The film Brideshead Revisited was released recently, rekindling images of a youthful aristocracy clutching teddy bears, wafting prettily around vast country estates and generally being about as useful to society as slippers on a mountain hike. But to think of Englands current crop of upper-class youngsters in the same way would be wrong. Many of the leggy women and floppy-haired men striding up and down Londons Kings Road today are driven, hard-working, and making it in the world of business. Where once there were entrepreneurs, now we have the posh-preneurs.
Frequently shunning university in favour of rolling up their shirtsleeves, posh-preneurs are — of course — well-connected. Funds come from their families or a personal Dragons Den of old friends who are successful in business. Should the four we meet below play Six Degrees of Separation, they would find between them Sir David Frost, Prince William, the Goldsmiths, Lord Palumbo and David Camerons mother-in-law. Indeed, Camerons wife, Samantha, is herself one of the original posh-preneurs, as creative director of the luxury emporium Smythson. I admire entrepreneurs, the Tory leader said recently. I should do — I go to bed with one every night.to bed with one every night.
21, cake maker
If you think you know the name, you do: James is the younger brother of Kate Middleton, the girlfriend of Prince William.
They share the same thin top lip and high cheekbones, but their lives couldnt be more different. James can spend weeks without seeing any friends (he doesnt go clubbing, preferring supper parties) as he develops and packages his cake kits from the back of a souped-up burger van.
Brought up in Berkshire, James went to Marlborough College. He set off for Edinburgh University, but within a few weeks I knew it wasnt where I wanted to be. I said to myself I would see a year out in case it got good. But I was always looking for business ideas.
He developed The Cake Kit Company in 2007 after quitting university at the end of his first year. Designed partly to encourage children to cook and partly to make the baking of party cakes easier, the Cake Kit provides the ingredients and decorations necessary to make novelty cakes of different shapes, ranging from footballs to butterflies.
The cleverest bit is a new invention — a disposable baking tin. Its distributed through his parents company, Party Pieces, but hes seeking his own outlets and expanding the brand with shortbread-scented candles and Christmas tree cookies.
James got a helping hand from his parents, but they werent going to take me on just because I was their son. I had to get a bank loan initially. He works from their offices and barely gives himself a break. Its awkward going back up to Edinburgh to see my old friends, because Im not on the same wavelength.'
Maria Balfour has the longest legs to be found off a magazine cover, but its her way with a wooden spoon that has earned her posh-preneur status, with her catering company Effortless Eating.
Brought up in West Sussex, one of four girls, and schooled at St Marys Ascot, Maria had the traditional gap year (travelling around South America) before going to Bristol to read politics.
I was 19 and had a 31-year-old boyfriend and was off on adventures with him all the time, so was barely a student, she says. Still, she tried to stay on track and joined a graduate training programme with Bell Pottinger, but it wasnt for me — it was too corporate. After a stint in PR she landed a funny job working for a new couture shoe brand that went bust. I understood then what not to do when running a small company.
Maria always had a passion for food — I was always the pig licking the bowl, and during her time out of work came up with the idea of Effortless Eating, home-cooked food delivered to people who havent the inclination to make it for themselves. She got a bank loan, sold her flat and started off doing little bits of cooking for people. It was very gradual and very scary in the beginning with no money coming in.
But her company has grown exponentially: on the day we met she was cooking 30 grouse for dinner. She has cooked for Sir David Frost (her uncle), Bryan Ferry, Alexandra Shulman, Daisy Donovan and countless baby showers for rich Americans in London.
She parties at Raffles and holidays in the Seychelles or Cornwall.
31, drinks manufacturer
Marcus, who likes to ski the glaciers of the Matterhorn, is not a man to take the easy path. The eldest of four, he has travelled extensively (I walked for a month across Northern India) and his parents are not the stay-at-home mother, father in the City type. His father breeds horses and has a medical business. He changed the nature of MRI scanning by putting them in lorries so hospitals could use them for a day if they couldnt buy one. His mother is on the Arts Council and vice-chairman of the Serpentine Gallery.
Marcus boarded from the age of eight, first at the Dragon School in Oxford and then at Eton, before reading politics at Edinburgh. After university he joined a management consultancy. The plan was to do that for two years, then go to business school before setting up my own company, but it went off course, he says. Unstimulated by his job, he got together with schoolfriend Harry Briggs and began looking at business ideas. They noticed there was huge growth in energy drinks. Firefly was born, with its brightly coloured bottles, and is now sold in Waitrose, Coffee Republic and Harvey Nichols, as well as 40 countries worldwide.
25, shoe designer
Alex Finlay is the creator and owner of Fins, a company that sells shoes in 10 surprising colours, including pistachio and electric blue. Youd expect to find them being worn by a man who has just docked his yacht in St Tropez. Launched in March this year, Fins are sold in Selfridges and Gatwick airport, as well as online. Her great-great-great grandfather was Johnnie Walker, of the whisky. Is that posh enough? Her best ever holiday was a cruise in Turkey this year to celebrate the 60th birthday of family friend Annabel Astor, David Camerons mother-in-law.
Alex grew up in Chelsea, London, and went to St Pauls Girls School, but did not want to go to university. Working in PR was the first time she got out of bed without being forced — I was so happy, but when all her friends went travelling she felt left behind. So she skipped off to New York, where she landed an internship at American Vogue.
Soon she found herself being the real-life version of Anne Hathaways character in the film The Devil Wears Prada. I was getting into the lift with a tray of coffees for Anna [Wintour] in my super-high heels when Arthur Elgort, the top fashion photographer from Vanity Fair, spotted me and said: Let me guess — Annas assistant! and started taking photos of me. It was so cool.
On her return she worked as a creative consultant for a number of small companies, but wanted to be her own boss. Her fund manager father agreed to pay her rent for a couple of months while she set out to see if she could make the shoe business work. When she had designed her first set of samples and formulated a plan, she drove round London in her Smart car roping in investors. Ben and Kate Goldsmith, Adam Black (whose family business, Peter Black Holdings, is one of the largest shoe suppliers to chains such as Next) and Carolyn Hadden-Paton (who established the shop Sam Brown in Fulham) stumped up half the money and friends gave one or two thousand pounds each for the other half. Everything has exceeded my wildest expectations, she says.