Midway through a Julie Burchill column in the Guardian bemoaning the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, I was startled to learn the following: Although fewer than 10 percent of British children attend private schools, their alumni make up over 60 percent of the acts on the U.K. pop charts. Twenty years ago, it was 1 percent.
There’s always been a bit of this, of course: Mick Jagger went to the London School of Economics and made more money singing the songs of hardscrabble Mississippi bluesmen than the gnarled old-timers who’d lived those lyrics could ever dream of. But he was “middle class” in what your average exquisitely attuned snob would regard as a very drearily provincial sense: Mick’s dad was a teacher in Kent and his mum was an Aussie hairdresser and he went to the local grammar school. The new pop stars attended some of the most exclusive and expensive academies in the land: Chris Martin (of Coldplay and Gwyneth Paltrow) went to Sherborne, and Lily Allen to Bedales, and James Blunt to Harrow. The five lads from Radiohead got together at Abingdon, founded by Richard the Pedagogue in 1100 and where annual boarding fees are now just shy of $50,000. In other words, to recreate the conditions that enabled Radiohead, you’d have to spend about one-and-three-quarter million bucks. You could try it the Elvis way — drive a truck, blow $8.25 to make an acetate, and record your mama’s favorite Ink Spots song — but it’s not clear that works anymore. In the space of two generations, almost every traditional escape route out of England’s slums — from pop music to journalism — has become the preserve of the expensively credentialed. I say “almost” because as far as I know no Old Abingdonian has yet won the heavyweight boxing championship.