United Kingdom

SHRUTI ADVANI describes tackling her trolls after writing about Harrods food hall shutting

Shruti Advani was pilloried for being out of touch with the public mood after she wrote a personal ‘luxury lockdown diary’ of surviving the pandemic in her opulent London apartment

Banker's wife Shruti Advani was pilloried for being out of touch with the public mood after she wrote a personal ‘luxury lockdown diary’ of surviving the pandemic in her opulent London apartment.

Her tongue-in-cheek article for the FT Wealth website told how she was paying £95 an hour for her children’s online chess tutor, how she was suffering because the Harrods food hall was closed, and revealed her angst after her Ocado deliveries had been ‘whittled down to just one a week’.

The 43-year-old mother-of-two, who described herself as ‘blessed with an inheritance as well as a venture-capitalist husband’, added that ‘with the advantages of wealth, I was insulated from many of the pandemic’s challenges’.

She wrote that she had bought designer Olivia von Halle silk pyjamas to brighten up her Zoom calls and had to triple her order for home-delivered flowers.

Inevitably, she became the victim of vicious trolling and was branded a ‘trophy wife’ and a ‘modern-day Marie Antoinette’.

Others were convinced her article for the website in June was a work of satire or parody. Here, the London-based writer on private banking tells how she faced a torrent of abuse, culminating in a death threat outside her children’s school…

From describing cups of artisanal coffee delivered to my door, to my order of fresh flowers being trebled and having to organise £95-an-hour online tutoring for my children, I had meant the article to be tongue-in-cheek. 

It was an exaggerated personal account for a well-heeled audience about what might have kept us wealthy London mums motivated during the start of lockdown. 

But as soon as the piece appeared on the FT Wealth website – a subscription service for a specific group of FT readers (many of them extremely wealthy, by the way) – it quickly became clear that I had missed the mark.

As soon as I began to browse news websites for reaction, I found my name plastered across the internet. 

Critics were questioning whether my column was really a parody, or if I was merely an out-of-touch, self-indulgent ‘wife of an expatriate banker’ (my column mentioned that I am in the very fortunate position of having a venture capitalist husband as well as an inheritance).

Her tongue-in-cheek article for the FT Wealth website told how she was paying £95 an hour for her children’s online chess tutor [File photo]

Emails, tweets and other messages poured in faster than I could read them.

At first, I diligently tried to respond. For example, I told the gentleman who said he didn’t particularly like me, but who thought I was ‘shaggable’ anyway, that it was generally better to go to bed with people we actually like.

But by the time I got to the reader who wrote to say he liked his ‘Indians more amenable’ – I had written that my mother was in her late 70s and isolating in India – or to the man who suggested that I ‘stay in my lane’ if English was a ‘foreign language’, I was running out of ripostes.

One email, in particular, pierced my armour. Its writer said my mother was better off dying from the virus than having to live down the ignominy of being my parent.

As awful as it was to be denigrated for what I wrote – and it was excruciating – I now want to show that when the bruises fade, we can bounce back sharper and wiser from adversity.

Also, I want to highlight how such online abuse in general has become a gateway drug to something more sinister.

Thanks to the anonymity on offer to abusers, it merely serves to encourage capriciousness and escalate aggression – even, as it turns out, in the middle of a quiet street in West London.

One morning shortly after my column was published, a man who lives on the street in Earl’s Court where my children go to school walked up to me after drop-off and called me a ‘rich bitch’.

He proceeded to describe how much pleasure he would take in slitting my throat with a knife and watching me bleed to death. After his five-minute diatribe, I reported him to the police.

Plenty of men write opinion columns where the argument is flawed, unconvincing or even downright despicable. But I haven’t seen much discussion around their gender, ethnicity or physical attributes. Which, of course, is exactly how it should be.

Yet one reader wrote to me alleging that self-hate had driven me to have surgery to look more Caucasian. I deeply resent the implication – not so much that I had surgery, but that looking anything other than Caucasian would prompt ‘self-hate’.

One scornfully suggested I can’t make ‘round rotis’ – the simple flatbread made every day in Indian households. 

And another wrote sarcastically: ‘I am always interested in hearing how the oppressed survivors of our Imperial rule are faring.’

From describing cups of artisanal coffee delivered to my door, to my order of fresh flowers being trebled and having to organise £95-an-hour online tutoring for my children, I had meant the article to be tongue-in-cheek [File photo]

When I wrote in jest about trebling my flower deliveries and expensive online tutoring for my children, it seemed frivolous at worst.

But such was the prevailing national mood that my piece was latched on to and held up as an emblem of the broken moral compass that so many have accused each other of in this pandemic.

Having read my explanation, you may be sceptical about a writer who has been decried claiming to have been misunderstood. You have every right to be.

Writers accept that if we fail to entertain, then we must swallow the resulting criticism, rejection and even ridicule.

But using someone’s ethnicity, gender or appearance to attack their work should never be part of the deal.

For my part, I had believed that gently poking fun at your posh life had been a British literary tradition since at least the days of P G Wodehouse.

I absolutely did not intend to make what was a difficult time for all of us any more difficult, and if, indeed, I did, I am very sorry.

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