It’s no wonder, then, that London has the world’s most expensive restaurants, with the average meal costing about $80, double that of Manhattan. A decent martini can run $30. And forget about luxury goods. Even a trip to the Abercrombie & Fitch flagship on Savile Row can bleed the wallet dry: Prices are double of those in the U.S. Indeed, Britain’s entire class system has been reshuffled. “Years ago, it was the age of the aristocracy,” says Balfour. “Then came the meritocracy. Today, we’re all having to keep up with the Abramoviches.”
Sure enough, the affluent middle and upper classes—most of whom were privately educated, accustomed to winter holidays in swish Alpine resorts, family homes in Chelsea and weekend houses in the countryside—are feeling poor for the first time in their comfy lives. The tuition fees at private schools, where attendance was once a birthright, are a big part of the problem. Between 2001 and 2006, annual charges have risen by 39 percent. Eton now costs about $18,000 per term—and there are three terms in the school year. One investment banker, who asked to remain anonymous, said the vast majority of his colleagues would not be able to send their children to private schools if they didn’t have jobs in the City. “Of course, it would be a real struggle for them, but you know, tough s---,” he says. “That’s just the way it is now.”
And so genteel types have begun cutting corners—and rebelling against the flashy culture imported by the nouveaux riches. “London isn’t like New York: We still think a lot of money is common and slightly comical,” says writer India Knight. That’s one reason why scions of the old English families are retreating to their private men’s clubs—like Boodle’s, White’s and Brooks’s—for dinner.
“True, it’s difficult to become a member, but once you’re in, membership costs almost nothing, you never have to fight to get a table, and the meals are considerably cheaper than Zuma,” says one London banker, referring to a top foodie haunt.
Some Londoners have caved and begun sending their kids to state schools or “the scruffier private schools,” says Knight (whose own boys are privately educated). “And I can kind of see why,” she adds. “My 13-year-old son recently went to a party at the ballroom in Claridge’s. It must have cost tens of thousands of pounds.” Others are taking more creative measures. Hector Macdonald, an Eton- and Oxford-educated novelist whose latest book, The Storm Prophet, has been attracting critical attention, is seeking his fortune outside the UK. He’s been snapping up houses—not in Belgravia but in Bulgaria, “because they’re cheap and it’s a good investment,” he says.