Did anyone else catch last night's ITV show 'Britain's Biggest Spenders'? It's not the sort of thing I normally watch. For a start, I hardly ever watch ITV. But having chanced upon it, I was glued to the set. Rarely have I seen anything so cringe-making.
The show revolved around four 'big spenders', three female, one male. The man was had some sort of background in fitness and now speculates in property. Of the women, one had married rich (and divorced), one was a music publisher and one was a lap-dancer living far beyond her means and #80,000 in debt.
If you wanted an exercise in demonstrating the utter vacuity of the lifestyles of the rich (and wannabe rich) in Britain today, this show was hard to beat. The only likable person was the music publisher, who had led an interesting life and worked for her money. She also attends charity auctions and buys things at them. I had no problem with her.
But the others? Yuk!
The rich divorcee was pleasant enough, but seemed to think she was still 20 years old, despite being in her 40s. She spends money on pampering herself in salons, clothes, boats, parties and second/third homes. Everything was about show rather than substance. I actually felt sad for her that she had no interests to invest in.
The lap-dancer was an average looking 31-year old, who was tragically under the impression that she was amazingly attractive. She drives around in a flash car, licence plate S4UCY (or something similar). She gets a 'buzz' out of shopping online and we were shown a scene of her greeting the delivery man one day and getting hyper unwrapping the junk she had bought. As soon as she'd opened everything, the high was gone and she was back to feeling flat again. Hitherto unable to admit to her parents that she was mired in debt, she decided that it was time to confont her mother about it. Obviously the way to do this was by flying herself and her mother to New York and breaking the bad news at the end of a shopping holiday.
The programme made clear that she had gone broke before when she was young. It was obvious that she was planning to declare bankruptcy again. She expressed a tiny amount of remorse for it, but not much. She was only concerned about what her parents would think of her. The fact that she was about to stiff the banks for a second time and that behaviour like hers makes it harder for sensible people to get cheap credit hadn't occurred to her.
But for sheer incredulity, nothing beat the man. For a start, he just looked bizarre. His skin was a permatan orange. His face was swollen and he looked ridiculous with his overdeveloped muscles in the tight suits that he wore. Things didn't get better when he opened his mouth. Despite supposedly having everything that he wanted, he was tragically insecure. At every opportunity he had to show off - showing us the growth hormones he injects every day that he thinks will make him life to 130, the botox injections he takes three times a year to avoid wrinkles, explaining that he only wears underwear two or three times before throwing them away because he wants to feel fresh. Most oddly was his determination to show that he was a 'player', despite it not always being clear what it meant in the context in which he used it.
Not content with buying a big house in southern Spain, he had to get 'No.1' ingraved in marble on the floor in the hall. He bought a village in Bulgaria and planned to rename it after himself. He seemed completely unaware that this might be considered an insult to the poor people who have to live in his town.
All of this makes me uneasy. I'm an odd mixture in some ways, fiercely capitalistic, but not especially materialistic. I recently looked at some pictures of me taken in 1991 and realised that I still wear some of the clothes I had then! I believe strongly in the virtues of private wealth creation and fully accept the inequalities they produce. But I'm often baffled by what people chose to spend their wealth on. None of the people we saw seemed to have any interest in using their wealth to expand their knowledge and understanding of the world. None seemed interested in anything other than what others thought of them. For me, money is desirable because it buys you time and space. You don't have to work at something you don't enjoy. You can live somewhere that's convenient to you.
To spend your whole life trying to get others' attention seems as much of a dreary grind as anything I did when I worked.