Kate Middleton is a fairly ordinary upper middle class Englishwoman – except, she’s about to marry a prince who is second in line to the British throne. She’s about to join “The Firm” (as the British royal family is popularly known) – a family which communicates by memos and through each individual’s Private Secretary, rather than by telephone, text or email. This family, the House of Windsor, has often been described as dysfunctional, but maybe it isn’t so much a dysfunctional unit as an unique anachronism, a family hedged in and supported by tradition to an extent that it has become disassociated from the everyday realities of modern life.
Princess Diana and the House of Windsor
If it isn’t enough of a challenge for Kate Middleton to be marrying into the House of Windsor, she is also about to become the (posthumous) daughter-in-law of one of the most iconic female figures of the modern age.
Whatever one’s opinion of the late Princess of Wales, no one can argue with the fact that her influence on the Royal Family was enormous and devastating, a blast of touchy-feely modernism sweeping through the “oh so traditional” corridors of royal privilege. It is also difficult to imagine that her influence on the wedding and marriage of the newly engaged couple will be less significant.
On the one hand, the older members of the Royal Family will be watching anxiously for any “loose cannon” traits in Kate Middleton (surely she can’t have any, they would have noticed by now), whereas the younger members, and Prince William in particular, will be looking for the fun, laughter and flaky but indisputable elegance of his late mother.
When this latest royal couple split up, albeit briefly, a few years ago, Prince William was reported to have commented that “the fun had gone out of the relationship.” Oh what a delicate balance Miss Middleton is going to have to strike to make this marriage work.
Princess Diana’s Engagement Ring
I have to admit, my heart sank when I saw that the Prince had presented his bride-to-be with his late mother’s engagement ring. The famous oval sapphire set in white gold and surrounded by diamonds (worth £28,500 when bought, worth infinitely more because of both provenance and inflation now) is so intimately connected with Diana that it seemed just plain wrong to see someone else wearing it.
Princess Diana famously remarked that there were “three people in my marriage” – in her marriage, the three people were Prince Charles, Diana and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. It looks quite likely that there may be three people in her son’s marriage as well – Prince William, Kate Middleton and Diana herself.
Maybe Kate Middleton is not a competitive girl, but there will inevitably be times during her relationship with Prince William where mention of Diana will cause her to grit her teeth, grin and bear it. Sadly, this will be her only option if she wants her relationship to last. Competing with a dead icon is a lose/lose situation unless you enter into the competition in a spirit of compromise.
Along every step of the way, comparisons will be made between the two weddings, between the two dresses and between the two styles of the main protagonists. Initially, the new bride will inevitably lose out, for Diana’s memory will be gilded by the tragic romance of her early death. In time, however, the reality of the new princess will become accepted, and as William and Kate play out their own domestic dramas, maybe Diana’s ghost will be consigned to a less central role.
Earl Spencer: The Spectre at the Feast
In the best traditions of fairy tales, the wedding is bound to have its awkward moments; Earl Spencer, as the groom’s uncle and senior member of the Spencer family, is bound to be there. No one who saw Diana’s funeral will ever forget Charles Spencer’s stunning funeral oration, a most public attack on his sister’s in-laws, delivered with passion and in the most emotive of settings.
His presence at this summer’s royal wedding will definitely send a frisson or two up and down one or two blue-blooded backbones.
A Long Life and Much Happiness
No one but the most mean spirited person could do other than wish the royal couple all the best for a glorious day and a happy future life together (despite the fact that we are living in times of austerity and debate is already taking place about who will be footing the bill for the champagne and other essential items).
It’s worth bearing in mind, though that however spectacular Diana’s sapphire engagement ring is, it’s a bauble with history, and as such, might have been better presented at some other occasion. A girl might have liked her very own engagement ring, one without strings and expectations so clearly attached. The elegant left hand of the new Princess Catherine may find that the history, if not the ring, weighs heavily.