The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 18 July

Thomas Blaikie takes a look at ‘selfie’ protocol and advises the camera-shy…
Dear Thomas,
In Stroud the other day I had a brief and good-natured impromptu exchange with a popular B-list celebrity, then we went our separate ways. Of course it never occurred to me to take a ‘selfie’, but later I wondered if, in an age when even prime ministers indulge in this style of portraiture, the fellow might have felt snubbed by my omission. I rather hope, Thomas, you might shed some light on ‘selfie protocol’.
William Stewart, Chipping Sodbury

Dear William,
My main impression of selfies is that they’re awful pictures – the louring mug, seen from below, lit from above, is invariably grotesque. But that does not seem to put people off. Nevertheless, there was criticism when David Cameron and Barack Obama participated in a selfie with the Danish prime minister at Nelson Mandela’s funeral. At that funeral, with its music and dancing, the selfie was all right and in the spirit of the occasion. It incidentally demonstrated that these elevated figures are human and modern. At other funerals, mourners photographing themselves must be wrong. Such results as I have seen, are appalling – idiotic teenagers with no idea of how to behave and no respect.

The selfie is inevitably tinged with selfishness and is diƒfficult to deploy in any other than a ‘look-at-me’ mode. Gym selfies are much derided, whereas the earlymorning selfie, showing the subject in a dejected, dishevelled state, failing to face up to the day, is a cliché but at least not self-‰flattering.

So what is the lure of the selfie? Why wouldn’t much the same or a better picture taken by someone else not do instead? The end result isn’t really the issue. All selfies look the same to me. But the attraction must be the opportunity offered for complete control. Even if someone else is asked to take a shot, it becomes their picture, not the subject’s. But with phone held at arm’s length in selfie mode, a person can say, ‘This is me, this is how I want to be seen, I’m the emperor of my own life.’

So it’s all rather tiresome.

The celebrity selfie is another matter: David Beckham took the picture himself! The arm we see in the shot is holding the very camera that captured the moment. Then there is the selfie with the celebrity that you refer to in your letter. Here the aim is to create a fantasy of chumminess with the Duchess of Cambridge or Her Majesty the Queen (in the case of Jack Surgenor, 14, who attempted a selfie with the Queen in Northern Ireland last month. Result: disappointing – a rather cross lady in hat moving away). The practice is foolish and intrusive, although some celebrities are so demented with vanity they won’t mind. People really oughtn’t to, but would I restrain myself, would you, given half the chance?

Please send your questions to or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER


On a boiling afternoon recently, I found myself crossing the road, at school coming-out time, with two children of about five on their wobbly scooters. Their father was simultaneously quizzing them about synonyms for ‘hot’, thinking of the weather, you see – as if their scooters weren’t enough to cope with. The little boy said ‘very warm’, ‘scorching’ and so on. The little girl replied, ‘squelchy.’

‘That doesn’t work,’ the father pronounced. I longed to cry: ‘You horrid man, you’re crushing her creativity.’

What she meant was: hot weather makes you squelchy. Perhaps, had it not been a narrow space with swirling traffic all around, I could have leant over to the wronged infant and purred, ‘I understand, even if Daddy doesn’t.’

Instead, once over the road, a voice in front was calling, in Kensington tones, ‘Come along, Joanna. Hurry up, dear.’ Since the place was swarming with tots just out of school, a small dog trotting by, and not a child, was a surprise. Boldly I said to the mistress, ‘I wondered whether Joanna was going to be a dog or a child.’ She didn’t get it. ‘It’s a dog,’ she said, and stumped off .