LONDON — Lunch, or perhaps late breakfast, for Nicky Haslam was eggs Benedict and two coffee martinis. The setting was the Wolseley, the Piccadilly institution that has lost little of its luster since the restaurateurs Chris Corbin and Jeremy King transformed what had been an auto showroom and later a chop suey joint into a high-style brasserie in 2003.
Perched at an adjacent table were the billionaire Henry Kravis and his wife, Marie-Josée, a matte black crocodile Hermès Birkin beside her on a banquette.
In 2018, an all but identical handbag was hammered down at a Hong Kong auction for $175,000, but never mind that. Wealth displays are, in Mr. Haslam’s view, vulgar — or common, a term whose deployment he has parlayed into a personal franchise.
At semiregular intervals, Mr. Haslam issues lists of things he disapproves of on the entirely arbitrary grounds of taste. The lists include — although are not limited to — scented candles, celebrity chefs, Halloween, mindfulness, hedge funds, monogrammed shirts, cuff links, most young royals, colored bath towels, swans and saying bye-bye.
Unlike the novelist Nancy Mitford’s codification of social division according to a series of U — for “upper class” — and non-U words (looking glass and not mirror; sofa, not couch) that functioned mostly as booby traps for unwitting members of an aspirational middle class, Mr. Haslam’s lists are so baldly and so risibly snobbish as to be a hoot.
They have also proved so successful in a class-fixated country that eventually, and maybe inevitably, they were printed on a tea towel.
“I wrote in The Standard once a week about things that were irritating me, and, blow me down, last Christmas on Instagram there they were as a tea towel,” Mr. Haslam said. “Someone had printed them up, and they were selling like hot cakes.”
Tea towels, as Mr. Haslam would be quick to note, are common. “Drying-up cloth” is the preferred term, said one of Mr. Haslam’s aristocratic friends.
At 80, Mr. Haslam has lived so many lives — onetime Arizona cowpoke; protégé of Alexander Liberman at Vogue; art editor of the influential Show magazine; interior decorator to the Russian oligarchs and also Mick Jagger; WASP-ish social commentator; cabaret singer; raconteur; and so inveterate a partygoer that he has been called the most invited man in London — that he has attained semi-institutional status in a city he refers to as “my little village.”
When, in September, after a half century of residence in the Hunting Lodge, a doll-size neo-Jacobean country house whose previous resident was the storied decorator John Fowler, Mr. Haslam decided to vacate it and sell everything he owned at Bonhams, the auction was treated by both the design and popular press as an event.
“It didn’t bother me a bit,” he said of parting with his most intimate possessions. “I’m sentimental, not nostalgic. I steal restaurant ashtrays because they remind you of people you know.”
That he knows everyone — “There’s Tracey,” he said suddenly, jumping up from the table to cross the restaurant and clutch the artist Tracey Emin in the kind of embrace you may associate with border reunions — is a given.
So, too, is the fact that he is recognizable to those he does not. For lunch on the final day of the decade, he had dressed in a tightly zipped, shiny PVC hoodie ordered from a gay fetish supplier in Amsterdam and wool trousers. Clamped atop a tousle of silver hair, he wore a Thug Life snapback cap, label left on.
“The label is essential,” Mr. Haslam said with a rasping cackle as he fondled a silver cigarette case he had gotten for Christmas.
“It even has the health warning,” Mr. Haslam said, palming a box full of ultralight Vogue smokes across the table. In the position where most cigarette packages point out nicotine’s hazards, his friend Carole Bamford — an organic food magnate married to the billionaire industrialist Lord Bamford — had ordered up an engraved legend that said: “Nicky-Time Seriously Enhances Life.”
The relative truth of this can be gauged from the broad cast of characters in “The Impatient Pen,” a new collection of Mr. Haslam’s writings. Of its droll notational style — canny observations yoked to a stream-of-consciousness method — A.N. Wilson wrote in a foreword that Mr. Haslam, in taking us from 1950s England to Hollywood in the ’60s to today, “reflects on grand and famous people but he is not a snob.”
Despite its slapdash editing, the book amplifies a sense many readers took away from “Redeeming Features,” Mr. Haslam’s 2008 memoir of a life whose surface frivolity masked more vulnerable depths. Mr. Wilson called Mr. Haslam “gentler, more self-confident and much, much cleverer than a mere slinger of gossip.”
And, while there are many who may dispute this assessment, Mr. Haslam still manages to see the good in often reviled characters like Princess Margaret; the moral conflicts that plagued the gossip columnist Nigel Dempster; the purgatorial reality of Prince Charles, now 71 and still awaiting a promised promotion; and an aspect of the Duchess of Windsor that has escaped official history.
“She was oddly unshowy, completely misunderstood,” he said. “For one thing, she was too neat to be showy. And, as everyone who knew her could tell you, she did everything she could to get out of marrying him.”
Although educated at Eton, Mr. Haslam speaks of himself with a modesty as ostentatious, in its way, as a matte crocodile Birkin. “Eton, I loved, but I was incredibly stupid,” he said. “I was practically the bottom of the whole school.” What he was evidently proficient at was “art and languages and sucking up to the masters.”
It seems likely his social precociousness arises equally from a gift of unquenchable curiosity and the childhood polio that confined him to bed from the age of 8 to 11.
“It was quite worrying for my parents, as they thought I would die,” he said. “But after the first hours of getting it, when I was paralyzed, I kind of had a wonderful time. It was wearing, two years in a cast and eventually learning how to walk, but I can’t say looking back that I minded it.”
Everyone brought presents, for one thing. And he spent so much time surrounded by people far older than himself (Mr. Haslam’s father was born in 1889; his mother was a goddaughter of Queen Victoria) that, in the decades that followed, he would unwittingly become a living bridge between the Edwardian and the digital eras.
The octogenarian in the Thug Life cap knew Noël Coward and Elvis. He was briefly, Mick Jagger once reminded him, engaged to Tuesday Weld.
“I have always wanted people to tell me things,” Mr. Haslam said, meal finished, bill paid, as he reached for his cigarettes and headed out for a smoke. Lighting up on the Wolseley’s doorstep, he raised an eyebrow theatrically at the mobs of post-holiday shoppers in Uggs and parkas, struck by a thought.
“Gilets,” he said, dragging deeply and referring to the down vests worn by many passers-by — and also, beneath his coat, by this reporter. “Gilets are common,” he said and was gone.