Nancy Dell'Olio: Englishmen can't flirt (except for Russell Brand) 

What is it that makes British males so frightened of feelings? 

2 November 2013

9:00 AM

2 November 2013

9:00 AM

Why can’t British men flirt? This was one of my first thoughts when I arrived in England some years ago. I adore flirting. Like so many Italians, I consider flirting a way of life, an added joy to the day, as harmless, normal and pleasurable to a woman as a glass of chilled champagne at an unexpected hour.

When living in Rome, I had become accustomed to that stereotypical Italian man. I’m sure you are all aware of who I am referring to: L’uomo forte. Oh, they are adorable. The subtle glances across a room, the secret smile, that turning of the head and that silent acknowledgement that if only, if only, and then a lingering, regretful pleasure of what might have been. All completely innocent but a continual reminder, an acknowledgement that a woman is a joy to behold.

And then I came to live in London.

It seemed to me at first that there were only two types of English men. One was the eccentric charmer — the Oliver Reed who had to knock back at least two bottles at lunch to gather the confidence for a slurred attempt at seduction. Then there was the bumbling, inarticulate Hugh Grant sort, whose shyness, though endearing, suggested an underlying terror of women.

Foreigners sometimes imagine that the idea of an embarrassed, anxious Englishman is just a joke, but my unfortunate encounters with British men have led me to understand that the stereotype is true. In Italy everything is on the surface; tears, joy and sensuality run unrestrained through the streets of Rome. Passion is considered natural and important. Italian men pride themselves on being passionate, as do French and Spanish men — even Americans have the confidence to express strong emotions. So what is it that makes British men so frightened of feelings?

One of the very few British men who bucks the trend is that straggly-haired Casanova Russell Brand. I recently experienced first-hand the gaze across the room from those penetrating eyes. I merely smiled, of course, but Russell understands the power of a stare, that feeling of being ‘the one’. If anything, even an Italian man would consider Russell slightly de trop. I remain intrigued to learn what happens when Russell takes things to the next level. High-powered flirting indeed.

But Russell is by no means a typical English man. Quite apart from the flirting, he’s openly fond of his mother, who adores him — and here, I think, is the key to the whole phenomenon: it all comes down to the -mothers.

Just as there is the typical Italian man, there is the typical Italian mamma. And an Italian boy will be showered with devotion by his mamma from the day he is born. There is nothing muted about an Italian mother’s love for her son, nothing English and restrained — so no wonder the boy grows up with the absolute conviction of being the answer to every woman’s dreams. From the age of five he’s confident enough to be bold about what he wants; to look a girl in the eye.

The English mother’s feelings run below the surface. The love for her son is polite, rather like your conversation. It lacks the passion and the drama, and so much is assumed rather than displayed. And then you send your boys off to boarding school, sometimes at the age of six! Madonna — no wonder they struggle.

And yet, and yet. There is a subtlety to an English gentleman, a very un-Latin allure, that I am coming to recognise — even appreciate.

I was reminded of this at the Frieze Art Fair when I caught the eye of an older man, an art dealer maybe. Several glasses of champagne and several exhibitions later, there he suddenly was, standing by my side. He too admired Tracey Emin’s work and we began to talk about her. He knew a great deal about art and loved it. This is the way an Englishman flirts, I thought: he doesn’t declare himself directly, he shares his enthusiasm for other things.

And later, once the crowd had begun to disperse, when he invited me for another glass of champagne, how could I possibly have refused? Perhaps I am beginning to understand the charm of an English romance, played out beneath the surface, and of English men. Perhaps they’re not to be underestimated simply because they are not obvious.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Nancy Dell’Olio is a lawyer and former Strictly Come Dancing contestant. She tweets as @nancydellolio and her Instagram account is instagram.com/nancydellolio

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Show comments
  • La Fold

    No Nancy love, its just Russel Brand has a track record with transexuals.

    • Arin O’A

      It seems Nancy socialises within a minority group give her a few more years in London.

  • I’d have thought much was to do with the battery of ‘ism-industry harpies, quangos and legal-aid lawyers more than most else… luv.

  • Keith D

    So pray tell Nancy, what particular flirty lines do you find most appealing?.

    “Hi, I’m a millionaire football manager.” Mmm?

  • El_Sid

    a woman is a joy to behold

    There’s an implicit assumption that Ms Dell’Olio is one such.

    Don’t flatter yourself love – you’re just not our type.

    • HFC

      Nail on head.

    • MrDDavies

      I think she’s intelligent and beautiful.

    • rtj1211

      Speak for yourself, mate.

      The history of any nation is that sexual tastes are varied and variable and I would lay the national debt that at least 50,000 men in London and the SE find Ms Dell Olio hugely attractive in terms of flirting and sex.

