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The Sunday Times, June 13, 2004

Well connected: the net jet set

By William Cash

The rich do things differently, even in cyberspace, reports William Cash.

At the best dinner parties, on the finest yachts and in the hippest clubs, anxiety is spreading. You may have had your invite for the Serpentine's exclusive summer party and been given your badges for the royal enclosure at Ascot, but the invitation that matters this year is not gold-rimmed and won't look pretty on your mantelpiece. It will appear in your in-box and you won't get a wink of sleep until it arrives.

I refer to an e-mail asking you to join the exclusive online ranks of A Small World, a private "social network" club currently boasting some 2,800 well-bred members from every corner of the ultra-civilised world. Still to launch officially, the site is like a 24/7 champagne reception, but without the Veuve or the marquee.

The club offers members the opportunity to meet electronically and swap advice. A trawl through the site "Forum" board -where members can post messages or offer services -holds up a revealing mirror about the lifestyle and requirements of today's jet set. "Subject: private jet to Europe for my dogs". Cheray Unman writes: "I want to go to St Tropez this summer to stay with friends but don't want to take my dogs on the plane. Is there any private jet service for sending dogs to Europe that won't be stressful to my dogs and me?" Three days later Cheray posted another note thanking a member for finding her the "Pet Jet" service.

Overjoyed that the internet is no longer some ghastly world built on the abhorrent principle that everything should be available to all, the glitterati are desperate to be a part of this scene. An AOL messageboard has a sad lack of chic, a Hotmail e-mail address has even less, and the increasing number of "networking" sites, such as the popular have all the cachet of a bingo night in Hull.

Bored with Sketch and tired of Capri they now have a 24-hour electronic party to explore, if lucky enough to be asked to join.

The members' list is tantalising: Naomi Campbell, Clinton fund-raiser Lady Forester de Rothschild, Prince Pavlos of Greece, Will Astor, Tim Jeffries, Will Carling, film producer Eric Fellner, Jeffrey Epstein, the mysterious New York billionaire linked with Ghislaine Maxwell, designer Allegra Hicks, professional socialites Andy and Patti Wong, and a rogues' gallery of party girls such as Lady Victoria Hervey, the Aitken daughters (Victoria was online on Friday asking if "anyone knew a good editor for her book") and Petrina Khashoggi.

Don't these people have better things to do? Don't they have enough friends without making more being sad computer geeks? The answer is that, like it or not, the internet and e-mail are here to stay and, given the choice, both royalty and supermodels would probably prefer to be online with the comfort zone of their own social tribe.

Why eat with the masses at Burger King when you can have a table at The Ivy?

What is both clever and entertaining about this craze for "social networking" is how a site like ASW mirrors the occasionally awkward interaction of real life social relationships. Just because, say, Working Title film producer Fellner is a member does not mean that I can fire off an e-mail to him pitching some ghastly movie idea; nor can I ask Campbell out on a date the next time she is in London.

To be able to connect with other members, they have to acknowledge you first as a "friend". This can be fraught with potential social embarrassment. As one well connected old Etonian hedge fund manager friend of mine, who is a member of White's with at least 5,000 names in his own address book, e-mailed to me: "You send out a message asking someone to reassure you that they are your friend. What do I do if someone says 'No' -cry ?"

Erik Wachtmeister, the founder of ASM, is the son of the former Swedish ambassador to the United States. He acts like any good party host and keeps a close eye on guest behaviour. Last week several Swedish students were ejected from the network after trying to contact Campbell. Another 350 members were "culled" because it was thought that the people they were inviting to join were straying too far from the core group of social types that Wachtmeister had originally invited.

Another member was removed when he used a false photograph, called himself "Poohface" and posted a message saying: "It dawned on me that there seems to be a serious lack of girls on the site. I think every male should take it upon himself to invite three of the best-looking females he knows."

Will there be a time when every gentleman has his real club and his equally exclusive virtual club?

One of the ASW board members is Rob Hersov, whose last fortune was made from selling his private jet company to Warren Buffett's NetJets. Once again he is putting his global address book to work in building up the right membership list for A Small World. Such people collectors are realising that their bulging address books are their most valuable assets and they are cashing in. Whoever said never mix friends with business?

The Sunday Times, 2004

"A Small World’s largest shareholder is Harvey Weinstein ...

"Other shareholders include Alexandre von Furstenberg ... and Robert Pit ..."
View the original Sunday Times article by clicking on the link below (N.B. please save the file, as the Tweet or the Twitter account could be removed by Twitter at any time):

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