She’s no Stepford Wife

Disclaimer:

I may be a banker’s wife but I’m much different from the rich bankers’ wives of developed Western countries. The same goes for my Mom who’s a wife of a retired banker (and she’s a former banker herself!). But some things are similar: we, the Filipino bankers’ wives, are as intelligent, ruthless, ambitious and sharp (if not more) as our partners. And we are definitely in control of our marriages. -wink, wink-

SO RICH YOU WANT TO SLAP THEM (PART TWO) © Sarah Tucker / Daily Mail

On Saturday the Mail described the obscenely lavish lifestyles of the women married to the City’s new super-rich. Here, one ex-member of the club breaks ranks to say these wives are totally in thrall to their husbands – and often regard their marriages as business contracts. 

At a formal dinner party I once attended – populated entirely by bankers – I remember one newly married woman being lectured by her banker husband as we were walking into the reception area.

Their conversation went along the lines of him telling her: ‘Don’t mention you come from Essex; don’t eat with your fingers because it looks common; don’t get drunk because you get stupid when you get drunk; hide your watch because it’s not worth showing.

‘Don’t talk to Henry because he’ll try to flirt with you; don’t talk to Gerard because he’ll want to find out about me. Don’t speak about the holiday, because they’ll realise we’re not having one this year and they are; don’t tell them you can’t ski, or surf or dive.’ With that he strode on ahead of her. I remember the woman looking at him on the verge of tears. Only then did her husband turn to her, hold her hands, hug her and say: ‘But remember to be yourself.’ The irony is that the woman was so wound up at the beginning of the evening, she proceeded to get absolutely hammered on champagne and attracted so much attention from the other male guests – Henry and Gerard included – that, as I later learned, the drive home was conducted in stony silence.

Welcome to the unique and secretive world of bankers’ wives.

From the outside it looks glamorous and privileged. The reality is that it’s a pressure cooker of control in which men with vast salaries seek to employ their spouses as corporate weapons.

This week, everyone from the liberal media to chippy Government ministers have been getting excited about the prospect of record City bonuses this Christmas – up to £5million each for senior bankers. But for me a far more interesting, complex group of individuals stand in the wings – their wives.

So who are they? Take a footballer’s wife, give them a brain, double the ambition, dull the hair, halve the chest size and you have a banker’s wife. I know this because for years I was one myself.

Although my ex is a good man and a good father, when we divorced after seven years of marriage, having fallen out of love, my solicitor told me in no uncertain terms that I should never, ever consider marrying a corporate man again.

‘Sarah, you are not right for a corporate life,’ he told me as we walked out of the court room.

‘Corporate man expects you to put him first, always first, and what is true of most corporate men is especially true of men who work in the City.

‘It is a job for which you get well paid but you must be prepared to play by the rules.’ Perhaps I never mastered The Rules, but there are plenty of women who have. I’ve met some highly successful corporate wives, and their husbands, and learned more about how these women manage their corporate husbands.

Take the dinner parties which are so often the place where the bankers’ wives come into contact with each other. They were full of the boring, pompous banter about expensive holidays, expensive cars and expensive houses that passes for conversation at banker dinner parties.

THE men talk in money terms about wine, cars and boys’ toys; about whether the 2001 Chateauneuf du Pape is better than the 2001 Barolo; or if the Ferrari 575M Maranello is more stylish than the Aston Martin Vanquish.

One bizarre conversation revolved around two guys talking about whether or not they should buy a fullsize Star Wars stormtrooper suit with a helmet for just under £3,000, and if they’d get much use out of it. They are literally overgrown boys.

Think of suppressed anger of Abigail’s Party crossed with money, and you get the idea.

None of the parties I have been to, or friends have been to, have ended in a heart attack, but a few reputations have been slashed to bits – in a world where reputation is everything.

The wives themselves, with a few notable exceptions, are effortlessly stylish, but none of them are what you might call ‘sweet’. To be a banker’s wife for any duration you need, ironically enough, to think corporate – be brighter and sharper than your husband, and more ruthless.

‘I know one wife who earns more than her husband as a senior accountant but would never dream of admitting it to any of her friends,’ says Elizabeth Fairing, who lives in Hampstead, North-West London, and is now a banker’s ex-wife.

‘Her husband praises her for being a gracious hostess but never mentions her business success.

‘At dinner parties, she remains strictly an observer. She hasn’t exactly lost her identity, but in his company, she keeps it well hidden.’ So how would you recognise a banker’s wife at a charity event among all the other corporate wives?

They fall into two categories. Those who have a successful career and earn as much or more than their husbands.

And, in the second group, those who’ve made a career looking after their husbands and the household (ie.the professional mummy).

Bankers also tend to go for small or petite wives. I remember going to one rather surreal dinner party, where all the men were 6ft and over and all the women were a foot shorter.

I always tried to wear flat shoes when I was married because I’m over 5ft 8in, or at least bend my knees when talking to the wives because their husbands might be happy to literally talk ‘down’ to them, but I wasn’t.

Most of the wives are vicariously ambitious for their men, so in many ways are not unlike any other corporate wife or footballers’ wife.

