Isabella Davidson, 39, lives in London’s exclusive Notting Hill with her banker husband and their two daughters, aged six and four.
When she started nursery, my daughter was invited to a birthday party.
But this wasn’t a birthday party in a church hall with sausage rolls, this was an event in the ballroom of The Dorchester hotel.
There were 120 guests and not only a massive bouncy castle, a magician and an ice cream machine, but they’d put a fairground merry-go-round in there too, while a miniature train was running around the ballroom.
There was even a carriage with horses that arrived with a real-life Cinderella and Prince Charming. I’d never seen anything quite this extreme. It must have cost hundreds of thousands of pounds.
I’ve been living in Notting Hill for 12 years, ever since I moved to the UK to study medicine.
My husband, who works in the City, and I married seven years ago and we have two young daughters, one in a private infant school and the other who is still in nursery.
This birthday party was the moment I realised I was living in a different world to anything I’d known before.
And it isn’t even the most excessive one by far. You know how some kids have safari-themed parties?
Someone we know took 20 kids on a private jet to Africa to stay in their safari lodge for their child’s birthday.
So here in Notting Hill, you can take a theme very literally.
Other parties have taken place at family’s second homes, from skiing in St Moritz to pool parties in the south of France to a weekend in a country pile.
There’s often a mountain of presents at these parties that will come from Harrods and Harvey Nicks.
There will be designer clothes from Ralph Lauren, Stella McCartney and Bon Point among them.
And often the gift bag is far more expensive than the gift I gave, which is always very awkward.
They give away everything from sets of 10 Barbie dolls to kids’ tablets and video games. My children have been given charm bracelets and necklaces, and even paddling pools.
People’s lives are their lives and their bank accounts are their bank accounts, but it’s how it affects my children. I’m worried about them being spoilt.
I don’t want them to have these expectations, because that’s not real life.
They’ll say, ‘Why don’t we have a merry-go-round at our party?’
But it’s not what we do. We keep it fairly simple, so we’ll have a trampoline party or just do a big play date in the garden.
There’s a mix of people in our area, from city bankers to famous pop stars and fashion designers.
School is very competitive, and when you have a lot of money it’s a different league.
Parents will go above and beyond with events like World Book Day and Easter bonnet competitions.
They’ll get designers to create costumes and hats so incredible they could be on the catwalk at London Fashion Week.
One year, the famous milliner Philip Treacy even made a hat for one of the kids.
My children will help to make a home-made one with me. You never want to be the one with the worst hat, but it’s hard to keep up.
The children in my daughter’s nursery are already being privately tutored – they’re learning to read and write and practising high-frequency words at age three.
Parents are pushing their children to be years ahead of where they’re generally supposed to be, so there’s already pressure when there shouldn’t be.
At some point these tutored kids are going to be much more advanced and it’s a very difficult situation. I worry it will be detrimental to my children – how will they keep up if everyone else is getting extra help?
But they’re already getting an amazing education. Shouldn’t that be enough?
You rarely see some of the mums and dads – the children are with the nanny, even on the weekends, and there are some parents who don’t even live in London full-time because they have homes around the world, so they’ll be in, say, Moscow and their kids will be brought up by carers in London.
Sometimes, when you organise play dates, you write to the mum, but it’s the personal assistant who replies.
You never meet the mum as it’s the nanny who comes to get-togethers, which makes it a really distant, cold relationship.
It’s not what I want for my child, being surrounded by personal assistants, housekeepers and nannies.
A lot of children have chauffeurs to take them on the school run, and my kids will say, ‘Why can’t a driver take us to school?’ I’m like, ‘We’re walking, it’s good for your health.’ That’s why we chose one near to where we live.
I heard of one child who had never walked down the street until she was three – she’d always been driven everywhere – so the first time she did, she didn’t realise she had to wait to cross the road and walked right into traffic.
Then there was the parent who didn’t like the school lunch, so had their chef prepare food each day and the chauffeur dropped it off at lunchtime – until the headmaster had to stop it because it was too disruptive and too many parents wanted to do the same.
It’ll be no surprise to hear some of these children regularly dine in expensive sushi restaurants like Nobu and Zuma.
Some parents will drive their children to school with Harry Potter on the dashboard to show off that this is the reading level of their child, even though they’re only six or seven. It’s all very openly competitive.
And at six some of them are training in tennis, both before and after school, or they’ll be pushed into swimming or football four times a week.
Often there will be two activities a day, so they’ll run to swimming, then home for piano lessons and then do homework, work with their tutors, plus a lot of them do extra studies like kumon, an intensive maths course.
My daughter does one piano lesson a week and that’s it. When we go on holiday, all the kids have their violins with them because they have to practise every single day. What’s a holiday if you have to study all the time? But these kids are expected to be really good at everything.
I used to write an anonymous blog about my life, but now I’ve written a fiction book about Notting Hill mums and I’m officially ‘out’.
Some will get offended I’m talking about my own neighbourhood. I do love living here and I have good friends, but I sympathise with people who don’t feel that confident.
The book has many of my own experiences in it – like when I took my daughter to a play date in a mansion and I was put in a staffroom because they thought I was there for a housekeeping interview.
I was mortified at the time, but I can laugh about it now. It can all be very entertaining at times.