      As for long-term relationships, well that’s different, you need to reveal your true colours to judge that, and when did the Press ever do that about any celebrity, eh??

  • It’s not called ‘flirting’ in the feminist-dominated UK.

    It’s called ‘sexual harassment’.

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      I take my hat off to militant feminists.

      • Derek Phibes

        Yes, the charm and appeal of shrilly aggressive militant feminists is such that my hat also is not needed to cover anything.

  • jontycampbell

    Because they are wary of being accused of sexism. It has now got to a stage where many women cannot enjoy and radiate their own confident féminine presence and sexuality, while men, in response, do not enjoy and radiate in their own masculine presence.

    In the process, we belligerently neuter and suppress our authentic, playful, confident sexualities, conflating it with “equality”, while increasingly and ironically it is bemoaned up and down the country, we hear “where have all the real men/women gone?”

    • rtj1211

      Go flirt with Russian or Eastern european women. They still have it.

      And they complain that all the men in their countries ‘only want sex’.

      Never did any due diligence on that assertion, but have done the due dili on their enjoyment of flirting.

  • Ricky Strong

    Did you not get the memo? No such thing as an Englishman anymore. That’s a tut tut word these days. I think we are now what the left refer to as mongrels. Perhaps it is for that reason why we are so lacking in the subtleties of romance.

  • Chris Hobson

    Russell Brand is a disgusting unwashed creature.

    • nancledra

      You sound like my mother.

      • rtj1211

        I take it you don’t have an Oedipal complex, then?!!

  • Paul Frame

    I don’t flirt as I know I have nothing whatsoever to offer women who I might be attracted to. So I just try and be the nicest person I can be. If I make a new friend then great, but I aim for platonic at all times. Everyone is better off that way I feel.

    • george

      Gosh, what’s your number?!

      • Paul Frame


        • george

          So sorry to hear it.

    • rtj1211

      I did that as a young man and I got the whole of warped UK Establishment trying to arrange me a marriage. They all thought that I would want to marry someone they were attracted to, despite me being the polar opposite of them in every respect. Philanderers vs the boy rejected by his mother: hardly a confluence of interests, approaches and opportunities, you know.

      When I did flirt, I got used and abused repeatedly, which taught me that there was no future in ‘doing the right thing’.

      My societal service to women therefore involves empowering hookers to feel good about themselves, as at least they appreciate what I do for them. And they have no hold on me as I pay them, not the other way around. And as it’s all done online, none of them feel violated and quite a few of them feel blessed.

  • george

    English men are the best. That’s my experience (note: I’m a woman). American men could be co-best, except for the unfortunate fact that most of them over 20 are circumcised.

    • Abi Tayn

      So you like sucking the smeg from under the prepuce, do you, George?

      • Keith D

        That comment was so outrageous I had to laugh.

      • george

        If you like being shorn, good for you. Infants don’t enjoy it, however, and as men they are compromised by it. I’ve never heard a woman clamour for her man to be lessened, either. Have you?

        • Beauchard

          Amazing how the obsessed anti-circumcision zealots always introduce it into any thread they can.
          Look madam, sir or transgender of any age between 21 and 85 (who knows, you can be anybody on the internet), there are about 2 billion people living in societies/countries that practice male circumcision. They seem to enjoy their sex lives. Get over it.
          Are you retired? Language like “a woman clamour for her man to be..” is not used any more.

          • george

            ‘Are you retired?’

            No, I’m a young lady that likes a natural man.

            I doubt the women enjoy their sex lives as much as they would if their men were intact. You can comment? The mechanics of sex favour the natural tissue for both parties. Circumcision hurts everybody.

            It is a boy’s birthright to have the body and the healthy tissue that Nature gave him. To take it off is immoral. Upwards of 100 million people were killed by Communism. By your illogic, the sheer numbers make Communism OK.

          • Abi Tayn

            “The mechanics of sex favour the natural tissue for both parties.” Not necessarily, Swanky. Mechanically possibly, aesthetically, no. I hate having a mouthful of overgrown labia which hang down to the lady’s knees. Do yours?

          • Toby Esterházy

            Pure and unadulterated Shin Bet stayed-behind propaganda from America.

          • Beauchard

            No Toby, the conspiracy is much wider than that.
            It includes the NDS, SHISH, DRS, MTN, NSI, GIS, BIN, MOIS, INIS, GID, KNB, Kuwait State Security, Lebanes Security Service, CGSO, DSI, Qatar State Security, GIP, MGK, KNB and of course the Iluminati.
            I could not find the name of the Uzbekistan department that is part of the circumcision conspiracy. Wikileaks does not have it either.

