Described as the compilation of “the most eligible, most beddable, most exotically plumaged birds and blokes in town”, society bible Tatler’s Little Black Book segment has long been one of the magazine’s most talked about segments.
That certainly was the case yesterday when the publication went to great lengths to backtrack on comments made about the Downton Abbey star Daisy Lewis in its December issue.
The British actress, it would be fair to say, didn’t take too kindly to a lewd suggestion that she was “probably” fun in bed and took to Twitter in dismay – creating a social media storm in the process.
“I’m really shocked and upset by this. But thankfully I’m ‘loud’ enough to say it,” she wrote.
“Does anyone at Tatler read the news? #misogyny #loudwomen.”
The magazine, billed as one of the oldest in the world, described the British actress in its Little Black Book of “the smartest, sexiest, singles on the planet”.
Accompanied by a picture of Lewis, the publication – best known for its coverage of society parties and balls – wrote: “As Daisy is quite small, you might be tricked into believing she’s quiet. LOL.
“She isn’t. This actress is loud. Which makes her fun at a party. And in bed. Probably.”
“Tatler apologises unreservedly to Daisy Lewis. We will also be publishing a full apology in the next issue,” the magazine said in a statement on its Twitter page. Needless to say, it came under fierce criticism from Lewis’ supporters.
“Christ Daisy that’s such sexist crap,” wrote agony aunt Philippa Perry. “Apologise and go on a course @TatlerUK.”
Speaking to the Huffington Post Lewis, who has appeared in Doctor Who and who starred alongside Michael Gambon in the film Churchill’s Secret, said Kate Reardon, the magazine’s editor, rang her to apologise for the piece – but admitted the story had left her “frazzled”.
She told the website: “I know the girls who wrote it,” she said.
“The fact that it’s women writing that about other women is what upset me the most, really. And to think that it was funny.”
The actress continued: “I genuinely believe that the people who wrote it thought I would be pleased.
“That’s what makes me so sad, that [they thought] I would have been pleased to be included on a list of eligible – and for eligible to mean marriageable – people, as a sort of catalogue.
“It feels like being part of a horse trade show or something.” She added that the response she received had been “incredible” and gave her a “lot of hope”.
The prerequisite to appear in the Little Black Book is typically limited to those among the rich and famous – a place where wealthy aristocrats sit alongside celebrities, making up the “the most selectable, delectable eligibles of the year”.
The profile of the actress, who played school teacher Sarah Bunting in Downton Abbey, was in the girls’ section of the Little Black Book, of “mesmerising beauties, brilliant brains”.
The boys’ section, featuring aristocracy and financiers alongside the likes of actors such as Jack O’Connell, shows “manliness at its most magnificent”.
The piece on eligible singletons, “rounded up, oiled and brought to your tent”, was written as Hollywood and politics have been embroiled in sexual harassment scandals which have put the depiction of women under the spotlight.
Daisy as local teacher Sarah Bunting in Downton Abbey Credit: Splash News / Alamy Stock Photo
The magazine, first published in 1901, was named after the original literary and society journal Tatler founded in 1709.
Steeped with history as a respected high society publication with expert opinion on fashion and lifestyle, it’s certainly not the first time one of its features has raised eyebrows and courted controversy.
Four years ago it ran a feature entitled “best society breasts”, listing former MP Louise Mensch, Princess Eugenie, Clare Balding and Dame Helen Mirren among others.
Mensch tweeted at the time: “Featuring a bunch of women in public life as ‘X Tits’ is for some misogynist rag like Vice, not for a woman’s mag, however childish/snobby.”