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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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The Middleton Marriage Media Meltdown

And so… the Pippa Middleton Wedding Wagon rumbles on, with flags flying and whistles tooting. Every day, certain newspapers treat their readers to breathless updates and speculation about the day in question – from who is invited or not invited, who might wear the same colour and cause social pandemonium and which fence is being repainted to ensure Bucklebury is in gleaming form for the Very Important People who are attending.

With only a few days to go, this self publicised hype is only likely to reach fever pitch with no scaling down in sight. It seems to me that people all over the country who have read anything related to the forthcoming nuptials are simply desperate for it all to be over so that we don’t have to read any further gushing about the bride’s latest walk down the street or gym exit.

Originally, we were told that this marriage was a private event, taking place on a private estate and that therefore, public scrutiny was not welcome. Fair enough, I thought.

Until events took over my original thinking.

The very close up, clear series of photographs of Pippa Middleton and James Matthews apparently canoodling behind a bush in front of a Chelsea church seemed planned. The constant pictures of a smiling Pippa wandering about her neighbourhood in various poses might well underline that thinking. Then, we are told by the very knowledgeable Sebastian Shakespeare of the Daily Mail, that Pippa has hired none other than the PR guru who has worked successfully for the Beckhams in helping to create their brand. You might well ask why would a ‘private’ event require the hype that tends to be rustled up by hiring a very expensive PR guru?

I can only assume that the Middletons, who protest themselves to be quiet, private people who are simply hounded by media interest, are actually involved in creating the cloud of ‘public interest’ in themselves. Certain journalists have certainly confessed to having Middleton sources for stories in the past.

As I have mentioned in previous blogs, other families who ‘married in’ to the royal family managed to remain pretty low key. I am verging on certain that none of them ever needed PR guidance to ramp up interest or indeed, wanted it.

The rather ironic thing about the self-publicism of the wedding and the run up to it, is that no matter how much fanfare the media gives or on whose orders, there isn’t the public interest to back it up. Pippa is not a much-loved character, the nation is not overly interested in what she does (or doesn’t) do, her attempts at writing in the past have been ridiculed and her lack of direction is baffling to most.

For me, the only interest I have in the wedding is that we may possibly see George and Charlotte, those secret royal children whom we know exist but hardly see; along with a chance to see Prince Harry with Meghan – incidentally, whose wedding WOULD bring similar hype but on much more solid, public-interest level, ground.

And so… get your hard hats ready. I think we are in for a bumpy few days. Roll on Sunday.

 

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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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The Meaningful Marketing of Meghan

With a confident, easy smile on her face and some very well placed confidantes at her side, Meghan Markle looked every inch the official royal girlfriend last weekend, as she watched Prince Harry play polo at Coworth Park in Ascot.

The Audi Polo Challenge was attended by both Prince William and Prince Harry, so it was hardly a low key event. The very presence of Meghan Markle might be seen as a typically tactical royal nudge to observers and media alike that:

A. She and Prince Harry are definitely a ‘thing’.

B. They don’t really care who knows it.

And

C. Their partnership might well be heading for a more official status.

Despite Prince Harry releasing a statement last autumn describing Ms. Markle as his ‘girlfriend’, some royal watchers have taken it upon themselves to believe that the relationship was already over/never really began. If you don’t believe me, check Twitter! Personally, this seems an odd presumption, since the couple have been seen on various occasions since – a date in London, Meghan wandering around near Kensington Palace, the pair attending a wedding together etc. It seems pretty clear to me that there is something going on, and actually something pretty serious. Sorry, Harry fans – but there it is.

Having been a royal watcher since the heady days of Lady Diana Spencer in her pie crust collars, I think it is fair to say that this semi-official polo appearance has quite big implications. Not only was Harry’s brother, William, also in attendance, but Meghan was standing alongside Mark Dyer, the Prince’s trusted friend and mentor for many years.

Quite an endorsement.

And let’s face it, would Prince Harry – a man who grew up with frequent pictures of his mother in the media while sunbathing, sitting on car bonnets, playing with her sons at polo matches – not know that those moments when he decided to cuddle and kiss his girlfriend next to his car would be captured and shared by any photographer present?

The royal family like to send messages without saying a word. They like to micromanage our beliefs about them without actually saying anything. Who remembers a certain Sarah Ferguson being asked to accompany The Princess of Wales on a visit to HMS Brazen to see Prince Andrew in 1986 before any engagement had been announced? That was a big indication that Miss Ferguson was being accepted in to the family as an ‘official girlfriend’.

