Rich People’s Problems: How to show off in a pandemic

The pandemic has changed how the wealthy show off.

BC (Before Covid) cars, holiday homes abroad, boats, bling, parties and designer clothing were all important. For now, they seem irrelevant, out of view, pointless or even tasteless (see the Twitter backlash against Kim Kardashian West’s 40th birthday trip to a private island with her “closest inner circle” this week).

But conspicuous consumption hasn’t gone away. Restrictions have simply changed people’s priorities, making outdoor activities inevitable and enviable. As the Scandinavians will tell you, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing. I will tell you: you can socialise outside at any time of year as long as you have heat, light, comfort, protection from rain — oh, and some fizz!

EPL (Early Pandemic Luxury) was defined by an excess of flour, great tech, a good stock of bog paper and a vegetable patch. By the summer months, MPL (Mid Pandemic Luxury) ideally required a swimming pool, a proper barbecue and a vintage motor vehicle for road trips once the lockdown relaxed.

This pandemic isn’t going away any time soon and winter is on the way. We are in this for the long haul and SWL (Second Wave Luxury) requires further recalibration.

Outdoor patio heaters used to be considered environmentally and socially unacceptable. Not any more — my neighbours have just purchased two. Apparently they cost about £150 a pop. They went electric on the basis that they cost just 30 pence an hour to run.

I am definitely jealous. An outdoor party of six was in full swing last weekend and their outdoor speakers, previously reserved only for swimming and summer use, boomed some choice 90s dance classics.

Thankfully, we have been invited over to experience the new kit. “Bring fizz” was the command. Who doesn’t like a midweek school-night bubble fest? With Tier 2 lockdown conditions in place, faced with the option of no fizz or patio heater-enabled fizz, we all know what’s best.

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Yet on occasion, we all make a faux pas. A few years ago, inspired by a log cabin book in the downstairs loo, I purchased a fire pit. When it arrived, the other third informed me they were very common, so it stayed in the garage.

Today, sales of patio heaters and fire pits have soared by 400 per cent, according to the Daily Show-off, aka the Mail Online. Middle-class Britons have pushed up sales of such items by a staggering 1,600 per cent year-on-year at John Lewis.

It’s clear that quality outdoor entertaining is the new social one-upmanship. My fire pit is now out of the garage and ready for action. It has a grill attachment, so I’ve been audaciously researching firepit cooking on the Instagram feed @menwiththepot (please don’t look if you’re vegan).

All manner of tat, including festoon lighting, fake rechargeable candles that flicker and wearable blankets are now à la mode. Outdoor furniture from Indian Ocean will do nicely; B&Q will not. My cheap rattan stuff has gone.

Contracting UK GDP does not negate the requirement for us to spend our way out of this recession. If anything, those of us with money should be spending even more of it — the Institute for Fiscal Studies said this week that consumer spending has fallen by around 10 per cent across the UK compared with last year, with “potentially devastating” consequences for businesses.

So here are some ideas to get you started. Indoor essentials must start with a glass-fronted wine fridge. You could follow me and go high-end with Gaggenau. Their kit tends to be integrated so if you’re looking for a quick order-and-deliver solution, Eurocave have some rather splendid forms of immediate gratification, including the aptly named “ShowCave” at £16,666 (plus delivery).

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If you’d rather blow your bucks on the wine inside, then an LG, Fisher & Paykel or even a bargain basement £899 John Lewis own-brand model will do. This is not just about showing off but making sure your wine collection is well looked after since you’ll probably need to buy and store a lot more of it to fuel outdoor soirées or booze-soaked evenings in front of the fire.

Second, no self-respecting wine fridge owner will want to display racks of empty shelves. I have been using points and rewards to boost my stock levels. This month’s “spend £1 and receive a pound back” offer (up to £350) from my Amex Centurion card has been redeemed at Selfridges.

Many of my friends have refurbished their homes during lockdown. Home one-upmanship is wrongly skewed towards the living room and size of your telly. Whilst a 65-inch telly no longer screams “footballer” and a cinema room is no longer oligarch territory, this is not where the battle will be fought or won.

It’s your outside space and downstairs loo where you’ll be judged. Mine is definitely in need of refurbishment. Bert & May tiles are the only possible solution for the floor and walls, but I now have the tricky decision of brass, copper or black taps — and the difficulty of finding a handyman.

However, there are some SWL items that even I think are a waste of money. Hot tubs are one area where I draw the line. They are a hideous verruca pit of contagion, and that’s not a price worth paying to win.

Pizza ovens are another example. If I want to make a pizza myself, I’ll do the Jamie Oliver quick and dirty recipe and bung it in the Aga, or get a take-out. With so many restaurants struggling, it’s our duty to carry on supporting them.

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My local butcher is definitely aware of the winter barbecue trend, and has been selling huge packs of steaks at a bargain price. It’s worth seeing what yours has on offer.

Obviously, for afters, I have a freezer full of ice cream from FarmFoods, my favourite purveyor of knockdown frozen goodies, with skewers and marshmallows on hand to make s’mores (an American concoction of melted marshmallow stuffed in between two cookies). Fireside food filth personified.

We are enjoying socially distanced fun while we can, but I am also preparing for an even tighter lockdown. My home office has been refined, our sofa plumped and ready to accommodate marathon streaming sessions. My record player has finally been set up, with a selection of choice vinyl classics to dance to by candlelight.

This sort of consumption is less conspicuous but could make all the difference to a struggling business near you. So even if for some bizarre reason you have your eye on a hot tub, I say dive in — there’s never been a better reason to splash out.

James Max is a property expert and radio presenter. The views expressed are personal. Twitter: @thejamesmax. If you have a problem for James, contact him at


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