As someone with a keen interest in having an absolute fuck-tonne of money, the grim reality of my personal earning power has been getting me down. As time trundles by, I've slowly begun to realise that the closest I'm ever going to get to summering in the Bahamas is spraying my greasy roots with Batiste Tropical. But the other morning, I got an invitation that would make my dreams of joining the elite set of people who have Dyson Airblades in their own home a reality, if only for one night.
It was an invitation to a dating event aimed at "ambitious and elite professionals". The event was called "Inner Circle" and it promised a "network based" dating service through which I could meet the "most successful and attractive singles" going. Code words for filthy rich – like "inspiring" and "ambitious" – were strewn across the website.
In preparation for the big night, I decided to do some cursory research of the kind of people who go to Inner Circle. I signed up to the website and checked out some of the guys' profiles. I found James*, the "curious about life" stock broker, Ricardo*, the "ski bum fashionista" and of course, Humphrey* the "sock aficionado" with a "huge interest in Spotify". There was a newsfeed on the site dripping with promises of things I didn't understand, like "casual bevs at Bodo's Schloss", as well as "candle-lit suppers in an old, Mediterranean fishing port", and – of course – Tatler picture opportunities.
The proprietors pick a new "exclusive" venue every month for a right old yah's up, but this month the venue was to be L'Escargot – one of those weird private members' clubs in Soho that I'm not sure anyone has ever wanted to be a member of. When I reached the top of its swirly carpeted stairs, the party wasn't exactly "going off", so I grabbed my free flute of fizz, bubbling with the hopes of a better life, and headed into the first room. Nobody elite in here, just a photographer looking bored next to a pile of quirky props.
Obvs, no self-respecting fun event of our times would be complete without a whacky photo-booth. I presume these are to provide some sort of insurance, so that when you're wandering the deserted corridors of old age, you can pull out a Polaroid of yourself in a pair of giant sunglasses, nudge your spouse awake and say, "Hey, we did have a laugh, didn't we?" as you realise your spouse isn't actually sleeping and will never wake up again.
I mean, how can you not have a laugh when you've got a fez on your head? Somehow, wearing it really enhanced the sense of extreme privilege. I felt like I was at an Oxbridge Conservative Society ball that was soon to be the centre of a race row.
It was just gone 9PM. I resisted the urge to pick up the nearest drinks tray and scanned the room helplessly looking for someone who felt as uncomfortable as me. I spotted him immediately: a man in an expensive suit and shiny shoes bobbing around like a buoy in a marina full of super-yachts. I wandered over to him and we exchanged firm, clammy handshakes. He told me his name was Edwin*.
Edwin's eyes were full of warning, his smile strained across his thin lips. He said he owned a string of hotels and has made his zillions in the commercial property "biz" but he was palpably too uncomfortable to talk shop. I slipped his business card in my pocket and shimmied away.
TBH I'm not half surprised Edwin was feeling the pressure. Amid the pinstripes and loafers and signet rings, it dawned on me I wasn't going to have the right chat for these banter-stallions. I felt as though, far from flying under the radar, I was going to be careering across it in an EasyJet airbus.
The women were immaculate and intimidating. One of them was wearing an Aspinall neckerchief with kitten heeled court shoes and fancy Kate Middleton shifts. Others were wearing those thin silky shirts that poor girls get sweat patches in. They smelled like scented candles. I can tell you without asking that none of these women have ever eaten hummus with their fingers.
One steely blonde lady's legs looked so smooth and Madame Tussaudesy that I heard myself asking her if I could touch them. And then, there I was, touching the strange lady's legs. Changing the subject after the touching, I asked if she'd seen Edwin on the Inner Circle "scene" and she rolled her eyes. "Oh that guy," she says, exhausted look on her face. "He's, like, FIFTY, he's just had A LOT of surgery."
When I glanced back over, Edwin had moved under the spotlights where he had that weird sweaty-but-not-sweaty sheen, like he might be melting. The strained expression, I realise now, was just his old skin, stretched across his face, filled with pillows of collagen warming under the lights on his tear-chapped cheeks. We all watched him "work the room" with horrified and thrilled ambivalence, like you might watch a Sainsbury's carrier bag pick up wind and fly towards you on the motorway.
