Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Meet The Middletons

More than two billion people are expected to watch the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton next month and surely the spectacle won't disappoint. I've been told they're scrubbing every inch of Westminster Abbey for the occasion. They have also been hard at work at the Windsor garage polishing the Rolls that Kate has selected for her ride to the church. She eschewed the Glass Coach used by both Princess Diana and Sarah Ferguson (who, by the way, is not invited) for their weddings. The 'official' royal wedding website is doing its best to spin every photo of the couple into the 'Wedding of the Century' narrative.

As a long time royal watcher and someone who is absolutely sick of the endless Z-list of nobodies who pass for celebrities on this side of the pond, I've been more than willing to buy into the fairy tale but for some reason, I've not completely sold on the couple's newly minted superstardom. While William and Kate are both attractive (although he looks alarmingly more like his uncle Edward every day), rich and well-dressed, they just aren't that interesting -- yet. As I have written in previous posts, I think the real fun will begin when the inevitable ground swell of support gains momentum for William to become the next King instead of Prince Charles. Just this week, two separate polls in the UK showed a majority of Britons are in favor of the idea. There's never been any question that the idea of Queen Camilla isn't exactly a popular one.

Once the wedding has occurred and the day comes when the happy couple announces they are expecting their own bundle of joy, I predict the succession story will be the central drama in the lives of the royal family.

For now, I think it's much more interesting to take a look at the supporting players in William and Kate's story, The Middleton family. It's a testament to how much good will is out there for the couple because Kate's family -- both immediate and extended -- is tabloid gold but has been largely left alone by most outlets who are content to focus on the 'fairy tale' aspect of the story.

The stories of Kate's uncle, Gary Goldsmith (Carole's brother) read like a Judith Krantz novel. If he lived here in the states, he's be fielding offers from MTV and Bravo to star in his own reality show. From his $10 million home in Ibiza, 'Maison de Bang Bang,' he was caught in a sting operation allegedly "dealing cocaine and fixing hookers" by undercover reporters from News of the World. (They're the same folks that got Fergie on tape selling access to Prince Andrew) Gary also bragged to reporters about the private time he had spent with William and Kate and at one time said he's have access to Buckingham Palace once the couple wed. He's still on the invite list -- for now.

Closer to home there's Kate's younger brother, James Middleton, who could prove to be the Roger Clinton of the mix given his fondness for alcohol and his predilection for being photographed in unfortunate situations. One can't help but wonder what the advisors at St. James' Palace think of the images of Kate's brother sporting one of her dresses and fuchsia lipstick as well as shots of him sitting stark naked in front of a fireplace with a beer close by that have been circulating on the Internet for ages. An enterprising fellow, he seems to be a bit of a publicity hound as evidenced by his willingness to give an interview to Hello! a few years back to promote his fledgling cake making company -- part of the the Middleton family business. The Queen was not amused when she learned one of James' cakes featured the likeness of Princess Diana. If he forms an alliance with Tom Parker Bowles, Camilla's onetime drug-addled, wayward son who now runs a 'high-end' concierge service, things could get really interesting around the holiday dinner table.

Frequently described as 'the pretty one,' it is widely believed that Pippa Middleton, Kate's younger sister, will become her lady in waiting without having to worry about the dreary royal duties that will consume her sister. Says one insider : "She's the fun one and a bit naughty. She's always had a magnetic effect on men. She's a Chelsea party girl." Before Kate officially landed Wills, she and her younger sister were known in certain circles as 'The Wisteria Sisters' because they were "highly decorative, fragrant and have a ferocious ability to climb." Pippa's newly minted title as 'the most eligible girl in England' is sure to make things a lot easier in that department. Already, plugged into the royal social set (she pals around with Prince Harry's longtime love Chelsy Davy and Fergie's girls, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie) he penchant for the good life once she steps into the reflected glare of her sister's spotlight could keep the British tabs very busy.

