Magazine article The Spectator

Meet the New Eco-Toffs: Champagne Swampies

Magazine article The Spectator

Meet the New Eco-Toffs: Champagne Swampies

Article excerpt

Do you remember Champagne Socialists? Well, there's a new version of that old clique, with the same curious mix of self-importance and selfindulgence but with a 21st-century green agenda. I call them Champagne Swampies.

Swampy was the environmental protestor who became a cult figure in the mid1990s, huddled in a tunnel by the proposed Newbury bypass, never washing his hair. His 2009 variants, the Champagne Swampies, share his concern for the environment, and they're out in force at the moment protesting about the proposal for a third runway at Heathrow. But they're more likely to have shelves of expensive carbon-neutral conditioner than dirty dreadlocks.

Chief among the Champagne Swampies is Tamsin Omond (Westminster, Cambridge, daughter of a baronet), the Heathrow protest pin-up and founder of Plane Stupid.

In her wake follow other equally glamorous Swampies: actresses like Miranda Richardson and Emma Thompson; then the pop-star contingent headed by Chrissie Hynde.

They're the rich, often famous or aristocratic eco-activists who found a purpose in life saving the world from global warming, and as the recession eats away at less affluent people's green resolutions, they're becoming ever more noticeable.

At drinks parties they have freshly potted orchids blooming left, right and centre -- so much kinder than cut flowers. And they talk earnestly about the great ecological benefits of Private Jet Share, a scheme which allows the girl-or-boy-about-theplanet to save a few thousand by buying up empty seats on other people's private jets. A Private Jet Share seat is not a bargain of the Ryanair/easyJet variety but what an idea... and so 'good' for the environment. They buy organic cashmere from Daylesford & Co, order organic veg in boxes and nibble on Duchy Originals cookies as they discuss the plight of battery chickens en route to Ibiza. Welcome to the high-octane world of the Champagne Swampy.

One of the most impressive things about the Champagne Swampy is how easily he or she integrates eco activities into the luxury lifestyle. There is now seemingly no area of life in which it is not possible to be ostentatiously and fashionably green. In St Tropez, once you've arrived by private jet (shared or otherwise), you can hire a treehouse for your holiday. And whereas the real Swampy retired to a yurt in North Wales, the new activists can afford ever more imaginative and surreal ways of highlighting their cause.

David de Rothschild is about to float around the world in a raft made of Evian bottles, highlighting ocean pollution; Rohan Kale's collection at the London College of Fashion is made entirely from the cut-offs that go to waste in the production of silk ties. At a recent recycled plastic art show, until I discovered the £10,000 price tag, I was tempted by a beautifully coloured chandelier by the British designer Stuart Haygarth, constructed entirely from hundreds of old party poppers.

In these tough times the Champagne Swampies' elaborately ethical excesses serve to highlight the fact that, in itself, being green is an expensive lifestyle choice. This should mean that eco-produce is an eminently 'crunchable' luxury, as vulnerable in a recession as Porsches, It-bags and expensive champagne, but somehow the new highliving environmentalists seem invulnerable.

Most middle-class eco-warriors have by now reluctantly begun to abandon organic produce. After reporting two years of 30 per cent growth, the Soil Association's next market report, due in March, will tell a very different story. …

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