A royal transformation: how Beatrice and Eugenie finally got the world to take them seriously(ish)
2018 has been a defining year for the British royal family: Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s whirlwind romance and fairytale wedding reinvigorated global interest in what goes on behind palace doors, Kate Middleton and Prince William welcomed their third child and well - the others are still there too.
It has been a veritable inpouring of activity, unifying both palace staff in their common and fascinated royal watchers.
After the fanfare of Meghan and Harry’s wedding, his first cousin Princess Eugenie announced she would also be marrying this year. Also in Windsor Castle. And she would also do a horse and carriage procession around the area.
The decision raised eyebrows, with one columnist accusing her of having notions above her station and asking frankly, “Who the hell does Princess Eugenie think she is?”
Most of the writer’s frustration stemmed from the fact the security costs of such a lavish and extraordinarily public event is estimated to cost more than €2m in security, paid for by the British taxpayer.
But, were they wrong in their malignment of a somewhat low ranking royal? Yes and no.
Yes, in that it’s obvious that Eugenie and her sister Beatrice see the attention bestowed on their cousins and clearly want a slice of the pie. No, in that - well, they are princesses, so processions and tiaras and over the top weddings are all part of the title.
Eugenie and Beatrice are in a unique position in royal standing: there are no cosy, full-time royal positions available for them, no rent-free apartment on the grounds of Kensington Palace, no personal stylists with a penchant for couture, dressing them in Alexander McQueen tuxedos and custom Givenchy.
They enjoy global name recognition, but work full-time, as a director at art gallery Hauser & Wirth and a business consultant respectively. Beatrice lives with her parents at Royal Lodge in Windsor and Eugenie pays market rent for her own apartment in Kensington Palace, which she shares with fiancé Jack Brooksbank.
But, while some columns were dedicated to highlighting their 15-holidays-per-year, A-list destinations and lax approach to money, others were noticing subtle changes, starting from their makeunders and lower profile holidays.
And they realised they could benefit from something that Meghan and Kate can’t - in-depth interviews and high fashion editorials in British Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. They could control their own narrative through carefully selected interviews and extensive media training.
While Meghan Markle remains silently frustrated by her father’s never-ending parade of insulting interviews, they have the luxury of having a public voice and they are using it to portray a ‘normal girl’ image.
As the tabloids were obsessively following the ‘fab four’, Beatrice and Eugenie have been, rather discreetly, working behind the scenes of revamping their image and attempting to forge their own path in the transformation of a modern monarchy.
They were the two most watched guests as they walked towards St George’s Chapel at this year’s royal wedding, thanks in no small part to their history-defining wedding guest attire at Kate Middleton and Prince William’s 2011 nuptials. Headpieces, which caused such a storm that milliner Philip Treacy said he thought there was “a moment where I thought I would find myself with my head on a spike outside the Tower of London”. His head remained intact, but any of their aspiring style icon credentials did not.
As they both walked up the cobbles of the castle, Eugenie in a powder blue Gainsbourg dress and a Jackie O-inspired pillbox hat, Beatrice in a cerulean Roksanda number - proof, if ever there was it, they were ready to show the world they were changed women.
Liz Brewer, one of the UK’s leading etiquette professionals and royal expert, told Independent.ie Style she believes their metamorphosis is a natural part of their growing up process.
“The main reason is they’re growing up. They’ve gone through their teenage years, in a world in in which it must be fairly complicated to navigate - they have the princess title, but at the same time, they’re not considered ‘working’ royals,” she explained. “They have jobs, but they want to be real people.”
“The fact that they are princesses means that we’ve followed these two girls growing up,” she added .“It was the same with Prince Harry, he had to grow up - thank goodness had a chance to sew his wild oats, but eventually you think, ‘Okay, now I’m a grown up, I must view life as slightly more serious.’”
And serious they are - at least, by royal standards.
Part of their newfound image is one focused on the environment and Beatrice announced that her wedding will be entirely plastic free.
But Ms Brewer said her environmental awareness will court her more public favour, explaining:
“I think this business about taking the plastics issue seriously is wonderful because they can be role models and they can lead by example and do a great deal of good. You see someone there using their status to do some good and reverse tragedies going on in the world.”
Their Vogue interview was a chance - although the sisters are clearly media trained, it remains to be seen how much advice they heed. Or perhaps they followed too literally?
Beatrice explained: "It’s hard to navigate situations like these because there is no precedent, there is no protocol."
“We are the first: we are young women trying to build careers and have personal lives, and we’re also princesses and doing all of this in the public eye,” Eugenie said, adding that they have “very understanding bosses”.
That they must.