Without doubt, the most fascinating member of the Middleton clan is Kate's mother, Carole. Legend has it that it was the former British Airways air hostess turned self-made millionaire who convinced Kate to apply to St. Andrews after it was announced William would be attending the school. The Middletons have never commented on the story but there is little doubt that having come from a working class background (granddad was a coal miner) that Carole wanted the best for her daughters. Often spotted shopping in her favorite look -- skinny jeans and high boots -- she is her daughters' key fashion advisor and is reportedly working overtime to make sure she looks her best on Kate's big day. As for Kate's dad, Michael, he has wisely said little to the press and I've yet to see one photo of him out and about. By all accounts, the former aviation specialist responsible for checking planes before take-off (he met Carole when they were both working for British Airways) is an easy-going, sensible fellow who has an excellent relationship with William (who has been known to call him 'Dad')

Several royal insiders have told me there are some (Camilla?) that feel Carole is too much of a striver to fit ever really fit in. (I suspect Diana would have loved her) There have been plenty of swipes at Carole's perceived social gaffes over the years. Her gum chewing at Sandhurst during William's graduation from the Royal Military Academy was widely reported as a sign of her gauche behavior. Even more horrifying -- she greeted the Queen with "Pleased to meet you" instead of the proper "How do you do?"

The pressure Kate's parents must feel to stay out of the limelight and the worry they justifiably must have that a Middleton relative could become too big a story must be enormous. The good news for them is Williams is very fond of both Carole and Michael and that should go a long way in keep things civilized behind the palace walls. Still, these are 'regular' folks going up against a family that managed to marginalize the most famous woman in the world when she became too big a problem and wouldn't tow the party line. I'd be very, very careful.

Photo credits: Stefan Rousseau WPA Pool/Getty Images; Samir Hussein/WireImage.com

Monday, March 14, 2011

"The Bachelor" Alums: Where Are They Now?

An edited version of this story appeared in The New York Post yesterday. Here is my full report:

Chances are someone will get engaged on tonight’s season finale of “The Bachelor,” but the odds of Brad Womack actually walking down the aisle with the woman he picks are pretty slim. (Especially since this is his second time on the show) In the ten years on the air there have been only two weddings – both televised, of course -- to come from fifteen ‘Bachelors’ and six ‘Bachelorettes.’ Still, series creator Mike Fleiss says, “In terms what we do, it’s a miracle. It’s hard to find true love in eight weeks of shooting.” While there have been countless hook-ups and couplings among the shows’ tear-stained rejects, only the original ‘Bachelorette’ Trista Rehn and Ryan Sutter married as a result of a rose ceremony. But Fleiss says the show is on a “hot streak” now with “two out of the last four couples” getting married. (Jason Resnick actually married runner-up Molly Malaney; Ali Fedotowsky and Roberto Martinez haven’t set a date yet).

Looking back on the series’ boulevard of broken hearts Fleiss says, “A million things get in the way. For some of the men the fact that they become celebrities and are very popular with the ladies goes to their head.” And, of course, there are those cads who are looking for a career boost, not a wife. “There were several bachelors that I knew were full of it and were never going to commit to a relationship.” Shocking, but true.

Here’s a look at what some of the series’ most infamous alumni are up to today:

Bob Guiney
(Season 4)
After being rejected by “Bachelorette” Trista Sutter, Guiney became the show’s hot tub king and gave Estella Gardinier a ‘promise ring’ but spilt with her shortly after the show wrapped. Guiney wed soap star Rebecca Budig who he met when she was hosting “The Bachelor XYZ,” a recap show on ABC Family. “I fell in love on “The Bachelor,” it just wasn’t the way everyone thought it would happen.” The couple, who were married for five years, officially spilt last summer. “Now we both share a studio lot,” says Guiney who lives in Los Angeles. “We’re still really close.” He’s managed to parlay is “Bachelor” fame into regular TV gigs on TLC and The Game Show Network. So how’s his love life? “I’ve been married and divorced and now I keep my personal life personal,” says Guiney who’ll only say he’s “dating.” “No matter where I go, I’m still ‘Bachelor Bob.’”

Jason Mesnick
(Season 13)
Divorced dad Jason Mesnick became the most hated “Bachelor” ever when he dumped fiancé Melissa Rycroft on national television and minutes later asked runner-up Molly Malaney to take him back. “My dilemma was that producers told me Molly was the next “Bachelorette.” We had these contracts. They told me if I wanted to talk to her, I had do it on air.” Despite having Fleiss foot the bill for his TV wedding to Malaney last year, Mesnick says, “The ‘I love yous’ on the show aren’t real.” That isn’t stopping the former insurance agent-turned-social media consultant from launching a “Bachelor” trivia game on Facebook later this year.

