AS GHOST writer for a newspaper column by socialite Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, Wendy Holden learned a lot about social climbing.
The Yorkshire lass, whose debut novel Simply Divine was inspired by her partnership with the celebrity, went on to write a string of comical chick-lit novels, including Azur Like It, Fame Fatale and Filthy Rich.
“I’ve always been interested in social climbing as a comic subject,” says the writer.
When she was ghost writing the column, Palmer-Tomkinson would tell Holden amusing snippets, such as: “Never eat canapés, because if they’re dropped on the floor in the kitchen, they’ll always be put back on the tray.”
“She had a little ditty about aeroplanes too,” Holden recalls. “In first class you make friends, in club you make comrades but in economy you make enemies. How can you not find that amusing?”
The column, she says, formed the foundation of her career, which is something she’s eternally grateful for.
Holden’s experience as a journalist also fuelled her fiction. “I’ve had the greatest fortune to work in glossy magazines and newspapers, and have had the inside track on upper-class and glamorous lives through my job,” she says. “We all seem to want to be posh now. That’s something that’s changed in the last 20 years.”
Social climbing forms the basis of new novel Marrying Up, which sees a humbly-born, scheming social climber, Alexa, fighting to reach the top of the tree, with sights on a title, a mansion and a prince. However, there’s a fly in the ointment.
Holden, 46, admits there was a time in her teens when she could also see the merits of improving her social status.
“I was desperate to marry a public schoolboy, get a tiara and live in an ancestral home. I was 18 and couldn’t wait to get my hands on somebody with a hand-tied bow tie. But then I realised there’s slightly more to life than that.”
It hasn’t stopped her fascination with the subject. “There was a time when every sitcom on the telly featured it. I’m sure people have social-climbed from the Stone Age. I’m sure there were people who had a slightly posher cave in Neolithic times.”
Holden has remained a keen observer of the upper-class world, she stresses. “I was brought up in Yorkshire by a very ordinary family who laughed at anything like that. I’ve carried that with me and it’s been a great advantage because I was able to be part of that world and yet see the funny side of it.
“I did feel like an outsider, but not in a bad way. I knew I was different but I also knew most of these people weren’t as posh as they were making out to be.”
She believes there’s more social climbing now than there was in the 1980s, which seemed a more politically-correct decade.
“The emphasis on feminism, women working and women being educated was more prevalent than it is now, when there seems to be more women not working, or who think marrying someone rich or becoming famous is the way forward.”
Holden grew up near Haworth, home of the Brontës, her father was a printer and her mother a secretary who loved her job. “I was working-class and probably still am. I have a working-class reaction to things. If I see an outrageous piece of snobbery I can’t help but laugh.”
Holden read English at Cambridge University where she met husband, Jon. They now live in Derbyshire, in a former gardener’s lodge, with their two children.
“It’s a fanciful bit of Victorian architecture,” she explains. “It’s tiny, with three bedrooms, but is built like a castle. I like to say it’s my starter castle.”
Holden is currently working on next novel, Gifted And Talented, which centres on pushy parents.
:: Marrying Up by Wendy Holden (Headline Review, £12.99)