Ian Monk: Why is it now so filthy to be rich?

In the boom years a place on The Sunday Times Rich List was worn as a badge of rank. Now an entry in the listing, published last weekend, looks high risk. Suddenly, the (reasonably) definitive tome of the UK's 1,000 richest bods seems more like a hit list for the taxman, the levellers and wives contemplating divorce.

Ian Monk
Ian Monk

The zeitgeist of the new age of depression embraces the urge to fiscally hammer the vaguely well off, hang the bankers high and avoid any suggestion of conspicuous consumption or success.

Entrants in previous Rich Lists enjoyed the tacit seal of approval from New Labour, under whose stewardship so much wealth had been gathered by the few. Lord Mandelson said he was relaxed about people getting filthy rich. With copious help from many PR professionals anxious to clarify just how extensive was the wealth of their clients, the annual Rich Lists logged just how filthy rich some had become.

The UK was lauded as a home fit for billionaires.

Yet I know many of those same PROs took the calls from The Sunday Times team this year with trepidation. Most were desperate to play up their clients’ losses rather than give examples of recession-beating moves.

‘Bonfire of the billionaires,’ screamed The Sunday Times melodramatically as it revealed – shock horror! – that the combined wealth of the 1,000 in the Rich List 2009 had shrunk from £412bn to £258bn in a year.

In the recession’s new climate of resentment, this figure will fall too far short of the poor house for those who now instinctively resent wealth.

And yet there is a real PR dilemma here. If reticence in acknowledging financial success is now axiomatic, then the creators and spenders of wealth will migrate from the UK to more favourable climes. Success naturally requires some recognition.

PROs should encourage wealthy clients to maintain a profile that reflects their proper desire for recognition, albeit without quite the vulgar gusto of earlier years.

Without many of the Rich List’s varied cast, the UK’s economy could well remain permanently downgraded.


Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and a former executive at the Daily Mail and The Sun

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