I see this polo match attendance as a similar move. The reports that Meghan will also attend the wedding of Pippa Middleton and James Matthews as Prince Harry’s partner is also a significant step.

Perhaps we are being prepared for a move from ‘official girlfriend’ to something more?

I, for one, very much hope so.

 

 

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Fighting the Stigma

As I covered in my previous blog, the current media campaign of Heads Together as fronted by Prince Harry and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, is encouraging people to be more open about their mental health problems. This week has been a particularly high profile build up to the London Marathon on Sunday, when hundreds of runners will take part under the Heads Together banner to raise awareness and raise funds for mental health charities.

As the royal threesome stated so eloquently in their video today, mental health problems can be rooted behind so many other issues such as homelessness, domestic abuse, bereavement and drug abuse. A huge percentage of us will suffer emotional problems at some point in our lives, some of us will live with mental health difficulties for years without speaking out for fear of seeming weak or being labelled ‘nuts’.

Twitter: Kensington Palace

Over the past few weeks, several high profile celebrities have joined the campaign to start the conversation on mental health, being filmed discussing their own private difficulties and how they deal with them. The culmination of this has been the admission by Prince Harry himself that he has had to deal with his own demons in relation to the sudden death of his mother, The Princess of Wales.

I personally hope that this campaign will continue to encourage us as a nation to be more accepting of mental health illness as being just as debilitating as physical injury or disease. I have personally spent years struggling with anxiety and issues around low self esteem, initially due to a difficult childhood then exacerbated by other traumatic events that happened during the course of my teenage and adult life. I have sought to find answers to the moments of self doubt, of crippling anxiety and times of deep depression. I have turned to therapy, to counselling, to mindfulness, to exercise, to positive thinking, to medication … you name it, I have tried it. Some of it has been useful, some not at all. Each individual will find value in different strategies, and sometimes just being able to talk about your worries or express the dark thoughts you have been struggling with can be enough to clear your head.

Over the years, I have come across a wide range of responses to my mental health illness – from the “Pull yourself together” viewpoint to the much more sympathetic. I find that people who have also dealt with mental health issues themselves are usually the kindest, most understanding people of all. They have been at the bottom of that pit and they know just how dark and hopeless it can seem.

If the Heads Together campaign can encourage even a small number of people to have a better understanding of mental health illnesses, or persuade even a small number to seek help for their own desperation, then it will have been a success.

And that is surely something of huge value to us all.

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Heads Together – The Diana Harry Connection

 

When Prince Harry spoke openly about his mental health problems this week, it was a welcome diversion from the usual royal ‘stiff upper lip’ and also, very reminiscent of another royal personage, not too long ago, who also wanted to use their own issues to help others in need.

Harry’s admission, made during a podcast for The Telegraph with Bryony Gordon, allowed us a glimpse in to the reasons behind the campaign for better conversations about mental health, ‘Heads Together’. The campaign, fronted by Harry, his brother William and sister-in-law Kate, has sought to bring awareness to the problem of mental health issues and the impact they can have on other areas such as addiction, violence, and homelessness. For some time now, the campaign has consisted of a series of royal engagements, short speeches and some engaging video montage sequences. All very well done, but not really hard-hitting or particularly memorable. For someone like the prince to actually express his own difficulties with emotional issues and how it has impacted upon his life, has far more lasting effect than all of the previous occasions put together.

While listening to Harry’s podcast, I was reminded of his mother, Diana, whose willingness to share her own problems in order to help others was part of her huge success in her later royal career. I recall her speech about eating disorders, (“I have it, on very good authority…”) along with her speech to women’s charity, Wellbeing,

“I think you are very fortunate to have your patron here today, I was supposed to have my head down the loo for most of the day. I’m supposed to be dragged off the minute I leave here by men in white coats. But if it’s alright with you, I thought I might postpone my nervous breakdown.”

 

Diana’s tongue in cheek use of her own difficulties was partly to dilute the media’s stories of her emotional problems and partly to reach out to sufferers to let them know she understood their hardship. She sat with eating disorder sufferer groups, domestic violence groups – and was becoming a strong advocate for women’s issues globally before she died.

