Thursday 24 August 2017

Royal story sparkles with feel-good gossipy gems

This treasure trove of trivia on William and Catherine's romance, lavishly illustrated, is a worthy addition for aficionados, says Margaret Carragher

Margaret Carragher

William & Catherine: Their Lives, Their Wedding

Andrew Morton

Michael O'Mara Books, €23.99

FORMER Fleet Street journalist Andrew Morton first came to prominence following the publication in 1992 of his controversial bestselling biography of the Princess of Wales. Diana: Her True Story revealed the unhappy truth behind the princess's "fairy-tale" existence -- her eating disorders, her self-harming, her dreadful sham of a marriage.

A generation on and Morton is back with more royal tittle-tattle -- thankfully of a happier nature this time.

Mere weeks after the wedding of Diana and Charles's son William to Kate Middleton, Morton produced a trove of feel-good royal trivia, documenting the histories and characters of the young couple, the highs and lows of their romance, and the run- up to their big day, all culminating in a wonderfully gossipy account of the wedding itself.

The book opens with a depiction of the groom's royal lineage stretching back to Victorian times -- a veritable who's who of crowned heads and blue-blooded ladies and gentlemen. By contrast, the bride's family tree, detailed on the book's inside back cover, features miners and merchants, labourers and lawyers, plasterers and airline pilots.

There's even a convicted felon on the Middleton side, one Edward Glassborow (1826-1898). So it's fair to say that in more socially rigid times, the happy couple might never have met, much less married. Indeed, Kate -- or Catherine as she now wishes to be known -- is the first commoner to marry a future monarch since 1660, when the Duke of York and future King James II secretly wed his sister's pregnant maid of honour Anne Hyde.

According to Morton, William has his mother to thank for his affable, man-of-the-people ways. Appalled by the "emotional remoteness" of her husband's family, Diana resolved to be a hands-on mum, even flouting royal tradition to bring the infant William on a lengthy tour of Australia rather than leaving him behind with his nanny.

And although William lived in a rarefied world, Diana insisted on showing him how the other half lived, on visits to meet with the underprivileged, the lonely and the terminally ill -- he even spent a night in a homeless shelter, the better to relate to its inhabitants.

But even as young William was, literally, getting down and dirty with the hoi polloi, his future bride's family was busy scaling the rarefied heights of Britain's class system. In a fascinating chapter entitled "Catherine's Heritage: From Clarence Street to Clarence House", Morton traces the Middleton family's stellar trajectory from London's impoverished Southall to the palatial London residence of the Prince of Wales and the working office of Prince William.

Although Catherine's grandparents were "as poor as church mice", her grandmother, Dorothy Goldsmith (or Lady Dorothy as she was known to her family, in deference to her airs, graces and social-climbing skills) insisted on installing her firstborn, now Catherine's mother, in a huge Silver Cross pram -- the Rolls-Royce of baby carriages. (How she'd have felt to see her grand-daughter descend from a real Rolls-Royce to wed a future king one can only imagine, the good lady herself having scaled the ultimate summit in 2006.)

Catherine's mother was no less ambitious. Having secured the position of air stewardess with British Airways back when such a career was exalted indeed, Carole took up with one Michael Middleton, an airline officer from wealthy and well-connected stock. "Unlike his new girlfriend's family," says Morton, "when the Middletons boarded a plane, they instinctively turned left, at ease in a first-class world."

Such delectable details whet the appetite for more -- and Morton fairly dishes it out. Kate, we're told, went from being a "pale, quiet, shy" schoolgirl in the exclusive Downe House boarding school, to being quite the extrovert in Britain's prestigious Marlborough College, earning herself the soubriquet 'Middlebum' for her habit of mooning at schoolboys through the dorm window "in a jolly game of 'guess the rear'".

"We'd take turns to show our bare bums to the guys to see if they could guess who they belonged to," says Kate's wonderfully indiscreet old school chum Jessica Hay. "Catherine kind of got addicted to it."

Such gossipy gems spangle the narrative throughout.

William and Catherine's paths eventually crossed at St Andrew's University, Scotland.

In "William: The Student Prince", Morton devotes an entire chapter to their initial friendship, and another to their budding relationship.

"The End of the Affair?" documents the trials and tribulations of a romance conducted in the glare of paparazzi flashbulbs; while "A Total Shock" reports on how Wills and Kate dealt with their newly single status before eventually getting back together again.

"The Road to the Abbey" traces the couple's path from the announcement of their engagement in late 2010 to the dawn of April 29 last; while the final chapter charts the minutiae of the big day from the "spine-tingling" moment when the bride appeared at the West Door of Westminster Abbey to when the happy couple zoomed down The Mall in William's old man's Aston Martin festooned with balloons.

For inveterate royal watchers (and our numbers are legion), this book's images alone justify its price tag. As well as the iconic shots we know so well -- the infant William in his romper suit; his first day at Eton; and the heart-breaking image of him and his brother following their mother's funeral cortege -- there are also fascinating snaps of a young Kate out shopping with her mum; looking the worse for wear on a student night out; and covered in lipstick and shaving foam at an end-of-term bash.

William and Catherine: Their Lives, Their Wedding is a veritable Hello! in hardback, spread over 224 lavishly illustrated pages, and a worthy addition to the shelves of royal aficionados everywhere.

Sunday Indo Living

Editors Choice

Also in Entertainment