How long before the royals hate Kate?
The saving of the modern-day British monarchy, writes Sarah Caden, has been the middle-class Middleton in their ranks
Published 03/01/2016 | 02:30
When Kate Middleton and Prince William were first going out together, as students at St Andrew's University in Scotland, the story went that she had a poster of him on her wall as a schoolgirl. The story, whether true or not, had a double effect. It started the spin that the middle-class Middletons were ruthlessly ambitious and on the make for the monarchy from Kate's teens. And it also set up the notion that Kate was in awe of the young prince.
Ah, those were the days. The days when William still had his good looks and his hair. The days when he was the catch of the century. To look at the third in line to the throne at Sandringham on Christmas Day however, was to see that the golden age of William, now Duke of Cambridge, is over. Now, it's all about his wife and the realisation that if anyone has married well in that union, it's William.
It was Kate who had the regal bearing as the Windsors made their annual outing to church. William was a sort of wan companion to her cool poise and the female cousins and sisters-in-law dressed as though they'd tried to second-guess what she might wear. Kate, in her jaunty little hat and forest-green coat, with its thin belt worn to show off her long and narrow waist was a study in apparently effortless chic.
There was nothing try-hard about her, and nothing awe-struck either.
But maybe, when it comes to the Windsors, the age of awe is over. Maybe it was awe and being placed on pedestals that got them in trouble with their marriages, with Diana, with public frustration at their idle entitlement.
Maybe a touch of middle-class ambition and relative ordinariness is what they needed to endear them again to the British public, and maybe that's what Kate Middleton is doing for them. They don't know how to be more like their subjects, it's just not in them, but middle-class Middleton has seen both sides. And she's worked both extremely well.
Of course, the notion that Kate is middle class is a bit bogus. It sounds good, but Kate Middleton is pretty posh compared to the rest of us. Her parents are worth millions, she and her sister Pippa both went to school at £10k-per-year Marlborough College, and her accent is as cut-glass as her husband's. She's from the same social world as the prince and there is no Eliza Doolittle element to her inculcation into royalty.
What sets the Middletons apart from Kate's in-laws, however, is that they have worked for and earned their money. Much is made of Carole Middleton as a modern day Mrs Bennet of Pride and Prejudice, royally ambitious for her daughter while saddled with a brother whose Ibiza villa is called Maison de Bang Bang.
Yet Carole - a former flight attendant, in case you've forgotten - is not to be sniffed at as, with her husband Michael, she's a self-made millionaire. That's a world away from being a Windsor, with a taxpayer-funded allowance and a sense of self-entitlement from birth.
In the 21st Century, the princess who knows the value of a few quid is more appealing, perhaps, than the one born in an ivory tower.
And this is what places Kate in a category all of her own in the UK royal family. It sets her apart from the likes of Princess Beatrice, the elder daughter of Prince Andrew, who went on a reported 15 holidays last year, without having what you might call a paying job. And this perceived ordinary-Jane-made-good image also sets Kate apart from the likes of Sarah Ferguson and Prince Edward's wife, Sophie Wessex, who are just too throwback-Hooray Henrietta to suit modern tastes.
Kate is, of course, possessed of certain Diana qualities, and echoes of her late mother-in-law are to be seen in everything from her easy way with the adoring public, to her charm with children, to her heavy eye liner.
But Kate is no Diana, and again that comes back to her non-aristo origins.
There is no high-bred skittishness in Kate. Nor is there the "bolter" of a lost mother, as there was in Diana's background, and which created in her that need that was impossible to satisfy but that wasn't exactly helped by marrying a man who didn't love her. Worse, in fact, who loved someone else.
Where Charles and Diana's union was rooted in the old world of arranged, suitable matches, almost obligatory infidelity and a weird combination of dutiful humility and superiority, William and Kate's has been a love match.
They didn't grow up together, they got together in college, broke up, reunited and wed. Any awe she might have had for him in the early days is long gone and he seems to protect her carefully from the overexposure that made and broke his mother.
To cast William and Kate's partnership as one where he is protecting her from the perils of royalty is to misread where the power lies, however. The relative ordinariness of his in-laws has been the making of William.
Like his father before him, William suffered from a lack of consistent domestic warmth in his childhood, but his involvement with the Middletons seems to be filling that need in him. The Middletons seem to be a close unit into which he slots easily, with some complaints that the Windsors struggle to get a look-in. No harm, some might say, looking at their track record.
There may be those among the Windsors who cannot believe what's unfolding in front of their eyes. It's worse, in some ways, than the Diana thing. At least they could relate to where she was coming from. Kate is an utterly different kettle of fish.
The royals are people who set more store than any of us can imagine in their stock and their status and the fact that they are special and set apart.
Accepting a lower-stock blow-in is one thing, but watching how the world has fallen in love with Kate is a different thing. That speaks not only of an acceptance of her, but a rejection of them and who they have been for centuries.
Telling was the recent cover story on one of the US tabloids, which claimed a romance between Prince Harry and Kate's younger sister, Pippa.
That, it seems, would be the dream double date - the two princes and their commoner-to-consort partners. It's the stuff of fairytales, but royal tradition has never been a fairytale, until it got muddled up with the middle-class Middletons.
If the Windsors have sense, they will be grateful for the commoner making them look good. But, then, sense has never been their strength. They could turn Kate into the new Diana yet.