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When Pippa Married James…

As yesterday dawned – bright but with a hint of rain in the air, Bucklebury braced itself for an onslaught of media and celebrity as Pippa Middleton started to prepare herself for the wedding she has spent months organising. The run up to the special day had been picked over in newspapers until there was nothing left to pick at – with readers everywhere wondering how much hype exactly was needed for the wedding of a couple nobody would have heard of, if it hadn’t been for the sister of the bride having married a prince.

With the Beckham’s PR guru, the Queen’s cousin Lady Elizabeth Anson, Prince Charles’s ex valet and now consultant to all things, Michael Fawcett all enlisted to create the perfect spectacle with no expense spared, only time would tell whether the enormous glass marquee would cause the illustrious guests to be deafened by very English rainstorms or not.

As guests started to arrive, with smatterings of recognisable faces such as Roger Federer and Princess Eugenie, a small crowd waited to see if Meghan Markle would make an appearance. As time went on, it became clear that we wouldn’t get a glimpse of the eagerly-anticipated royal girlfriend, as Princes William and Harry strolled in to St Marks’ Church, Englefield alone.

Carole Middleton appeared in pale pink, escorted by son and marshmallow entrepreneur, James. She appeared to wave with glee to the onlookers, smiling with what can only be described as a recently-filled face. Certainly, puffier than I have ever seen her before. She must rub her hands in delight at the conclusion sending her children to the ‘right places to meet’ the ‘right people’ has brought.

Michael Middleton, as ever, seemed less keen on the media but very proud of his youngest daughter. I wonder at times what he makes of the media storm other members of his family have whipped up. I wonder if he has a man-shed and a secret bottle of whisky somewhere on the Middleton Manor estate?

The Duchess of Cambridge turned up escorting the tiny bridesmaids and unfortunately pantalooned pageboys. She seemed stressed by having to get small people from the car to the church door, and was completely oblivious to the pageboy who decided to make V signals at the massed crowds. Wearing a peachy beige matchy matchy outfit that had already creased and wasn’t fitted properly around the bodice, Kate’s matron of honour role looked more than slightly awkward. By the time the party was leaving the church, she had already had to scold a weeping Prince George, control a confused looking, but very cute, Princess Charlotte and ineffectively manage a bunch of primary school children with rose petal baskets. Doting husband, William, was nowhere in sight, preferring to hang around with his brother and reality star best man, Spencer Matthews.

For the bride however, we must reserve praise. Pippa’s Giles Deacon designed dress was elegant and beautifully made, with delicate attention to detail. Her gossamer veil held in place by a deceptively simple, sparkling diamond tiara from Robinson Pelham. Pippa has clearly planned her bridal outfit for a very long time and her dogged determination paid off. She looked delighted by everything, and as she took her father’s arm to enter the florally bedecked church, she must have known her choice was a massive success.

An hour or so later, as bells rang out to celebrate this much-hyped union, the two people involved left St Marks looking full of joy. The photographers clicked and the other guests stayed back to allow the couple their moment. Apart from Kate, of course, who milled about at the front trying to look like she knew what to do with the tiny attendants while nanny Maria stayed out of sight. In the end, she got in a car and left for the reception – leaving the newly weds to lead the rest of the party over to Englefield House on foot. A champagne reception awaited.

Later, Pippa and James left in a vintage car for Middleton Manor in Bucklebury, in a scene reminiscent of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge driving Prince Charles’ Aston Martin from Buckingham Palace to Clarence House following their own afternoon wedding reception.

And as the Duchess herself returned to her parents house, to prepare for the rest of the celebrations, William was again nowhere in sight. I wonder if he was in the man-shed with Mike, hiding from wedding planners and photographers everywhere?

Finally, after a day of waiting, Prince Harry drove up with Meghan Markle in tow (not Merkle, as the unfortunate BBC News Reporter called her) – one solitary blurry snap the only proof that she attended.

As the expected Spitfire swooped over the venue, in a celebratory fly-past (one must keep up with one’s sister) and lights twinkled in the glass marquee, so large it could be seen from the other side of the valley, I wonder if Pippa raised her glass to herself for pulling off the media extravaganza of the year, while Kate – avoiding the canapes – searched in vain for the elusive William.

And readers everywhere sighed in relief.

 

 

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Who Will Fill Phil’s Shoes?