‘Bankers’ wives don’t seek fame, recognition or validation through association with their husbands. They are completely confident in who they are, where they are and why they are there,’ says investment banker’s wife Tanya Endlemann, who has homes in London and Hertfordshire, a fulltime nanny, a highly successful business in PR, and a husband, Terence, who works more than 80 hours a week.

‘When I meet bankers’ wives at charity functions, they are without exception the most immaculate, highly intelligent, and extremely sharp women in the room, but they are also quite unassuming,’ she adds.

‘They have perfected the politics of maintaining a successful marriage, with the same efficient management skills they use in their businesses, the running of their households and even their emotions.’ So how do bankers’ wives spend their time when they’re not preparing perfect dinner parties or play dates for their pampered children?

Rather than shop and sleep with other peoples’ husbands, wives or personal trainers, these well-educated, well-travelled women tend to be far more creative and lucrative in their activities.

They set up businesses – nanny agencies, interior design companies, PR consultancies – or continue climbing their own corporate ladder, only taking a quick coffee break for the hiccup of childbirth.

They ensure their income is always separate from that of their spouse and that he always thinks they earn enough for him to boast about to his pals, but not too much to feel intimidated by.

The relationship with their banker husband often becomes a business contract which is increasingly too expensive on either side to get out of.

One banker I knew always introduced his wife as ‘his current wife’ – just to keep her on her toes, he would add, although I always got the feeling it was she who kept him on his toes.

She reminded me of the Meryl Streep character in The Devil Wears Prada – one look from her and her husband would shut up like a clam.

This banker’s wife was definitely the one in control.

Ella Martin, 38, a friend of mine who has a very happy home life and three children, married a highly successful banker (who is now retired and much happier for it) and has told me many horror stories about dinner parties, bits of which I’ve fictionalised in my book The Playground Mafia.

‘On the face of it, everything is ticking away nicely, but take away the boys’ toys and the wealth and you’re left with all rather insecure and vacuous characters,’ she says.

‘I used to spend time in the kitchen when I threw a dinner party, mainly because I didn’t want to screw up the meal but also because it gave me a break from the banter about money, who has it, who’s lost it and who’s making more of it.

‘If you get on with them, or find a common denominator like a love of animals or playground politics banter, then that’s fine, but if you don’t, it’s a bit like going into a playground yourself and knowing you have to make conversation with people you don’t like, trust or respect.

‘I attended a charity event once with my husband and the wives were all stuck on one table together. They each talked about the usual – the parties they’d been to where champagne had been flowing endlessly and the new Porsche or Ferrari their husbands had just bought as a third car.

‘Then they got onto their gowns, their jewellery, gifts from their husbands, all mentioning the price as though for some reason the expense made it more beautiful than a slightly cheaper creation, and arguing animatedly about how could you compare a £2,000 Valentino to a £2,000 Dior.

‘When they asked me where I bought my gown, and how lovely it was, and – obviously – how much it cost, I told them I bought it off the peg for £200, and that I’d donated the spare thousand to charity. They didn’t talk to me after that, which was a bit of a relief.’ Those bankers’ wives who don’t work either focus on training up their children to be control freak, neurotic copies of themselves, or focus on training up their nannies to train up their children to be control freak, neurotic copies of their parents.

These are the mothers who bought Baby Mozart long before everyone else, and find it desperately important – for their own self- esteem and that of their husbands – that they can bring up happy, balanced but, most importantly, highly successful children.

While many women will feel that these wives have made a Faustian pact, trading in the prospect of a fully functional marriage for a life of luxury with a husband who works 80 hours a week, there are many of the breed who approach these relationships on their own mercenary terms.

Bankers’ wives keep their eye on their own bank balance as well as their husbands’, identifying when he’s going to reach burn out and drop him just before he does.

‘Bankers’ wives are more than capable of trading their husbands in for a better model before they are traded in themselves’, says Elizabeth Fairing.

‘The key is to make themselves invaluable and of worth. Compare it to how they view a diamond.

They may admire the diamond, but that doesn’t mean they won’t want to see some more.

‘They lose sight of the fact they have a person by their side, rather than a possession to be shown off which will make them look good and, above all, more than they are.’ Many of my friends are still married to bankers. They are, without exception, more intellectually, socially and emotionally developed, rounded, grounded and impressive than their husbands, and deep down, I think their husbands know it.

The bankers’ wives who manage to last the course prove themselves sufficiently shrewd in managing their portfolios of husband, family, homes and hormones – his and their own.

They hedge their bets, managing to retain a veneer of submissiveness in public to ensure their men (who are still boys) feel secure and in control.

In private, these wives rule these men with a rod of iron, with mind games rather than sexual peccadillos, for they know they married psychopaths, albeit functional and financially efficient ones, and that their husbands, to be efficient in a world where everyone screws everyone else, must have little understanding of the hurt they cause others, including their wives.

In public, they subsume themselves to their husbands’ wishes, moulding themselves into walking corporate storm-troopers – just without the £3,000 Star Wars outfits.

© Sarah Tucker / Daily Mail

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About Ira Martin

They say women marry men who look like their dad. Or at least, similar in attitude and values. My father is a (retired) professional banker who's very family-oriented. So is my husband.

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