Cinderella knew what she was up to when she dressed up to the nines in borrowed clothes and swanned off to the ball.
She may have been little more than a scullerymaid, but she was out to bag a prince, and she got one. These days you'd find her perched on a bar stool in a Mayfair nightspot such as Pangaea or Boujis, dressed top to toe in Gucci or Cavalli, dripping with designer jewels and quaffing Bollinger at [pound]180 a bottle. Oh, and she'd probably, apparently, be Russian.
Gold diggers seem to be everywhere at the moment. From headlines warning millionaires of Slavic sirens out to grasp their expense accounts, to column inches devoted to mind-boggling divorce settlements. In May, Beverley Charman bagged [pound]48m from her former husband - the biggest divorce award ever. Our fascination with women who hook up with wealthy men is almost endless.
Certainly, whenever a good-looking woman marries a rich man we ask the question: is it love or is she after his money? We all laughed knowingly when comedian Caroline Aherne's Mrs Merton asked Debbie McGee: "So what was it that attracted you to the multi- millionaire Paul Daniels?" The red-tops went into a frenzy when it was revealed that Apprentice contestant Katie Hopkins had slept with and then set up home with her well-off married boss. And poor old Heather Mills McCartney can't seem to put a foot right. These people no doubt married for love, but have continually had to put up with questions.
Recent moves by the Law Commission to give unmarried co-habitees the same financial claims as divorcees in the event of a split were hailed in the press almost gleefully as a gold-digger's charter. So is there a whole new breed of manhunter in town?
"I'm not ashamed to admit that getting married to a wealthy man is my top priority," says Joanna Marie-Clayton, a 27-year old actress and singer from Surrey who is currently working in a care home. "I want to be financially stable and to be able to afford the nice things in life. Frankly, I'm unlikely to achieve that through my own work."
Clayton points out that these days, with the divorce rate so high, considerations such as security are more important than just love. Her dream, she says, is to have a 10-bedroomed house in the country with acres of land and staff to maintain it. "We'd have two or three classic cars - I'd like a Mercedes Kompressor convertible. His and hers would be nice. I'd like lots of dogs, some stables and probably another property in London. I'm not really into designer labels, but it would be nice to be able to buy what I wanted when I wanted. I don't see what's wrong with wanting to meet a man who can provide me with these things - in the past, it was accepted as a woman's duty to make a good marriage and what's so wrong with that?"
The British writer Tasmina Perry, author of the bestseller Daddy's Girls, has chosen gold diggers as the subject of her latest novel, tipped to be this summer's top beach read. "It seemed the right time. There's been a lot of talk in the papers about gold diggers, toxic wives and so on," she says. "Go to restaurants like Cipriani, or Zuma, and they are full of beautiful twentysomething girls on the lookout for a rich man. When I was researching the book, I spoke to a lot of women who were being plied with champagne every night, yet none would admit to being a gold digger. Then, you discover that wealth is at the top of their wish list for a man. So what, I found myself wondering, is the difference between being Cinderella and gold digging? Where do you draw the line?"
The simple answer, of course, is that in these days of equality, women no longer need to marry into money - we can make our own. In a report published last month by Barclays Wealth Management, economists predicted that there will be more female millionaires in the UK than men by the year 2020, and less than one in four of these will have acquired their wealth through marrying a rich man. …