Jayne Dawson: Let’s send the school prom back to where it belongs

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And suddenly it is May, the very last month of spring.

How we got here, God alone knows. Wasn’t it Christmas just last week?

But here we are trembling on the verge of summer, though no-one has told the weather.

In front of us is lies the lush season of long days, holidays and barbecues. But before that comes the season of school exams, school leavers - and school proms.

Don’t you just hate them? I do. Proms, I mean.

It’s a strong emotion I know, but, ooh, there’s just something about them that makes me squirm. Basically, they don’t belong on these shores.

They are like the American grey squirrels brought to the UK that promptly staged a land grab and finished off all our native red variety.

They’re like the American crayfish that now cruise through our waters like sharks, killing off all our little native crayfish.

The school prom is a big brute of a thing that crushes everything in its path.

Once, a group of 16 year olds might have arranged to go for a pizza to mark the end of their GCSE year.

They might have, whisper it, crept into a pub, or had one of those parties where the parents camp out nervously for the duration with the neighbours next door, and then come back home to curse and clean up sick.

It would all have been a bit disorganised, a bit awkward, and a bit of a fond memory. But not now. Now the American prom has been awkwardly grafted on to the British school year, and it’s all about big expectations, big spending and big pressure.

The build-up to this juggernaut of an evening can be huge. Before the prom proper there can even be the promposal, a highly staged event where the boy asks the girl of his dreams to accompany him - it’s always that way round. The prom reinforces old notions like nothing else.

It’s all a bit Hollywood. And I mean that in the worst possible sense of fake, cheesy and unoriginal.

And it doesn’t happen to the normal girls: the shy ones with spots, weight worries and issues with their nose. The ones who yearn to be noticed by the gorgeous, brown-eyed boy.

For the prom itself, all bets are off. Girls lean on their parents to spend too much money on The Dress, traditionally an elaborate, unattractive confection of nylon and diamante in a style way too old for its wearer.

There are elaborate beauty rituals that can involve fake hair, fake nails and fake tans; there are stretch limos and even horse drawn carriages.

The teenagers compete to arrive in the most elaborate style. Someone, somewhere will have arrived by helicopter, if not by private jet.

Industries now thrive on the prom season. Caterers, hairdressers, car hire companies; dress shops, beauty salons, jewellers all experience the seasonal surge of the prom. The preparation is like a wedding and perhaps this is the only thing in its favour.

Because having once experienced the awful strain of it, young people might never want to face it again.

In the future they might have more sense than to put themselves through an elaborate wedding they can’t afford and opt for a more modest, heartfelt affair.

If the prom was just a low key, end-of-term leaving party sprinkled with a bit of diamante and a few tiaras from Claire’s Accessories, it would be fun.

But the hugeness of the event makes it a lot more unpleasant than that. There is the pressure of failure that teenagers, who feel every emotion like the stab of a knife, could do without.

The prom brings out all that is worst in teenage life: the insecurity, the competition. It divides and it rules, and it needs sending back home.


Some have it, some don’t. Helen Mirren does, she so does.

I speak of the dignity gene, which means that some of us can carry off almost anything in life. And the rest of us can’t. Helen, I believe, could carry off any cringe-inducing, knicker-elastic-failing, humiliating type of a situation you can think of. It wouldn’t phase this 70-year-old. Age clearly has not withered her, nor has it made her timid.

So Helen not only grows out her natural silver locks, she dyes the ends a lovely hue of pink. And Helen not only does the beach, she does it in a bikini, and carries off the look with complete ease.

Most recently, Helen put in an appearance at the White House for dinner. For the occasion she wore a purple lace dress, which she teamed with a temporary tattoo of the Love Symbol painted onto her collarbone, all in honour of the great Prince who died last month.

On another, this gesture could have missed by a mile. It could have looked publicity-hungry, insincere and a little silly.

But none of that applies to Dame Helen. She looked as cool as The Queen she has portrayed as she posed for the cameras.

For all these reasons I admire Helen Mirren with all my being. I want what she has: not her money, her fame or her husband. But her ability to look completely dignified whatever the circumstances.


Another promise to myself goes down the drain.

I was never going to be a person who discussed the weather. Not seriously. I mean, who does that?

People who say they have to set off now so they miss the rush hour, that’s who. People who are cautious, boring, and take a flask of tea on a day out, that’s who.

But I can’t help it. There is so much drama. Snow where it has no business to be, and frost, and rain, and hail.

Four seasons in one day doesn’t even come close, this is four seasons in one hour.

The day can begin in fierce sunshine and progress through every climatic condition known.

People are exhausting themselves removing their coat and then putting it back on again, multiple times.

No one dare leave home without a garment for all seasons.

It’s a blast, and I am enjoying every unpredictable minute.