Why Nicky Haslam’s tea towel is the only society guide you need

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Trying to identify links between Haslam’s gripes would make deciphering the Zodiac letters look like conquering a sudoku - Channel 4
Trying to identify links between Haslam’s gripes would make deciphering the Zodiac letters look like conquering a sudoku - Channel 4

There aren’t many calendar dates enshrined this century that are really worth looking forward to. Black Friday? The real winner is Jeff Bezos. Cyber Monday? I still have no idea what it is. Ed Balls Day? With respect, Ed, it’s been a while since I hosted a party for it.

In recent years, though, one vague addition – very much a moveable feast, like Easter – has proved its worth: ‘Things Nicky Haslam Now Finds Common’ Tea Towel Unveiling Day. 2021’s occurred yesterday, and didn’t disappoint, again.

For the uninitiated, Nicholas Ponsonby Haslam is an 82-year-old Old Etonian interior designer and socialite. His father was a diplomat; his mother was Queen Victoria’s goddaughter. Over several decades, he has known (though not always in the Biblical sense) half of Tatler’s front-of-book favourites, and aside from the usual pursuits of a Bohemian sybarite, his primary interest seems to be suggesting dead Royals were not entirely heterosexual.

A tea towel is a small, thin cloth for drying crockery.

And the list? Why, that is a chaotically random catalogue of things Haslam has decided to disapprove of, without explanation. Years ago, he’d rant as a moral arbiter in the Evening Standard. One year a collection was put on a tea towel, and it went viral. Now he updates his list at semi-regular, but roughly annual, intervals.

Trying to identify links between Haslam’s gripes would make deciphering the Zodiac letters look like conquering a sudoku. Predicting what he’ll pick on would be like trying to forecast who will open the bowling for the Durham 2nd XI in 2052. As for getting annoyed by it? The moment you do that, Haslam’s won.

“This is not about ‘common’ in the hackneyed U and non-U sense,” he explained in The Telegraph once, referring to Nancy Mitford’s division between things that are “upper class”, such as saying looking glass instead of mirror, and things that are not.

“Nor has it anything to do with class, a subject the British (never ‘Brits’) are singularly obsessed by. It is far more about pretensions, attitudes and beliefs that irritate, and the things that have become clichéd.”

Besides, the most annoying thing about the list is that he is invariably right. Or if he’s not right, he’s at least so wildly wrong and snobbish that there’s simply no way he’s written it with a straight face. In the former category, past entries have included swans, celebrity chefs, Richard Branson, “most young Royals”, eating early, self-pity, “having guests remove their shoes”, Henley Regatta, “being ill”, Bono, James Bond and hedge funds. Who could truly say those aren’t things that “irritate”? That’s rhetorical.

On the other hand, “loving your parents”, Woman’s Hour, central heating, “being on time”, “intensely private people”, cash machines, relaxing, Scottish accents, confidence, organic food and, to some extent, “minding about smoking” aren’t quite as universally hated.

So to 2021’s tea towel, modelled on Instagram by the man himself, looking like Barry Manilow screen testing as the title character in a Nigel Farage biopic. He stands before a teal, latticed bookshelf (bit 2018, Nicky?) and has a look on his face that says, “I am the world’s poshest, least technically-minded internet troll. If you’re annoyed by this, it says a lot more about you than me.”

As usual, he has muddled specific, contemporary mores with outrageously vague entire subject areas. He has picked on as many phrases as fads. And nobody – this may be the point – escapes without feeling marginally judged by this small, posh man and his quirky little opinions.

“Art,” the list begins, starting with the widest sweep of them all. Then there’s Savile Row suits, side plates, chillies, baby showers, butterfly stroke, quality time, “gorgeous”, and being teetotal. He takes issue with awards ceremonies and celebrity ambassadors. He hates “two-bite canapés” and “jiggling your knee.”

He cannot abide swimming with dolphins, nor drag, nor David Hockney exhibitions (just in case you didn’t understand what “art” is). He has had it up to here with “godchildren older than 21”, books about Winston Churchill, out-of-office replies and Soho House. And don’t get him started on Juliet balconies, people saying: “How do you two know each other?”, travel supplements, loud laughter and, ugh, Richard Osman. That’s not even all of them.

Reactions to this year’s list have ranged from mirth to outrage. In the latter camp, some believe he is a rank, class-obsessed snob – which he is, of course. A few have pointed out that the collection is incoherent and frequently contradictory – which it is, of course. Others reckon Haslam’s tea towels (available to buy on his website for £28, unsigned, or £38 with his scribble on) are themselves common – which they are, of course. Deeply. Look at me writing about them.

He knows all that. It's all part of the fun of ‘Things Nicky Haslam Now Finds Common’ Tea Towel Unveiling Day. The best option is to get involved. There’s always next year.

What would you write on your own ‘Things I Find Common’ tea towel? Let us know in the comments below

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