Her Royal Dullness - Is Kate Middleton too safe and nice?
After the disastrous Diana years, the Windsors are happy they now have the perfect princess in Kate. But is she too safe and nice to keep the taxpaying public interested?
Do not adjust your newspaper… what you are indeed seeing on the Prince William and Kate Middleton's current Indian tour is lamb dressed as mutton.
With her one concession to trendy style being a €10 pair of Accessorize earrings, Kate has decided to play it safe with her wardrobe as she tours the East. Very safe.
There won't be any risk of a verbal faux-pas from Kate either, more's the pity; when asked about how she dropped her pregnancy weight, there was nary a hint of mischief in her response. "Running after my kids," she trilled.
In saying and doing nothing out of the ordinary, Kate and Wills have barely put a foot wrong (well, unless you count one unkind report which revealed a certain 'transgression'… Kate showing her unpedicured toes). Still, no doubt the Windsors and their PR team consider the couple's Indian trip a resounding success. Even barefoot Kate is on message as the earthy, average, high-street mum.
Newspaper headlines have been bubbling of late with accusations of frumpiness, and truth be told, there's more than a whiff of the Sunday after-church bake sale about Kate and Wills. With the stiffened gait of a couple nearing their golden anniversary, the bloom of young love, and the pleasing sheen of youth, is well and truly gone. When you're a woman whose every public appearance is as dissected and rerun by the world's lenses, it's probably a prudent idea to err on the side of caution. But there's no escaping the unseemly truth: the new British blue blood is suffering a severe case of anaemia. And it's safe to say that the royal family - or 'The Firm' - couldn't be happier at William's choice of pleasant wife.
But even if Buckingham Palace's courtiers are happy at this drama-free branch of the family tree, what do the public think? The royals may enjoy an exalted, seemingly unimpeachable societal position. But the fact remains; the British taxpayer is footing the bill. And in a world where high-octane glamour, drama and oversharing celebrities are a dime a dozen, the public no doubt want a bang for their buck. It's one thing to kill a monarchy with scandal; quite another to kill it by kindness, by dulling it to death and denying it a spectacular blaze of glory on the way out.
Former BBC correspondent Christopher Lee, who wrote Monarchy Past, Present… and Future, has also articulated that the future of the royal family could well be in doubt. Recently, the writer caused controversy when he suggested he did not believe that Prince George, the couple's firstborn, would ever become king.
"Since the Victorians, the royals have had a glamorous and imperial air and I don't think that will exist when William gets to the throne, while (Kate) will be not quite mumsy, but dull," he says. "I think the gloss is wearing off her now. There's nothing exciting about the couple. And as they approach middle age, the public will get used to a nation of euro-royalty in the Danish, Dutch and Belgian mould - nice people but rather dull and inoffensive."
Thirty years ago, when Wills was a babe in arms - and a sight more cheeky and carefree than he is now - the public got aforesaid bang for their buck, and then some. His mother, Princess Diana, was a loose cannon with a seemingly ceaseless appetite for glamour and scandal. First peering out shyly to the world's cameras from behind a page-boy fringe, the one-time nanny found her footing on the A-list, enraging The Firm in the process. As time wore on, and as her marriage to Charles eroded, Diana became more media savvy; more comfortable in the high-wattage glare of her limelight. Finally, Britain had their Jackie O. Their Princess Grace.
You'll no doubt remember the Dynasty-style saga from those heady days of yore, all super yachts and talk of colonic irrigation. As if Diana wasn't entertainment enough, along came Prince Andrew's marriage to flame-haired Fergie. Soap watchers were in clover as the newspaper headlines became ever more salacious. And with Diana and Fergie in cahoots like two giddy schoolgirls, it really was a fabulous combustion of spirited high jinks, scandal and mischief. The British public couldn't get enough, even if the queen herself considered it a worrying nadir for her family.
It's perhaps no coincidence that, with the future of the monarchy effectively resting on the couple's shoulders, that the queen has taken a special interest in Kate. This has meant schooling her in the fine arts of being an old-school monarch. There will be no talk of colonic irrigations in Kate's future, at least under Elizabeth's watch. Communications guru Terry Prone, however, thinks that Kate's alignment with the queen is a positive move.
"Dull is what the royals need to be," she counters. "When the queen was in Ireland, she bowled everyone over by being witty and charming, but proper. The problem with royals like Diana is that they had no judgment and believed that when she was in the paper, it was somehow a validation of her existence. I think in that respect, and as one of the most photographed women in the world, Kate is really playing a blinder."
Yet where Diana acted and said before thinking, thus tearing down the wall between royal and subject, her son Wills and his wife are inscrutable to the point of frustration. Earlier this year, the couple took a top-secret ski holiday to France with George and daughter Charlotte, only alerting the press once they had touched down and unpacked their fleeces. In the past, selected photographers were selected to capture the royals on the slopes, and some baulked that the age-old Faustian pact - the royals' fabulous lifestyle, in exchange for media access to it - had folded.
And the backlash is very much in the post. Some have commented on a series of PR gaffes and blunders that have befallen Wills of late, despite his perfectly controlled efforts; announcing the need to curb illegal poaching after a shooting trip, or giving an address at the Foreign Office that was unwittingly pro-Europe. For now, it's up to Wills' brother Harry to fly the flag and sate those members of the public thirsty for charm, spirit and a dash of cheekiness.
Still, it's not all bad for Kate and Wills. The 'Kate effect' - her considerable influence over British style followers - is still very much at full pelt. According to London based consultants Brand Finance, it's only a mater of time before the 'Charlotte effect' detonates. While Kate is said to be worth £4.7bn (€5.9bn) to the British economy, Charlotte is, at 11 months, said to be worth £3bn already, with her birth alone generating economic benefits of more than £100m. Perhaps rumours of the royals' imminent demise are greatly exaggerated, after all. But the smart moneys it'll take more than a Silver Cross pram and a few Orla Kiely outfits to keep them at the top of the pile.