Harry’s willingness to open up publicly about his mental health problems and feelings of anger following the loss of his mother has the very same impact that she had in sharing what is usually ‘behind closed doors’ stuff for the royal family. And perversely, it is the very thing about Diana that the public loved and valued so much. It has been clear for some time that Harry, not William, has inherited Diana’s inherent skill in dealing with people of all backgrounds. Regardless of Harry’s feelings of anxiety, which he admitted in the podcast, he has that very magic ability to charm and seem like ‘one of us’ to those he meets – whether army veterans, pensioners, young people or the microcosm of people he meets on walkabouts.

It is an innate ability, which cannot be assumed or pretended.

Harry’s genuine approachability was again seen this week when he unexpectedly enlisted a five year old to help cut the ribbon to open the London Marathon Expo. These characteristics have helped to endear him to the public in a way that no other current royal family member can equal. Anyone who has been present at any royal event will bear testament to the roar of the crowd whenever Harry appears, in contrast to the perhaps lacklustre response to some other members of the royal family. The Queen, of course, receives the biggest cheer of all.

Harry’s quality of human warmth is so reminiscent of his mother that it might be said that he is the true heir to Diana’s legacy. His willingness to take on the mantle of her causes such as continuing the campaign to rid the world of landmines shows him to be the rightful successor to her populist crown.

Diana prided herself, above all her roles, in being a good mother. Her boys were the most important part of her life and she worked hard to instil the sort of values she believed in with them. She wanted them to understand the difficulties of the lives of others less privileged, to have empathy for the vulnerable of society and to be prepared to help, as she was. While the youngest of her two, it is clear that Harry is the one who has most embraced her ethos. Whether nature or nurture, it is apparent that Harry is her natural successor.

I can’t help but feel that if Diana could see now the impact of the life she lived, the one element she would be most proud of would be to see the transformation of her youngest son from ‘party prince’ to ‘caring prince’. As Shakespeare once showed us in his Henry IV plays, a young, wild Prince Hal might just surprise those around him by becoming the most committed, dutiful King Henry possible. And what a shame it might be that popular Harry is not the man next in line for such a title.

Instead, perhaps, we should remember the words of his mother, and think about the son she has left us to continue her work in her absence:

“I don’t see myself being Queen of this country. But I’d like the be the Queen of people’s hearts, in people’s hearts.”

Harry might never be the King of this country, but he is certainly well on his way to being embraced by people’s hearts.

Something of which Diana would have been very proud.

 

 

Photograph – Getty Images

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The Markle Question

Nobody can have escaped the last few months of media fascination and sensationalist reporting of Prince Harry’s relationship with new girlfriend, Meghan Markle. The flurry of stories has ranged from the sublime (“She spoke to the UN!”) to the ridiculous (“She’s on Pornhub!”). Onlookers appear to fall in to two opposing camps – those who see Ms Markle as a potentially refreshing addition to the royal family, with an already existing track record of philanthropy and people skills; and those who see Ms Markle as a social climbing, media manipulating, naive prince accosting harridan. The fact that Meghan Markle is slightly older than Prince Harry and has been married previously AND has mixed race parentage AND a possibly dysfunctional family has caused some royal traditionalists to have apoplexy on a scale akin to the days of Princess Margaret daring to wish to marry the debonair, divorced Peter Townsend.

However, times have changed. We now have several members of the royal family who are themselves divorced – The Prince of Wales is famously married to his ex-mistress, Camilla Parker Bowles, following his disastrous union with the luminous Diana Spencer; The Duke of York is also divorced, as is the Princess Royal. The royal family is in no position to take the higher ground on divorce issues these days.

For a modern royal family, the emphasis has to be on how this centuries-old institution can adapt to stay meaningful in an ever-increasing world of diversity and relaxed rules on gender, sexuality and identity. In the internet age, the world has shrunk, so that everything that happens globally is transmitted to screens around us within  hours, if not minutes. The institution of monarchy must be able to move alongside this generation of information, while still maintaining mystique and majesty.

It seems to me that the addition of a clearly intelligent, charismatic woman who happens to be mixed race, who happens to have experience of a wider world, who happens to have already shown a capacity for humanitarianism and can give a decent speech might just be one of the best things to happen to the royal family for a very long time. In fact, possibly since a very young Diana Spencer tripped nervously down the palace steps wearing her huge sapphire engagement ring and an ill-fitting bright blue suit while clinging on to the arm of her “Whatever love means” prince.

Let’s not give up on Ms. Markle yet.