[ wrote this post in December 2014 after experiencing Harrods at peak Christmas shopping time.]
I went to Harrods yesterday. I hate shopping, but no one goes to Harrods to shop, do they? They go there to point, gasp and and do little high pitched laughs at the price tags.
Because it’s Christmas shopping time now, there was a higher proportion of ‘real Harrods customers’ among the grubby parker-wearing, camera-wielding riffraff yesterday.
I saw lots of little groups of women in panda/unicorn-fur hats and designer ponchos being herded along by Harrods salesmen, followed by a trail of husbands, all with Slavic accents, stylishly swept-back hair and pointy shoes that made click-clacky noises on the floor.
Rich people are fascinating
I have always been fascinated by rich people. That could come across as quite condescending. If it was the other way round and I was a rich person ‘fascinated by poor people’ then it would be. But wealth is innately flashy, isn’t it. It screams to be seen. All the expensive things in Harrods (anything over six figures) are kept behind glass boxes beneath designer lighting. It’s not a shop, it’s a museum. The things are there to be looked at – gawped at, gasped at.
It’s not the things themselves that fascinate me, or the people themselves. Take away their tailored clothes and their money and they’re just as flawed and boring as I am. It’s the air of exclusivity that enamours me: the glass boxes.
There is nothing in Harrods that I particularly want. I certainly didn’t want the £200 furry heart-shaped Christmas tree decoration I saw for sale yesterday, or the £4,000 suitcase. I’m quite happy with the phone I have. I don’t hanker for a 4K TV, or a designer coffee machine. I don’t even mind that much that the backspace key just came off my laptop. Perhaps I’m naive or in denial, but I don’t think there is an object I could buy in Harrods, or anywhere in fact, that would make me happier than I am now.
And yet I still want to be rich – and, although I can’t justify this in any way, I’ve always believed that one day I will be. It’s a strange thing that’s difficult to explain. Delusional, perhaps. But I’ve never been too bothered about my £20,000 student loan, or my disappointing pay slips, because I’ve always known that one day it won’t matter. One day I’ll have more money than I know what to do with.
But the question isn’t why am I so certain I’ll be rich, it’s: why should I even want to be rich, when I have all I need to be happy, and very little interest in buying things?
What motivates rich people?
Alain de Botton (I’ve mentioned him in a previous blog about love. He talks a lot of sense) recently wrote an article that questions the motivations of the rich.
Why do billionaires carry on working long hours to make money when they don’t even need to? Alain explains:
“The rich are not, therefore, working to make more money with an eye to spending it. They are making money in order to be liked. They are doing so for the sake of status, as a way of keeping score and letting the world know of their value as human beings. The rich work for love and for honour. They stay up late at the office out of vanity – because they want to be able to walk into rooms full of strangers and be swiftly recognised by those that matter and deemed miraculous and clever for having made fortunes, whose size is carefully recorded by the media the world over.”
Is wanting to be rich a way of wanting to be recognised, loved, honoured? I am on the lower end of the nation’s pay scale; does that make me feel undervalued, ignored?
A Taste of Money
I once spent 48 hours as a rich person. My job sometimes requires me to do things rich people do so I can write about them. It’s a good deal. This September I found myself in Lisbon being chauffeured around in a Mercedes minibus with blacked-out windows and a personal tour guide. The plan was to spend the night in the Ritz hotel and return the following day to the Harrods terminal in Luton on a private jet the size of a Boeing 737.
I’m not going to pretend I felt spoilt, guilty, or over-indulged on this absurdly luxurious trip. It was brilliant. Every second of it, from being at Heathrow Airport and travelling to a country I’d never been to before, to stepping into a suite the size of my flat with the whole of Lisbon spread out beneath my balcony.
I laughed. I laughed hysterically, loudly and at length as I ripped my clothes off, wrapped myself in my Ritz robe, slipped into my Ritz slippers, jumped up and down on the emperor-sized bed and popped open a bottle of port. I simply couldn’t believe I was there. The room was mine, the view was mine, the slippers were mine, the port was mine and I had three hours to enjoy it all before meeting back up with the other journalists for dinner.
I swam, I saunad, I rubbed ice into my thighs, I blow-dried my hair and escaped the hotel for a walk in the warm late-afternoon sun. I felt freedom. Even though there was a time limit, I felt this sense of utter bliss. I was somewhere else, somewhere I had never been before, experiencing things I had never experienced before, and there was no guilt. Every day I feel a sense of guilt. Guilt for spending too much money, eating too much, not exercising, not working, not writing. Here, my sole purpose was to enjoy myself. Everything was free, everything was planned for us. All of my needs were taken care of. It wasn’t the level of luxury that excited me, but the lack of responsibility, and the feeling of pure freedom that comes with that.
That night I got chatting to two publishers over the remnants of my hotel room port. They were talking about watch brands.
One of them said the watch he was wearing was worth £10,000. I looked at it. To me it didn’t look particularly special. It didn’t conceal any 007 weapons, it didn’t expand into a semi-detached house in the suburbs. I asked the men what they found so interesting about tiny wearable clocks. They said women have their beauty products, their jewellery and their shoes. Men need something to make them feel special too. I said I didn’t even notice he was wearing a watch.
Status. Feeling special. That is a good reason to want to be rich, like Alain de Botton said. But I don’t think it’s my motivation. My mum once bought me a designer dress from an outlet store in Swindon. It was a really nice dress but I didn’t feel more beautiful or important because it was designer. I don’t think anyone knew it was designer – and if they did, would they respect or like me more?
Exclusivity is intreguing
When I see people who blatantly have a lot of money, I feel like I’m going to burst with questions. Are all your friends rich? How much money do you spend on food shopping? What do you complain about? Are you happy? What do you do in your spare time? Do you ever go for a walk and think what’s the point of it all? Do you feel special? Guilty? Powerful? Absurd?
When I walk through the endless labyrinthine halls of Harrods, I am faced with shelves and shelves of things I cannot have. Gleaming sparkly stuff in glass boxes that will eventually end up in the house of someone who can afford them. I wonder who they are and why they need a £300 sterling silver cup holder, or a diamond encrusted pen for £13,750. Would we get on? Could we be friends?
When it comes to money, there are endless things to think about. It divides us and ruins us, and if we’re not careful, it consumes us. Like Smeagle’s ring. But despite all the wealth, extravagance and beauty in Harrods – the ladies powder room still smelt like poo, and in a way that’s quite comforting, isn’t it?