Oh, to be the heir to a dynastic empire or the offspring of celebrity. Recent weeks have found handsome young scions dominating the news. Earlier this month Alexandre Arnault, the 28-year-old son of LVMH chairman and chief executive Bernard Arnault, assumed a new role as executive vice-president at Tiffany & Co. The storied US jewellery house is the latest acquisition in a glittering portfolio, purchased in a much-contested $15.8bn sale last year. Arnault joins the new executive team at Tiffany’s following a four-year stint as chief executive of luggage brand Rimowa: suffice to say, his promotion came as not much of a surprise.
Meanwhile, Euan Blair has announced $44m worth of investment following a Series B round for his education start-up Multiverse, valuing the business at about $200m. As an origin story, there can be few more pleasing narratives on which to draw. One imagines him wowing investors with his childhood memories seeing his father, former prime minister Tony Blair, promising to put education top of his priorities if voted into power. How he’s drawing on a legacy of opportunity and access. Plus, he’s got that same Bambi-eyed enthusiasm and toothy, goofy smile.
In the film world, Rafferty Law is following his father Jude’s footsteps with news that he has scored a starring role in the Dickens adaptation Twist. And so it goes, on and on.
You can’t really get cross about such filial successes — the world was ever thus. And if my father had been a film star rather than a forensic banker, I would certainly have played on that. Sadly, he considered asking anyone for anything so utterly debasing that he would have sooner driven off a cliff than inquire for road directions, never mind ask someone to help me get a job. Growing up, the idea of working with or for my parents was total anathema: which I’m sure is terribly revealing of how lower middle class I am. Of course, if your parents do something wonderfully exciting, it’s only natural that you would want to do it all as well.
When I worked for British Vogue, I would joke with a fellow editor about founding a magazine called, “My Daddy Is . . . ”. But the satiric title was quite redundant: from the models to the talent to the staff in our offices, the magazines were already stuffed with important people’s kids.
And people loved it. They still do. We have a psychological weakness for the children of the famous, the gorgeous or the super-rich. And just as it becomes their duty to claim their birthright to celebrity and leadership and film roles, it is our reciprocal duty to obsess about their lives. See the success of Hello! magazine or Us Weekly. Right now, viewers can currently pick from a smorgasbord of dramas about European aristocrats and their torrid dynastic woes. And see how we quiver in front of drama serials such as Succession, with its fiction of speculation about the elusive Murdoch clan.
Few people, however, follow these stories because they care to celebrate continuing success. In the real-life soap opera of succession, we have learnt to love a well-established cast. Which heir can be trusted to be loyal? Who will build on legacy? And who will see it all undone?
The dutiful scions who work hard, marry well and have a bajillion children are mildly satisfying bit parts. What we really want are errant sons and daughters who fritter away fortunes, or rogue lieutenants who spurn their parents’ cash.
Essentially, we want figures such as James Murdoch, who has somehow disassociated himself from his responsibilities as executive chairman of News International during a period of phone-hacking by tabloid journalists to reinvent himself as a tree-hugging critic of US media outlets, of which his father’s Fox empire is one. Last week he was denouncing such media in the FT for stirring “toxic politics” and helping to belittle the democratic process in the States.
Some have interpreted this as being enlightened Murdoch thinking. I think it shows a stupendous lack of self-awareness. But that’s entitlement for you, I suppose, when you’re so oblivious to irony that you can witter on about toxic attitudes without reflecting on what has nurtured, for example, the growth of polarising anti-European sentiment in the UK.
And we thrive on the stuff. We love the outrage. The only reason we don’t die of envy of these people is because we realise that to embrace a famous surname is to live inside a golden cage. Sure, the privileges and opportunities of privilege are amazing, but it can be difficult to thrive. Being the heir to a great fortune may be convenient, but it’s basically a curse.
Which brings us to the Trumps: Tiffany, Donald Jr and Eric, and dear Ivanka, the most intriguing and high-profile of them all. Various media reports have suggested that Ivanka is making efforts to distance herself from her father’s administration, and thus his legacy, as a second impeachment and a growing pile of legal suits make him vulnerable again. But her Twitter account still pulses with self-aggrandising platitudes that imply she is impervious to potential crisis. And it was hard to determine whether the $4,600 black Alexander McQueen coat she wore to mark her father’s final day in office was a symbol of solemnity, humility, or narcissistic grief.
As ever, Ivanka’s revealing very little. Yet as the most devoted daughter, one wonders whether Trump’s greatest enabler will stick around. Will she help write the next chapter of Trump history? Or will she do a James Murdoch, become an activist — and sabotage her dad?
Jo Ellison is editor of How To Spend It
Email Jo at firstname.lastname@example.org
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