Sun, Sep 21, 2003 - Page 9 News List

Rich kids today: they reach for the moon, and do it just in time

THE OBSERVER , LONDON

F. Scott Fitzgerald once famously opined that "The rich are different." He probably wasn't referring to livid sprays of pimples and apple cores under the bed, but this might be the future according to the projected UK Rich List 2020 published by the Royal Bank of Scotland.

All the featured players have two things in common -- they are all under 21 and they are all projected to be earning upwards of tens of millions over the next 20 years.

Carl Churchill, a 19-year-old internet entrepreneur, comes in at the top with a cool ?100 million, and whichever way you look at it, that's a hell of a lot of pocket money. Looking at these people, these kids, it seems to be a matter of national pride to feel bilious with envy.

While Americans love to celebrate success, Britons tend towards narrowing their eyes suspiciously and feeling the urge to call the police. When you think about it, Britain was never happier as a nation than when the dotcom boom crashed. Observing all those horrible smug young people with their cyber-babble and smoothies having to climb off their high horse and lie in the e-gutter cheered us up no end. As with the projected Rich List players, it wasn't a case of who do they think they are, more what do they think they are? The answer, my friends, is genuinely, inexcusably young.

Indeed, at first sight, this mooted Rich List just seems to be an exercise in disgruntling the masses. It's bad enough that these go-getters are young, free and have everything going for them, but do they have to end up rich as well? Nobody really minds when some grizzled old billionaire is wheeled into the room sucking on his oxygen mask and clutching a cryogenics brochure -- that's the acceptable liver-spotted death's-door face of "rich."

We can just about forgive people having everything life can offer if they don't look like they're going to be able to enjoy it.

The young are a different matter. On the one hand, you get the Young Posh and Loaded bubbleheads, whose idea of suffering is the RSI they get from repeatedly slapping down Daddy's credit card on the Versace counter. No one is jealous of these idiots -- they're just the pop-TV version of throwing wet sponges at people in stocks at the village fete. Then you get those scarily disciplined young people who get where they want to get early by grafting hard, seizing opportunities and grabbing for the moon. This latter group commit the most unforgivable crime of all -- they show the rest of us up.

If I remember rightly, my own youth was like a never-ending lost weekend. I turned aimlessness into an art form and signing on the dole was my best shot at a career move. A lot of people are like that when they're young -- their whole life stretches ahead of them but they can't be bothered with it right now. They'll do that success stuff later when the cider has run out.

The point is, being boringly broke when you're young works very well for some people because it is literally the only thing that galvanizes them into belated action. I firmly believe that if I'd had a bit of money when I was younger I would be 200kg by now and going on shopping trips on the back of tractors.

This new breed of rich kids seem different. Yes, there is a smattering of rich-already kids on the list -- one of Virgin chief Richard Branson's progeny is mooching about in there -- but there seem to be just as many budding entrepreneurs, sports personalities, pop stars, thespians and business-heads who weren't born into the right crib at the right time. The only thing to say about these kids is that maybe, just maybe, they are better at this "young" thing than we ever were.

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