Flash & Filigree


Let’s agree that the rather unexceptional young woman who was once Kate Middleton and is now the Duchess of Cambridge is, above all, cute, which includes perky.  Attractive, sure; appealing, sure; but really cute.  And now even pregnant, which is what princesses, recent or remote, essentially hire on to be once they marry into the rather stiff British royal family.  They produce an heir, few of them brilliant, and the rest is mostly ribbon cutting.

Good for her!  Isn’t she cute?  We like her.  It’s her sister Pippa, with her penchant for grotesque headgear, that might cause trouble, as Princess Margaret caused trouble for Queen Elizabeth II.

But neither of us is a British novelist, like Hilary Mantel, a two-time winner of the Man Booker Prize, the most coveted in English letters, who heaped a good deal of scorn on the young Duchess and did it in the reliably highbrow pages of the LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS.  Ms. Mantel didn’t call the lovely Duchess a slut, or even suggest that she was cheap.  What her charges have added up to is that the former Kate Middleton is sort of inauthentic:  a tool of publicists, a cutout or paper doll, more or less.  Even the Prime Minister of England, David Cameron, spoke up all the way from India to claim that Ms. Mantel was “completely misguided and completely wrong.”

For once, our opinions and the Prime Minister’s coincide:  young Kate has comported herself admirably.  For one thing, she has shown good sense in not flinging herself into this silly controversy, which blazed across the internet like a vast grassfire.  Nearly every major newspaper and magazine responded, and what we were reminded of, over and over again, was the vicious nature of British journalism.  The hacks (as the British press refer to themselves) practice a kind of slash-and-burn journalism, and nowhere do their attacks acquire more beady-eyed focus than when they train their guns, some very accurate, on the royal family.

And in the back of their minds, if they happen to be thinking of princesses and duchesses at all, is the memory of the one iconic princess of our time:  Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales.  A revealing part of the controversy has been the way the family card was frequently played.  The family of the Duchess of Cambridge is thought not to be entirely “top card.”  Princess Diana’s family, on the other hand, was better than that of the family she married into:  after all, Winston Churchill himself was among her ancestors.

Larry was fortunate enough to see her in the Reagan White House in 1980, when she and her husband were visiting across the water promoting the glorious Treasure Houses of Britain Show at the National Gallery.

Princess Diana was all of twenty-three years old then, tall, beautiful, full of grace.  She danced with Clint Eastwood at that party, and she danced with President Reagan.  Then John Travolta was provided as a dance partner, and they danced splendidly.  Watching her, we all hoped she would live forever.  Dance forever.

But she was, as Hilary Mantel acutely observed, “the carrier of the myth.”

And the myth she carried involved doom:  Diana died tragically in a tunnel in Paris, chased by paparazzi in hot pursuit of the myth.

As for the Duchess of Cambridge, it will all fall into place.  We both believe that the young Miss Middleton has already made herself a solid enough position in the world of late Hanoverians which is British royal life.

— Larry & Diana

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