When design expert Stephen Bayley was but a boy, his headmaster left a word of warning on his last ever school report: "Charm alone will not get him through".
As tends to happen when you're criticised as a child, the word stuck with him. And many years later, he decided to write a book on that very concept: charm.
The result is a informative and fun look at what he calls "one of life's most desirable assets", looking at its origins and meaning throughout history.
Here for Esquire, Bayley condenses charm down to 10 basic rules of thumb, so you too can get away with murder.
There is absolutely nothing that people enjoy more than the suggestion you find them fascinating.
1 | Treat every single person you meet as if you have been given secret information that they will soon inherit an unwholesomely large fortune. Do not, of course, schmooze or insinuate – or even beg – but be polite, concerned, absorbed, helpful. This applies to bad-tempered bike couriers as much as to authentic heiresses.
2 | Wear good shoes. People will judge you on them whether you want them to or not, and you only get a single chance to make a first impression. The coded language of good shoes is potent, direct and understood by everyone.
3 | Don't tell jokes, but laugh at everybody else's. There is no more reliable indicator of absolute imbecility than the inclination to be hilarious. Being witty is altogether different, much more charming and much more difficult to acquire.
4 | Be curious and inquisitive, but not intrusive. There is absolutely nothing that people enjoy more than the suggestion you find them fascinating. Be prepared to say : "Do tell me more about how you did your own conveyancing on the basement flat in Chigwell".
5 | Being charming is not all about sex, but quite a lot of it is. Oblique appreciation is fine, but never be crude. You might be thinking "I bet she bites and screams", but what you say is: "Has anybody ever told you what beautiful hands you have?"
6 | Never complain. Ever. If losing in a sport, congratulate your opponent with conviction. To be ideally charming, let him win in any case. Assume any fault anywhere at any time to be your own, irrespective of its cause. Self-deprecation is a far better ad for yourself than self-advertisement or mouthy show-boating.
Self-deprecation is a far better ad for yourself than self-advertisement or mouthy show-boating.
7 | Pour wine and serve drinks with a modest smile and gentle, unobtrusive generosity. Balance in the drinks department is essential: no-one wants to be left with an empty glass, but nor does anyone want to be made to feel greedy. Charm is good taste in action.
8 | Study George Clooney. In anything.
9 | Listen. Be quiet rather than loud, but, at the same time, do not be timid. Charmers lead the group without anyone actually realising that's what's happening.
10 | Finally, look to history. Machiavelli was, perhaps, not much of a charmer, but he had useful advice. In any transaction, political, business or social, just think about the end result, he said. Or consider Frederick the Great who told his troops : "Always be more than you seem". He meant : keep a lot in reserve, but just don't let people see it. Charmers get to "yes" before anybody else. They always win. And even if they don't, they still feel good about it.