Perfect Pippa will always play second fiddle to Kate
Pippa Middleton grew up as the sister more likely to succeed, says Sarah Caden, and Kate's crown must be hard to accept
Published 12/07/2015 | 02:30
It's a terrible thing to peak too early. Particularly if your sister, whom you've outshone in childhood, goes on to become a bona-fide princess. So it is for Pippa Middleton, who finds herself increasingly the also-ran to her older sister, Kate, a fact that comes as a surprise to anyone who knew them growing up.
In fact, it makes perfect sense that Kate, the sister who was less exciting, more homely and less alpha-female, should end up married to the heir to the British throne. It's a position that earns one a lot of attention, but it's a fundamentally dull role that has put years on Kate and made her mumsy and almost middle-aged since she married Prince William over four years ago. Why would the more peppy Pippa - known as 'Perfect Pippa' at school - want it?
But that's not how sibling rivalry works, particularly if you're the one who used to be the brighter star, destined for better things. No matter how close the Middleton sisters are. No matter how well Pippa fares in life, she is now destined always to be compared to Kate. And how she manages that unavoidable comparison will make a massive difference to her happiness.
Last weekend, after the christening of Princess Charlotte, Pippa was accused of attempting to upstage her sister in an outfit that was similar but that bit sleeker and sharper than Kate's. It was similarly cream, similarly figure-flattering, worn with a similar pair of cream high heels and a jaunty fascinator.
Maybe their almost matching outfits were an accident, but if the Middleton sisters consulted each other in advance of the occasion, then both made an error of judgment.
For Kate's part, her Alexander McQueen cream coat-dress was beautiful and elegant and showed off her slim figure beautifully, but she looked much older than Pippa, who wore more edgy Emilia Wickstead coat-dress.
Even Kate's shoes, from her beloved and oh-so safe LK Bennett, had heels that were that bit less spindly and sexy than Pippa's. Of course, Kate had to push a pram and carry a baby while wearing her shoes, but, she looked much more than a mere two years older than 31-year-old Pippa.
Not that Pippa came out of the comparisons well, however. Her ensemble was too similar to her sister's to avoid conveying the message that anything Kate could do, she could do better. Bad move. Because that doesn't make Kate look bad, it makes Pippa look a little bit bitter. And, as everyone knows, a little bitter can turn into a lot bitter very easily. Particularly when the Middletons are now locked into a lifetime of public and private comparisons.
Pippa and Kate's relationship, to date, has involved all the inevitable compare and contrasts that come with being sisters, similar but different, but since Kate became a duchess, that has intensified. And should she find herself queen, well, Pippa needs to have found her own furrow to plough by then. Perfectly, of course.
Those who said that Pippa was out to upstage Kate last weekend inevitably harked back to Kate and William's 2011 wedding, at which the bridesmaid was deemed to look better than the bride. Both wore Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen, but it was Pippa's fitted dress that caused an international furore, along with speculation as to whether her perfect bottom had benefited from a bustle.
Regardless of whether you consider Pippa to have looked better than her bride sister at the wedding, however, you have to credit Kate Middleton with some generosity on that day. No dressing the bridesmaid badly to keep her in her place there. Instead, Kate shared the limelight with Pippa, but, in reality, that was probably the last time she really could.
Since then, Kate's life has become all about that weird duty thing the royals have. Waving, smiling, appearing unflappably benevolent, never seeming bored out of your mind at listening to one more speech or shaking one more hand. It has undeniably aged Kate, but if Pippa has any sense, she must see that Kate's lot is best suited to the beta-female and not the alpha.
The alpha, perhaps, would go bonkers being dutiful all the time, but unless Pippa carves out some brilliant career, or to be all Pride and Prejudice about it, makes a marvellous match, she's always going to come up short when compared to Kate.
Or worse, she could end up as one of those posh 'gels' who spends the rest of her life popping up at every Sloaney party and opening of an envelope, holidaying constantly and taking up space at Wimbledon, which she attended twice last week. Because it's not like she has anything much else to do.
Pippa's working life has been a mixed bag of fortunes. Her name is, of course, a great help, but it didn't help her 2011 party-planning book, Celebrate, sell more than 20,000 copies. She had a column with the Spectator that came to an end in May of this year, and a foray into television presenting for NBC in the States last year didn't get off the starting blocks.
Having been brought up in the family party-planning business, where she is said to have been a great organiser and manager, Pippa has tried to market herself as the woman with the insider knowledge on high-end hobnobbing. It may be the case, however, that no one is really interested.
We enjoy Kate as a waving, smiling voiceless mannequin, whom we regard as not quite human. People even manage to convince themselves that she's one of us, probably due to the fact that we don't often hear her voice much, or her posh accent. But with Pippa, the Hooray element is on display and, it would seem, the world isn't entirely beguiled by it. With Kate, it's part of the princess package. Pippa is part of the real world, even if she grew up in the belief that she was destined for better.
Traditionally, Pippa would have taken on a role as one of Kate's ladies-in-waiting. Diana's sister, Lady Sarah McCorquodale, was one of hers, and the Queen has cousins among her right-hand women.
Somehow, though, Pippa doesn't strike one as the beck-and-call type. She needs to decide what type she is, however, or she risks being the girl best known as Kate's sister for the rest of her life.