Melissa Rycroft
(Season 13)

The best thing that ever happened to Rycroft was getting dumped by Mesnick. Just days later after being humiliated on national television she was swirling around in sequins on “Dancing With the Stars.” She reunited with her ex, Tye Strickland, who she married last year. Rycroft gave birth to the couple’s first child, Ava Grace, last month and will soon return to her cushy gig as a contributor on “Good Morning America.”

Jake Pavelka
(Season 14)

Forget about romance, flighty pilot Pavelka says the best thing that came from being on “The Bachelor” was landing on “Dancing With the Stars.” “It’s one of the funnest things I’ve ever done in my life,” says the aspiring actor who has appeared on “The Bold & The Beautiful.” Pavelka insists he “absolutely” thought he would find love on the show. These days he’s dating wedding planner Megan Jones. “We’re not exclusive. She sees other people and so do I.” Does that mean Pavelka would pull a Brad Womack and return to “The Bachelor”? “I’d never say never, but I wouldn’t do it for free this time.”

Vienna Girardi
(Season 14)

After her relationship with toxic bachelor Pavelka went down in flames on national television last May Girardi says, “It took me months before I could watch that break-up interview. I’m still getting over it.” Today Girardi is living with a roommate in Los Angeles trying to jump start an acting career and is “dating someone who has done the TV thing and knows what it’s like to be talked about and hear lies about themselves.” She still believes that you can find love on television – and would like Fleiss to put her on “Bachelor Pad” to prove it. “Even though a lot of people didn’t find love on the show, I absolutely believe you can find love from the show like so many people have.”

The Bachelor airs tonight on ABC at 8 pm ET followed by After The Final Rose

Monday, March 7, 2011

Kate's New Job: Shilling for the Royals

The wedding of Prince William and Kate (excuse me, Catherine) Middleton is proving to be the line in the sand for the royal family that was and the royal family that will be. If I didn't know better I'd say the Queen employed some savvy marketing research firms to figure out just how to best leverage the occasion and remind her British subjects of just how essential the royals are in age where an increasingly number of Brits and detractors are asking, 'Why do we need these people? What purpose do they serve?"

Back in the day, the royals -- at least the Queen and Prince Charles -- resented the publicity Diana got and many of the "men in grey" found it unseemly. Today, the Queen isn't just taking a page of out the People's Princess' playbook; she's going viral with it!

The official royal website, unveiled last week, is full of all things Kate. From the "official" bio of the duchess (some are betting princess) in waiting which lists her numerous hobbies including "hill walking" (who knew?) and offers a look at numerous Middleton family photos (sans Kate's troublesome, drug addled uncle as well as rare photos of Babykins and Big Willy (the couple's endearing nicknames for one another) during the early years of their romance at St. Andrews. There are even videos of the couple shot by St. James Palace's own RoyalChannel. Who needs CNN?

When I saw that every second of the couple's first walkabout last week when they returned to St. Andrews was covered in photos and on video I couldn't help but think back to the Diana era where the young princess was simply thrust out into the voracious crowds who were dazzled by her nascent stardom. At the time, royal watchers had to content themselves with their weekly doses of Diana in People and OK! When I was researching my book, Diana The Secrets of Her Style, I was completely amazed to discover a whole series of photographs documenting the first time Diana had done her first walkabout in Wales after becoming engaged to Prince Charles. Prior to my unearthing them in a photo agency archive, I had never seen them before.

On one hand, the sight of Kate in her bright red structured suit and black tights striding around St. Andrews last week seemed like a flashback to the Diana era. But it's unlikely lightening is going to twice. In the packaging of Kate as the People's Princess 2.0 -- and make no mistake about it, that's exactly what the royals are doing -- I think the royal decision makers are making a gross miscalculation.

