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.


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