Though generally in favour of any excuse for a knees-up, ten years ago today, as the country was hung with bunting and Prince William prepared to marry Catherine Middleton, I revelled in my role as the wedding’s chief mourner. Why should I get excited about a decorative air-head marrying a balding prince? Where were we? Monaco?
Even two years in I was determined to pour scorn on the harmless young couple: “Prissy… simpering… clothes horse… will only ever be remembered as one of the House of Windsor’s plus-ones… Diana Lite,” I snarked in the Daily Mail of all places.
To be fair, I have always admitted to being just about the worst judge of character in Christendom; put me in a room with three saints and a sociopath and we all know who I’d be blood brothers with by sunrise. True to form, just a few years after laying into the Duchess of Cambridge, I was bigging up a certain American actress thus: “Meghan Markle has never waited soppily for some prince to rescue her. In fact, it seems far likelier that it is she who will rescue the prince.”
What happened to make me transfer my allegiance from Sussex to Cambridge? Two things: hypocrisy and the pandemic.
The first can largely be blamed on the House of Sussex. There is, after all, something grating about lecturing hoi polloi about carbon footprints when your Louboutins are click-clacking up the steps of Elton John’s private jet for the nth time. Later, while their subjects were being told not to leave their houses, there was something farcical about the speed with which the Sussexes struck out for what one feels was their destination all along: a gated community in La La Land; slipping over the Canadian border like draft-dodgers in reverse.
How different from the home life of our own dear future queen. Kate has had a good pandemic, upbeat and modest, sharing photographs of the children and her thoughts on home-schooling; visiting businesses affected by lockdown and just getting on with it. Her appearance at the Sarah Everard vigil was unexpected and beautifully judged; she looked like a thoughtful, sad student performing a silent and simple act of sisterhood.
I couldn’t help but compare it to Meghan’s scenery-eating style of feminism, which at its worst saw her writing “inspirational messages” for sex workers on bananas. We all know a Meghan. Sitting on her throne of sorrows, she is the moist-eyed paragon of passive-aggressiveness, soldiering bravely on in the hope that someone will find the heart to ask: “Are you ok?” As for those not brave enough to break free from the Firm, especially that stuck-up sister-in-law with her stiff upper lip — well, she’s just trapped and bottling it all up. Far better to let it all hang out and hold a pity party on prime-time TV.
How unlike Kate. She seems refreshingly liberated from the modern notion that mithering on about one’s troubles will in some way solve them; the Markle-isation of mental health, whereby the super-privileged signal that they too are in pain, so please don’t envy them all this lovely stuff. The Heads Together initiative — led by the Cambridges and Harry — may tick the fashionable boxes, but it appears to have far more to do with service than with therapy: supporting young people, veterans and homeless charities.
Meanwhile, the pandemic has made us impatient with the rich and famous lamenting their lives from luxury fortresses, something which led to the all-time low audience for the Oscars on Sunday. In Kate, we see the difference between righteousness and self-righteousness, between stoicism and splattering one’s problems all over the shop.
Everything she did which I judged so ungenerously a decade ago reflects well on her now. “Waity Katie” passed the test which far more aristocratic young women have failed: the ability to stare straight back into a spotlight with perfect self-possession.
Though the likes of me gushed over Meghan for bringing “diversity” to the House of Windsor, we failed to register that the descendant of coal-miners and trolley dollies was equally as ground-breaking, and certainly more mocked by her prince’s inner circle (“Doors to manual!”) than Meghan ever was for her mixed-race heritage. Kate even has an embarrassing relation of her own; frisky Uncle Gary, proud owner of the Ibiza shag-pad known as La Maison de Bang Bang, who was welcomed whole-heartedly to the wedding.
She always gives the impression of having known what she wanted, and to be happy with what she has — an attractive quality in a world where screwing up and then griping about it passes for being “authentic” and where those who wear their troubles lightly are accused of being “in denial”. Much as I adored Diana, and found her expressions of emotion affecting and fresh, such travails are now the norm; everyone has an eating disorder, everyone doesn’t get on with their in-laws.
Similarly, I suspect she knows that another bout of over-privileged marital combat played out at peak viewing time is not something the public wants or needs. No one knows what goes on in any marriage and though the Cambridge’s relationship was subject to the usual tittle-tattle about William’s “affair” and her “rural rival” a few years back, they appear to have come through the rumours even stronger.
Most of all, I like Kate for what she doesn’t do as much as for what she does. She will never throw herself down a flight of stairs, have her toes sucked by an ugly American or travel on a plane called the Lolita Express. Not yet forty, she is maturing from a coltish girl to a grande dame; at the funeral of Prince Philip, perfectly coiffed and clothed and masked, I thought she had a look of the actress Claire Bloom, in the way a young Queen Elizabeth did too.
And so the soft spot that even a hardened republican like me has for Queen Elizabeth II appears to be transferring to her granddaughter-in-law, the perfect queen-in-waiting. It’s telling that the only members of the family not to see an upswing in popularity after Prince Philip’s funeral were Harry and Meghan, reflecting as it did a life of service so profound that it was the only time I recall the deceased giving express instructions that they should not be given a eulogy. The fashion for publicly foisting one’s emotions which marked this century’s Troubled Teens is hopefully on the way out, helped along by this young woman of humble origins who appears to believe that “Never complain, never explain” is a pretty good rule to live by.