Part of Diana's mystique, aside from her natural born star power, was her inaccessibility. Most Americans never heard her speak until that infamous interview she did with Martin Bashir when she famously said, 'There were three of us in this marriage" alluding to Prince Charles' affair with Camilla Parker Bowles. The particular alchemy of Diana's stardom was a rare blend of aspirational and accessible qualities that dazzled. No amount of blog posts from St. James' Palace can turn Kate into a more manageable, palatable (to the royal family) Diana.

By launching their own public relations campaign for Kate (and William, who must hate this because of his well-documented distain for the press), she's become, as the saying goes, 'Just like Us' and in my estimation, that's not necessarily a good thing.

In this era of instanteous and disposable celebrity, Kate has far more people to compete with for attention -- let alone adulation. With her every move being documented on the royals own site as well as those which lump the royals into the same mash-up that covers the Real Housewives and Charlie Sheen, she hardly seems like the aspirational figure Diana was. It's a simple mathematical equation that I've discovered. In the Internet age, say, for instance, your star power is of the 100 watt variety. We're talking strictly A-list here. If you launch your own website and hold forth on everything from fashion to parenting, your 'wow' factor is diminished by half. As proof of my theory I give you Gwyneth Paltrow. But if, you are strictly a B-lister and do the same, it's a near certainty you increase your star power in equal measure. Exhibit A: Kim Kardashian. Makes sense, doesn't it?

The great irony here is that just when the royals have decided to opt for mass over class, they should be doing precisely the opposite. The world is over-populated with 'celebrities' that are 'Just Like us!' What's next, a 'Who Wore it Better: Kate or Snooki?' The real fascination with the royals has always been rooted in their so-far-removed- from-anything-remotely-normal existence. I, for one, don't want to see photos of Kate and Wills grocery shopping.

What is lacking in our celebrity obsessed culture is glamour -- real glamour. Intellectual glamour, if you will. Diana offered it to us in an intriguing packaging with a sense of purpose that made her even more fascinating. It was the power of her style that enabled her to accomplish her humanitarian goals. When she was photographed during that last summer of her life with Dodi Fayed she was veering perilously close to tabloid territory. And then just like that, her shocking death catapulted her into the celebrity stratosphere.

Kate is more lucky (at least to some) than fascinating. She hit the social status jackpot and because of that, we're interested in seeing what comes next. She's broken into the royal family by perseverance (dubbed 'Waity Katy' for putting up with William's fear of commitment for so long) and is now living a very interesting life that sounds like the basis for a Lifetime movie. (I guess that's why the network is making one) She isn't giving up a career to become a royal. She worked only for a short time at Jigsaw, a kind of Ann Taylor-like High Street retailer before quitting and helping out in the family business, Party Pieces, that made the family millionaires. It's the same narrative that belongs to plenty of young women here in Greenwich, Connecticut. Hardly fascinating.

Now her sole job, whether she likes it or not, is seemingly to prop up the reputation of the royals. Given the dedication to William she showed during the near decade she waited for him to propose, it's unlikely she'll rock the boat. She'll smile for the cameras, shake hands and accept flowers from small children who line the streets when she's making official engagements. I'm guessing she will be giving the 'official' wedding website details about the ceremony that will send the tabloids into overdrive. I predict her dress will likely be designed by Sarah Burton at McQueen and by the time the wedding is here all will be unveiled when the 'exclusive' details are posted on the royals' official site. What fun is that?

Here's hoping Kate shows some backbone and doesn't become the royals show pony. A little mystery would go a long, long way.

I suspect the true fascination with Kate will lie in how she navigates her way through one of the most famously dysfunctional families of the modern age. Everything's hunky dory now, but the moment there appears to be momentum among the British people for William to be king and Kate, England's new queen, all bets are off. Camilla won't stand for that. Mark my words.

But don't hold your breath for the official royal website to touch that one with a ten foot pole.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Review of the 83rd Academy Awards

Will wonders ever cease? After years of a less than stellar red carpet, last night’s Academy Awards finally managed to deliver A-list fashion worthy of the endless coverage it receives. As has been the case for the past several years, there was no clear cut fashion winner but for those who got it right their style savvy choices will undoubtedly deliver the desired PR boost for both the wearer and the designer. It couldn’t come at a better time.

Click here for the full report.