Amongst great speculation and media frenzy, Buckingham Palace announced last week that HRH The Duke of Edinburgh is going to retire in August this year. At the age of ninety five, I think most people would agree that this is a reasonable decision for the royal consort to take, after many years of supporting HM The Queen with great diligence. The monarch and her husband are now of an age when most people would expect to be sitting back and enjoying life in the slow lane, but ruling is another game entirely. The Queen cannot step down, she will be Queen until the day she dies. That is what monarchy is and always has been in the United Kingdom. Abdication is not something likely to ever be considered, although a regency of sorts might be if the situation demanded it. For the consort, however, there are slightly different rules.

The question remains though – who will step in to this new vacancy? Prince Philip, along with starting the Duke of Edinburgh scheme, has hundreds of charitable patronages which will have to be covered by other members of the royal family. Prince Edward has volunteered that all the family will work as a team to ensure that the work goes on – but frankly, it seems that some of the family are more team players than others. It is well known that some of the family are genuine work horses, their numbers of engagements are always high in the court circular and their commitment and duty cannot be questioned. I fail to see how such people, like the Princess Royal, could possibly do more. There are, however, other members of the family who appear to be sadly lacking in this department.

I refuse to add Prince Harry to this list, because despite low(ish)numbers in the court circular, many of his charitable endeavours are apparently ‘not counted’ as royal work – the Invictus Games, for example. I think Harry will step up where needed anyway, it is his character to do so and I feel that he is accepting of his role within the family, within the nation and his duty to fulfil that as best as he can. I hope I am right.

There is, however, a growing issue within the family which must be dealt with – and that is both the media interpretation of the Duke of Cambridge as unwilling – and the actuality of his limited amount of work for ‘The Firm’. There is a sense that William is not a safe pair of hands, and that is a worrying factor for those within the Palace who do succession planning. The Cambridges have marketed themselves as a happy, nuclear family. A couple who met at university, married and had two children – one of each. The problem is that this little family is not like the little family who live next door. When Kate Middleton married William Wales, she was also marrying a role and a job. The recent Heads Together Campaign and accompanying media showed just what can be done with the sort of influence and inspiration the royal title bestows. It is a shame to waste that sort of platform, when so much good can be done.

Recent newspaper articles have suggested that Kate intends to be the new Prince Philip, and that she models herself on him. While hoping that this might be true (minus the grumpiness/swearing/unfortunate remarks, one hopes), it seems a little far fetched at present.

Another idea was that the Duke of York might step in to the breach. While he might have the unfortunate remarks element covered, he is not a popular royal, with a difficult reputation, and I can see no benefit to him stepping up in a more public manner.

And so, as they line up in this brave new world, with some edging more to the back of the line than others, it remains to be seen who will really fill Phil’s shoes – and who will say they fit while refusing to try them on.

Ready?

 

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A Very Middleton Marriage

Pippa Middleton, the sister of the Duchess of Cambridge, is due to marry James Matthews, financial whizz-kid and billionaire, in Berkshire on 20th May 2017. In typical fashion, the details of the upcoming wedding have been breathtakingly revealed bit by bit – until last week, we were treated to an actual statement from Kensington Palace about which royal family members would be actually attending the nuptials. Considering that neither Pippa nor her family are actually part of the royal family, this seemed a step too far to many royal observers.

The Middleton family have an unfortunate habit of making themselves seem publicity hungry. Their apparent desire to be front and centre, rather than taking a side seat like other royal in-laws, has caused them to be called social climbers, showy people who want a slice of the lifestyle their daughter and sister has access to, being the wife of Prince William. ¬†They have gone from being a quiet, affluent family living an a typical middle class village home to living in the local manor house and wearing crest-engraved signet rings. The British have never been fond of those who try to be something they are not. The whole concept of the popular sitcom, ‘Keeping Up Appearances’ was that the audience could laugh at the character of Hyacinth Bucket (“Bouquet”), a working class woman who created an upper middle class fantasy life through her immaculate home and expensive china tea-sets. We all know people like Hyacinth, to greater or lesser degrees. However, it feels more than slightly incongruous that the family of the Duchess of Cambridge should be perceived as behaving like this – we somehow expect the royals to marry into families who are equally illustrious, like the Spencers for example who had been aristocracy for hundreds of years. Those families without such background should have the class to stay low-key and maintain a quiet dignity. Sophie Rhys-Jones, who married Prince Edward, was from a less grand background but her family have stayed private figures, rewarded for their decorum by several invitations to spend time with the Queen and her family.

The Middletons have apparently chosen not to take this path. The fact that Pippa’s upcoming wedding is being sold as the ‘wedding of the year’ and every snippet of organisation for it apparently leaked, might suggest that there is a certain enjoyment of the celebrity this endows to a couple who would never have been heard of had the bride’s sister never met Prince William.