          • Toby Esterházy

            The Israelites being the worshippers of the Talmud and the Mohammedans being the worshippers of the Qur’an and the Hadith, are of course the sworn and hated enemies of Christ, Christians and Christendom since the year 1096.

          • rtj1211

            Look mate, if we hadn’t been dominatrix-driven conquistadors, we’d not have given a damn about the bloody Jews or the bloody Moslems.

            Only because we wanted to rule the roost and siphon off the oil that we had to deal with the bastards at all.

            95% of all Christians, Moslems and Jews will get on fine, because they all see through the nonsense but put up with it for reasons of pragmatic survival of the genetic inheritance.

    • cyllan

      how do you know????? have you tried them all?????

      • george

        I like them best because they’re denizens of the countries I like best and share in the common outlook on life.

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      “most of them over 20 are circumcised”
      From the neck up?

  • Hexhamgeezer

    Nancy, pet, why don’t you celebrate our diversity and put the kettle on while you’re at it.

    • rtj1211

      Surely room service will bring coffee to the pair of you, darling?!

  • Ian Young

    Perhaps Nancy comes from a different generation but I don’t find Italians I know much different in their manners. And they also find the Latino male stereotypes at best corny and at worst just sad lecherous old men like Berlusconi.

    As for the younger generation, all Europeans seem rather similar and are polite and comfortable with the opposite sex without having to go through peacock dances.

    Perhaps Nancy should decamp to Las Vegas and shack up with some ageing Dean Martin tribute singer.

  • mrsjosephinehydehartley

    Why can’t British men flirt?

    Because they don’t want to look like a nancy.

  • Michael McMullan

    Let’s not take a bush and beat about it here – flirting is a signpost on the road to the boudoir, and this tacky piece is but a cry for help from a lady of a certain age whose mustard is no longer being cut.

  • Colonel Mustard

    I read the article this morning and came to the conclusion that the author is conflating flirting with lechery. I got the impression that she and Brand are probably kindred spirits when it comes to appetite and he virtually an honorary Italian rather than an Englishman when it comes to carnal roving.

    Englishmen are still essentially polite which is why the whole ghastly array of strident feminism has been able to advance to the degree it has. But there is something of a gulf between Dell’Olio’s characterisation of the Englishman as repressed and the feminist characterisation of the Englishman as sexual predator. That gulf speaks more of the difference between Dell’Ollio as an Italian woman and the nature of British feminists rather than of Englishmen per se but also of the dichotomy vexing modern gender relationships. On the one hand ’50 Shades’ eagerly lapped up by a female readership and on the other hand some poor sap losing his job for the ‘sexual harassment’ of an innocent but “inappropriate” comment.

    If we puzzle you Nancy then you and your contradictions (as women) puzzle us even more. Unfortunately feminine contradictions, once merely an irritant, now rule the roost, from endless demands for new kitchens that they have no intention of being enslaved in to the Yewtree witch hunt.

    • george

      I’m the product of a passionate Englishman (and woman), and I’m very passionate, myself. Passion has nothing to do with making a gross display of oneself. I’ve always thought that the Greeks and hot-climate types that broadcast to all and sundry aren’t really feeling it. It’s performance, not passion. With certain of the English — refined yet sincere — you get the real thing, precisely because it is genuine emotion directed to a particular person. The result is honour and bliss.

    • rtj1211

      Actually, there is probably no dissonance between the ‘repressed’ and ‘sexual predator’ types: think about what it might take to break free of the repression and what might happen if there weren’t an inspired female to guide the repressed man into carnal freedom.

      The thought that high quality courtesans might provide just such a societal service is of course anathema to harpie feminists, which is why they continue to contribute to the car crashes of turning repressed wimps into sexual predators.


    Sorry Nancy luv, it’s not that Englishmen can’t flirt, it’s just that they don’t much fancy flirting with YOU!

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    “Englishmen can’t flirt”
    Being blanked, ignored and humiliated can sap your confidence. Brit chicks had better get used to holding each other`s hand.
    Jack, Japan Alps

  • cyllan

    how much the spectator paid for a rent a man gold digger???????

    talk about serious publications……

  • rtj1211

    Feelings make a human being vulnerable, capable of empathy and generally respectful of dissonance.

    As British life is all about thuggery in fight-to-the-death adversarial combat, including in medicine, it is pretty clear that showing feelings is a career threat to most men and not having a career is an even bigger threat to shagging post flirting than not having feelings is.

  • rtj1211

    I think it is fair to say that English women aren’t very good either and a subset are some of the most emasculating creatures around.

  • Russell Brand was a filter … sick, even to think about it now!