Sue Elliott-Nicholls has a posh secret.
I don’t know if you live and work in one of our big cities, or near one of those little villages, like Hay-On-Wye, with luxury shops, but if you do, I wonder if you also share in my glorious pastime: perusing high-end stores pretending to be rich.
I work in central London. Between jobs and meetings, what better than to mosey around the shops looking at lovely things? The West End has such pretty shops; Liberty, Heal’s, Fortnum & Mason.
I can sniff out a luxury store no matter where I am in the country. You can tell by the tasteful illumination, the polished wooden floors, the well-placed treasures thoughtfully displayed, the ones that beckon you inside.
Something mystical comes over me when I’m in these places, with their magical interiors, seductive lighting and beautiful staff. Staff you want to please, either for their beauty, style, or the way they remind you of your fantasy mum.
When I’m in these places I don’t just pretend to be rich. It goes way beyond that, into Stanislavski territory; I BELIEVE I am rich. I try things on, sit on the sofas, get the rugs out to have a proper look. I scratch my head meaningfully, discussing with the servant (sorry assistant) where I could put the rug in my large imaginary Edwardian four-storey house in Spitalfields.
I have a friend who loves art and blags her way into exclusive exhibitions. She talks with the gallery curator about the artist, discusses prices, laughs along quaffing free champagne with the movers and shakers of the art world, even though she hasn’t got a pot to piddle in.
When I walk past the diamonds, rubies and pearls littering the Bond Street windows I actually look in, with a view to buying, I go in and ponder the whole Oscar ceremony set, pontificating over whether to get the necklace and the ring or go the whole hog and get the bracelet as well. I have a friend who regularly tries things on in Tiffany and Co, and not just any old thing: she goes to the bit where you have to be accompanied by a security guard. Not bad on a classroom assistant’s wage.
“I see fancy shops as a living exhibition. A trip to Fortnum & Mason is like being in a gallery but SO MUCH BETTER.”
This is not living on credit, running up the national debt. This is different. This is fantasy. This is using the imagination; this is creative thinking.
This is a few brief moments (OK, hours) where I can pretend I am loaded. It’s a hobby, a pastime, something positive and imaginative to do with my spare time. There are massively talented visual merchandisers (I call them artists. They are artists) who put their heart and soul into a successful display. I mean, who designed the Liberty maypole?
There are wonderful designers who have sweated and toiled to perfect the colour, texture and feel of that cashmere cushion. You owe it to them to go and look, to feel the luxury. Apothecaries freeze on the Welsh mountainside in their fingerless gloves trying to concoct the perfect group of essential oils and herbs to make that £80 hand cream. It would be a crime not to smell it, experience the joy of the tester gliding across your workaday hands.
I see fancy shops as a living exhibition. A trip to Fortnum & Mason is like being in a gallery but SO MUCH BETTER because, rather than walk about in austere silence with a finger on the chin, people are chatting, couples arguing, ladies laughing; life is going on around you.
Then you buy a little something, a £20 mug, a tea light for a tenner, and for a bit you love it all the more because you remember buying it. It was a joyful moment in your life, it was an experience. You stepped out of reality and became a better, more organised, calm, beautiful RICH version of yourself, one who gets their house redecorated every year while skiing with the family in Canada.
Sometimes you can even go back in the sale, so that £200 jacket is now £100. Spend £100, save £100, so it’s free!
It probably wouldn’t be nearly as great if you really were rich anyway. If you really were rich that £10 tealight would probably give you no more of a flutter in your tummy than buying a Pot Noodle in Lidl.
Shops not your thing? That’s fine. The possibilities are limitless. Travel agents, car showrooms, even estate agents. When I had my first son, a friend was going through treatment for hepatitis. We had time on our hands so we would fill our time with my newborn son visiting estate agents in Islington pretending to be a couple buying a townhouse. We were in our 20s living in poky flats in a rough end of town; our real partners were out earning a crust while we were drinking free coffee, looking at potential houses, having the best fun ever.
Do I see this as a problem? No. Will I be stopping any time soon? Hell no. Have I ever got a little carried away and actually bought that leather chair in Heal’s using the family holiday budget? I may have. It’s a lovely chair though, lasted years and anyway, we’ve been on loads of holidays since.
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Sue Elliott-Nicholls is an actress and writer. Often heard washing her dirty laundry on Woman’s Hour. Sue is currently on your TV screens playing Moody Margaret in Horrid Henry and Nanno in Hugglemonsters, as well as appearing in Tracey Ullman's show on BBC1. She is also a lone female voice attempting to be heard in a family of Alpha males.