Status measured in being a bit late

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 May, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 May, 1996, 12:00am

Naomi Campbell must have been adjusting her makeup. She makes something of a habit of arriving late at events and no doubt punctual in her terms turned up 40 minutes after she was scheduled for the opening of her own restaurant in London this week.

It is one of those Fashion Cafe places; there is already one in New York and doubtless one will come to Hong Kong soon.

Sylvester Stallone and chums having spotted a nice gap in the market with their Planet Hollywood a few years ago, Naomi, Claudia, Elle and Christy are now doing the same with their Fashion Cafes. Don't expect good food, I hear it tastes like garbage. But then who ever suspected the super-slim of eating good food anyway? Anyway this isn't really about the Fashion Cafe. No, Naomi wisely chose a public holiday when there wasn't much news around and no doubt her unpunctuality gave even the tardiest reporter time to get out of the pub and write about the scene.

It is that very unpunctuality I wish to reflect on. No doubt being late is fashionable.

Of course the police were fuming at having to hold back the crowds for 40 minutes longer than they would have liked and it served as proof that celebrities think they have the right to write their own rules, in other words that the rest of us don't matter much.

I am told that in Hollywood you can gauge the standing of a star by the degree of unpunctuality they cultivate, the longer you wait the bigger the celeb.

President Assad of Syria was no doubt playing that card when he kept Warren Christopher waiting in Damascus a couple of weeks ago.

Time-keeping, or slight lateness, has always been critical to the standing of royalty and their grand entrance. Queen Elizabeth was kept, probably quite literally, fuming in the desert heat some years ago when the guest of the notoriously unpunctual King Hassan of Morocco.

But more formally the invitation to one or two royal events I have been lucky enough to be invited to came with a note warning guests to be present a good 15 minutes before whatever royal it was made their entrance.

That rule was badly broken a couple of weeks ago when the models Jerry Hall and Marie Helvin turned up at an awards ceremony 15 minutes later than the Princess Royal.

But there is more to it than that.

Unpunctuality conveys an attitude of being laid-back, relaxed about life which on the one hand might be no bad thing although I suspect it would not go down too well with certain Hong Kong figures.

In British terms punctuality can dictate your social background. The forces for instance cultivate the value of time-keeping.

Others in the middle classes don't worry about it too much.

A friend I ski with regularly goes puce with rage if he has to wait for friends but five minutes after the first lifts have started running up the mountain.

But by the same token woe betide those who turn up on the dot of 8pm for dinner. You may have said 8pm but you don't really expect them at that time, do you? And there are problems too for those who arrive at nine. That pushes the bounds of unpunctuality too far.

You have to get your unpunctuality just right.

Bad timekeeping is a relatively precise art as Naomi no doubt knows.