just about recognise him, that's probably because you do just about recognise him. He's one of those TV presenters who will pop up every now and then, usually filling in for someone on just about everything from This Morning to Dispatches. He was on the UK version of Queer Eye for a Straight Guy and if you Google image search him he is usually holding a dog.

For this event he was the MC and judge, trying to make sense of the whole thing while dressed somewhere between Duke Nukem and the viscount of an obscure principality.

Next: volleyball – a sport that actually makes sense on a beach, I guess. That said, I never really thought it was the kind of thing that the chino Illuminati would go for; it seemed too uncouth, a sport for Brazilian slum kids and Australians.

Usually these people prefer sports that are a bit more measured. Like one that involves prize-winning horses, minor royalty and blunt weapons, for instance. 

I'd never seen a polo game before, but it was oddly thrilling. Though I suppose when you give rich people mallets, fresh Ralphy garms, horses that are worth more than some countries and the constant threat of serious trauma, it couldn't not be. 

Looking on were this lot. Yeah, I know, turns out people like this really do exist. 

Following the volleyball match was the sixth annual "Man vs Beast" charity race. Which is when things really got weird.

It began when what sounded like a moonlighting army major came on over the tannoy system to explain that an Audi 4x4 (the "man") and a £40,000 polo pony would race around two bollards at the end of the pitch.

The horse started off badly, clearly its carefully bred ankles weren't used to this kind of surface. It reeled around the bollard with great difficulty; horse spit and sand flying everywhere as its desperate, wide eyes flashed around its head like broken washing machines. But in the end the car couldn't deal with the sand at all, leaving it stuck there, revving up like a fucked tractor.

The horse won. I can't imagine it was a great advert for Audi.

With the animal kingdom's prowess re-asserted, the army major retook the mic, gesturing to the skies and calmly announcing to the crowd that everyone should wave hello to Prince Harry, who was flying in on a chopper overhead. And yes – sure enough, there he was. The guests seated in the bandstand waved blithely up towards the royal. I didn't really know what to do with myself.

In truth, it was one of the greatest things I'd ever seen.

Next up came the "official" after-party, which was exactly as you'd imagine it to be: a bunch of white people pushing out their chests, sniffing a lot and pumping champagne flutes to bad remixes of "Drop It Like It's Hot". 

But also some funky house, which has largely replaced the noise of bugles, musket fire and the bloodcurdling screams of foreign peasants as the official soundtrack to rich people letting loose. 

One thing that unites all British classes is bad dancing to bad music, and in that respect the Beach Polo 2013 disco was no different to any other in the UK. The most common move of the evening was the "finger in the air"; the polite, domestic take of the classic European "hands in the air" – a dance that a rural politician could get away with at a constituency re-election party.

People seem to think that rich men are shy and clumsy, but this is mostly just a myth propagated by Hugh Grant. Just because they're posh doesn't mean they can't venture as deep into the chirpse game as the rest of us, as proved by this unlikely couple, who were dropping the kind of moves that might raise eyebrows at a Sizzla PA at Stratford Rex.

Is there any greater equaliser in British society than the portaloo? From Download and Ascot to Back 2 Da Old Skool weekenders and Latitude, they consistently remind everyone that all human beings, regardless of how many homes their families own, have to momentarily stop what they're doing to force shit and piss out of their bodies.

Looking on at all the double-barrelled wreck-heads queuing to unload their fluids into a plastic basin, I realised that the British Beach Polo Championship 2013 was Ballardian Britain made flesh. Sandbanks seemed to be a place where people came to obliterate reality with drink, money and heat, floating on a weird, isolated semi-island that's slowly sinking into the sea. Trapped, bored and temporarily insane, they seemed to be railing against the logic of the outside world, putting on peacocking displays of wealth in an effort to distance themselves from the desperation that has enveloped the rest of the country. It felt less like a holiday village and more like a hallucination.

Is Sandbanks as flash and vulgar as it's been made out to be? Well, no. The people here weren't monsters and I'm sure they don't self-identify as such. But as the gap between rich and poor grows ever wider, every extra ton in the bank is going to seem more grotesque to those clutching the shitty end of the stick. There's a kind of social inflation at work these days that's running in parallel to the economic crisis – something that distorts class, destroying the middle ground and separating us all into haves and have nots, poshos and povvos, super-rich and serfs.

Which isn't entirely fair to the people of Sandbanks. I mean, they've been hit by the financial crisis, too – it's now only the fifth most expensive place to buy property in the world, rather than the fourth.

Additional reporting by Lelya Eroglu.

Follow Clive on Twitter: @thugclive

Big Night Out is turning into a video series. The first episode premieres at VICE.com and Noisey this Thursday and you can watch the trailer here.

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British Beach Polo Championship of 2013
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