It remains to be seen how much of the wedding will be photographed, since Prince George and Princess Charlotte are to be pageboy and flower girl. This strange hybrid of private family wedding and quasi-royal event seems to sum up the problem of the Middleton family themselves. Neither private nor royal, their half way house style of managing things is unprecedented and raises quizzical eyebrows amongst traditionalists. In a media-hungry culture, when people may become stars from reality shows or merely drawing attention to themselves, is it so unlikely that this family have allowed themselves to become the sort of celebrities who apparently have no claim to fame, other than close proximity to someone who married a famous man?

 

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Kate Middleton and the Requirements of Royalty

When Kate Middleton was first pictured in the national media, kissing Prince William on the ski slopes, my alarm antennae went off. It seemed to me that William’s new girlfriend was more interested in checking whether the journalist was getting the photograph than her prince. My opinion didn’t change throughout the courtship of the prince and Kate (sorry… Catherine) – so many breakups; so many reports of Kate glaring at any other woman who went near William; so many falling-out-of clubs-and-not-working photographs.

On the 16th November 2010, my heart sank even further. The news came that William and Kate were engaged, and even worse, that he had given her his mother’s hugely recognisable sapphire engagement ring. Sitting in front of the TV, I felt he had made a huge mistake. As someone who had seen the engagement of Charles and Diana – a young woman who had already made a living caring for children and cleaning when she didn’t have to – I felt that Kate was not likely to pull her weight and was more interested in status than the man sitting next to her on the plump sofa.

Friends told me I was unfair, and I really wanted to believe that to be true. I suspended my sense of disbelief and embraced royal wedding fever as best I could. I wanted to give them my blessing, I really wanted to. The wedding day loomed large. I admit to shedding a small tear watching Diana’s boy get married without his mother to support him. I also admit to wondering why the TV correspondent got so excited about a wedding dress that looked to me exactly like Grace Kelly’s but with Madonna-esque cone boobs.

As the years have gone by, I have willed Kate to find the sort of work ethic her mother in law had. Instead, I feel I have seen a regurgitation of many of Diana’s styles and mannerisms, without any of the genuine warmth or sense of noblesse oblige. It feels like we are expected to be grateful for Kate to turn up to two engagements a month (if we’re lucky), most lasting less than an hour, wearing hugely expensive designer clothes. The over-long, over-big, over-blown hair; the huge grin even in the most inappropriate circumstances; the bizarre public statements (“Can you test the smell by smelling it?”) and her newly-adopted uber-posh accent combine to give rise to alarm. I feel like she is trying too hard to be royal while missing the crucial elements. Adopting causes that mean something to her and that she would be prepared to spend some time on; understanding how to talk to people without making overt hand gestures or being constantly aware of where the camera is; making speeches without pushing her hair around, staring at the paper or sounding completely unconvincing – all of these would be welcome advancements.

Six years after their wedding, I am still eager for Kate to properly fulfil her position as royal duchess and future queen. As a monarchist, I want the Cambridges to succeed. But I am also much aware that for this to happen, the couple must adapt to become what the people need. The Queen has walked a very fine line between private and public, between mystique and the maternal. William and Kate must find some similar balance. Too often they are shut away, with very few pictures emerging of their growing family. They are becoming unknown to us as three dimensional characters, and in that breeds the fear of disinterest from the very country whom they need to support them. Kate’s morph in to a cartoon-esque character of hair, teeth and L.K.Bennetts does neither her, them nor us any good.

The sad part of all this is that Kate apparently waited a long time for William to commit to her officially. She, it seems, put up with a lot of shenanigans, to win what she had set her heart on. Now she is there, complete with Diana’s tiara and goodness know how many ballgowns, she doesn’t seem able to live up to the hype. Ever-shrinking in weight, nervous, skittish – it sometimes seems that Kate liked the idea more than the reality.

Regardless of my own personal feelings about whether William chose the right person (and after all, that is up to him not us) – we now have a woman in a very senior role within the royal family who seems to need guidance and direction in order to meet her potential. Whether that means new advisers are required, or merely a more experienced member of the family to take her under their wing (Sophie Wessex springs to mind) or maybe Kate herself needs to go back to the drawing board and try to remember who she was before she tried to become something else.

I will be watching the next couple of years with interest, and yes – with a little bit of secret encouragement – because after all surely, we all want Kate to succeed in the role she waited so long to step in to.

For us, for the royal family and most of all, for Kate herself.