One of the heroes of Heavy Ice is a diplomat from a political family who is probably no stranger to lists of Eligible Bachelors. (Actually, his younger brother probably comes out a good few places above him on any such list, but never mind) I was thinking about this today, because while I was weeding bookshelves I found a surprisingly neat and new-looking copy of Nesta Wyn Ellis’s Britain’s Most Eligible Bachelors, from 1994.
Two people are selling it on eBay if you want your own: sadly neither feature the cover, which shows a lady in what now look like quite avant-garde high-waisted jeans draping a naked man in very 1990s patterned ties. I read it from cover to cover and now I’m inviting you on a journey back with me to a time when Prince Harry was in prep school and if someone mentioned The Only Way Is Essex everyone would probably think they were talking about the Channel Tunnel.
So, who were the 100 most eligible bachelors of 1994, in Ms Wyn Ellis’s opinion? Number one is Robert Hanson, company director and heir to Hanson PLC, who these days doesn’t even seem to have a Wikipedia entry. Number one hundred is an unrecognisably young Keith Allen, already rumoured to be a father of seven children, which is one fewer than Wikipedia says he has now.
In between, there are the usual suspects who you wouldn’t be surprised at all to meet in a Mills and Boon: dukes, property developers, high-profile athletes, the odd rock star (some very odd rock stars indeed, actually), troubled heirs and so on. There is one African king, and one white honorary chief from Ghana. There are two James Bonds, one son of a James Bond, and one James Bond impersonator. Some are obviously pisstakes – number 95, for example, is a scarily bulked-up-looking Ronnie Kray, and 85 is Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards, who rather optimistically scores 7 for sex appeal but only 2 for looks. Some raise a ‘Who?’ – artist John Springs at 54, for example, and club promoter Paul Raymond at 86. I don’t even know what to say about Peter Stringfellow being ranked at number 30. Prince Edward is number 9 and Jason Donovan number 55, though only one of them gets a sarcastic mention that their hair’s thinning. Number 98 is a baby-faced Gazza.
Some of the bachelors are very much Of Their Time: there are four ex-boyfriends of troubled princesses among the hundred. You don’t see people demanding ‘has difficult royalty as an ex’ from their partners so much these days. Some make you realise that Their Time was a more complicated place than you ever thought. I don’t think anyone who lived through 1994 would be surprised to hear that Mark Owen comes in at number 57, for example, scoring 7 for looks and 9 for sex appeal, but who would have expected Terence Trent D’Arby at 51, with his ‘best quality’ being given as ‘major music talent’? Or Jay Kay at number 68 with a slightly puzzled bio indicating that he’s probably some kind of jazz-funk flash in the pan, ranking below Julian Lennon and Mike Read? Robbie Williams, incidentally, does not make the top hundred at all.
Some are just puzzling – Norma Major’s biographer gets in, as does her son James Major, at number 82 with a ranking of six for looks and 4 for sex appeal. One might wonder whether this might have anything to do with Nesta Wyn Ellis having also written a biography of John Major in 1991, but it’s probably just a reflection of the time. She also later wrote a biography of the Marquess of Bath, who has the distinction of being the only married bachelor, showing up at number 36. Though, to be honest, I don’t see how you could write a book like this and leave out the Marquess of Bath.
Some of the bachelors have aged unrecognisably since 1994. Given that the oldest bachelor was born in 1925 and several of the others date from the 1930s, some are probably dead. Some of them look exactly the same – which is what you’d expect of Sir Cliff Richard, who shows up at number 26, since he never ages at all ever – but not of Andrew Neill, looking intellectual at number 96, who has apparently looked identically grizzled for the past eighteen years. Some are heart-throbs of the past – Omar Sharif at number 65, Peter O’Toole at 42, who only gets one star out of five despite being rated 9 for looks and 8 for sex appeal, Sir Terence Stamp at number 38 with a weirdly airbrushed-looking picture which surely can’t have been necessary given that he showed up looking younger than that in the Star Wars sequel trilogy a few years later. Some are up-and-coming: a fortysomething Liam Neeson at number 32, for example. Some, like George Michael at number 23 and Simon Hughes, looking almost unrecognisably flop-haired and blonde at number 78, have come out.
Simon Hughes is not the only politician to feature. There’s one past Prime Minister – Sir Edward Heath at number 94, scoring 1 for looks and 1 for sex appeal and 1 star out of 5, which seems a bit unkind given how leading one’s country ages a man – and one future one. No, it’s not a baby-faced David Cameron. It’s Gordon Brown, at number 21, who scores a mere 4 for sex appeal but a whole 7 for looks. ‘In reality’ gushes one source, he is ‘the heart throb of the Labour party whose smouldering Celtic looks, dry humour and Scottish burr fit him perfectly for the role’. Nesta Wyn Ellis goes on to add ‘The eternal bachelor, he had a brief fling with a Rumanian princess and some longer-term girl friends’. Then there’s a Tory MP who won the Mills and Boon Award for ‘Most Romantic MP’ in 1988 and then lost his wife and his seat (which sounds like the setup for a romance in itself – how about it, Ros?)
Poor old bachelor number 72, Salman Rushdie, scores 1 for looks and -2 for sex appeal, which seems a bit unfair given that Martin Amis got 4 for one and 5 for the other. Neil Pearson shows up at number 64 and is considered less eligible than the late Sir Jimmy Savile, David Emmanuel and Michael Grade.
The back of the book promises ‘wealth, sex and pizazz ratings… full addresses!’ though potential stalkers might have gone away disappointed in the addresses: mostly they’re agencies or clubs, and Brian Lara, for example, just gets ‘Warwickshire’.
I’m not sure anyone would publish a book like this these days when there’s the Internet to assemble all this information for free, but it’s a fascinating slice of its time, and it’s interesting to compare it to this Telegraph list of the most 50 eligible bachelors of 2009. Most of them don’t feature in the 1994 book because they were still at school. Looking at the 2009 list, it’s startling to see what was missing in 1994. There were no comedians on Nesta Wyn Ellis’ top 100, no rappers, no reality contest winners – and no Simon Cowell.
On the other hand, Euan Blair features at number 25 on the Telegraph list, matching James Major’s prominence in 1994. Maybe not so much changes after all…