About 10PM is when L'Escargot really gets pumpin' and by this time even Edwin had got his shit together and was *this* close to clashing veneers with a sexy Spanish señorita. In the corner of the room a saxophone player in a pair of wayfarers was getting stuck right into a soulful rendition of Mr Probz's "Wave After Wave (Slowly Drifting)".
Elsewhere, a large bovine man with a paisley tie around his head lumbered about talking loudly about an app. He then actually pronounced "legend" as "leg-end", hard G. Apart from this, everyone was really international and tall and nice. Blame the bubbles, but despite my better instincts I was having a good time.
At a packed bar, I got chatting to a Mum-brand-of-handsome and absurdly tall man with a firm handshake and warm areolae perfectly in my eyeline. Hugo*, we'll call him, was a really, really nice young rich man with the cheerful but weary resolve of a guy who is quite ready to settle down.
He was one of the world's most enthusiastic cheerleaders for posho singles' nights. He had come straight from a busy bar in Canary Wharf. Now in the embrace of Inner Circle, no longer was he hopefully pinning frozen margaritas on girls that turn out to have boyfriends. Here he could hang out in a place with "likeminded" people – in other words, people who might actually want to fuck him.
Talking to Hugo, the appeal of Inner Circle became obvious. Dating apps might try their best to try to mitigate the shame that comes with earnestly "looking for love" but we all know they're not really a substitute for IRL chemistry on a night out. The problem with singles' nights is everyone suspects they are just festivals for sad acts whose Simpsons duvet covers smell like Pot Noodle. On the other hand, Inner Circle isn't suffering from a cachet problem – everyone there genuinely thought it was great.
Nobody here was scaling the walls with their toes curled inside their shoes. Despite the nauseating smuggery of his press release – "the Inner Circle's distinction comes through its appeal to the elite, from hip creatives to corporate high flyers" – twinkly Dutch founder Michael Krayenhoff had pulled a bit of a slick move. As he put it: "The enormous popularity of our events show that this is the format people like. We called this event a three-night 'pop-up' and it's been packed every night." That said, people seem to like pop-ups so much that if you advertised something like a pop-up rectal exam it would be busy.
Also the founder of the "London Alumni Polo Club", Michael was a charming guy. He told me he started the night after hearing his friends moaning about how they never had a chance to meet other sexy rich people because they were too busy with their ridiculous high flying jobs. Bringing together a bunch people who all identify as #winners totally inverts the usual, depressing dating night formula.
I asked if he didn't think a singles' night solely for "elites" didn't sound just a tiny bit cunty, though? He said: "Our main focus is the inspiring and ambitious singles in London, this does not mean it's all high income people with a suit, we see a lot of upcoming creatives, actresses and musicians." Fair enough, but I am guessing the "creatives" might have been the guy wearing a trilby or the one with headphones on his iPhone 6 case.
If I am honest, I wasn't feeling massively inspired by Michael or the rest of the night's attendees, but I was feeling weird sense of empathy creeping through me. While I was still finding it hard to believe that bankers have beating hearts or feelings at all, I was becoming even more distressed at the realisation I might have something in common with all these high rollers. Namely, that being a single person in a city of opportunity can actually be a bit overwhelming whoever you are, especially when everyone's trying so hard to play it cool.
At about 1AM, as the night drew to a close, I realised I was enjoying the company of people who self-describe as "passionate polo players" and only want to date at Nobu. I looked over to Hugo, who had found a lady to rest her head on his soft areolae. All he really wanted is someone to adore, ignore and play FTSE with. Is that so much to ask?
I watched the last unpaired man muddle his way across the room giving a generous bosomed German girl the bite-lip finger guns. I went to leave the building, and almost tripped over the large bovine man's tie lying abandoned on the floor. It reminded me that, in our quest for true love – Coutts bank account or not – we're all just as pathetic as each other.
*Names have been changed.
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