The Age of Wills & Kate

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Has the age of Wills & Kate began? – As the summer came to an end – traditionally the ‘silly season’ for journalists facing a dearth of political news – there was one very significant development. Beleaguered PM Tony Blair confirmed that he would hand over the reins of power within a year. It was an exciting moment and may have been something of a relief to a certain young couple – Prince William and Kate Middleton – whose late summer holidays had been closely followed by the media. Hard news took over from soft news as the PM’s announcement led to turmoil in the Labour Party and dominated the headlines, while William and Kate briefly slipped from the limelight. There were, however, some lessons to be drawn from the formerly popular PM’s predicament – announcing one’s own political demise is always a dangerous business. Tony Blair had given in to intense pressure and finally put a limit on his third term as PM but those who want him out are saying, “go now”.

As a politician Blair’s hand was forced, but the event does provide a parallel for William and Kate, who have determinedly resisted pressure to confirm the seriousness of their relationship, in effect to name a date, albeit a happy one as the start of a new royal era. The reaction to the PM’s statement shows that trying to appease speculation may not actually be the best course. William’s caution has certainly caused him some problems, but being rushed to the altar, even if that is what he and Kate want, could be disastrous. At the same it is clear that they cannot prevaricate forever and preparations for William’s future are underway. The revitalised monarchy, buoyed by Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall’s successful transition to married life and celebrations of the Queen’s 80th birthday, is an institution as cautious as the Labour Party has been since its historic rebirth in the 1997 election. Mistakes, it is felt, cannot be afforded. Foremost amongst royal fears is of Prince William being sucked into a media vortex as soon as his engagement is announced. Although the high-wire balancing act has in some respects already gone on too long, there is a firm conviction that it is absolutely vital to “get it right this time”. The tension shows as speculation of an announcement has been rife since the spring but, even short of that, no wholly conclusive signal has as yet been given. William may be certain about Kate and she him, but he is much less certain when he should make the transition from relatively carefree bachelorhood to betrothed prince. It is understandable as when an engagement announcement comes it will not only spark a media-frenzy, for William personally it will be the moment he settles into life as a full time working member of the Royal Family. A natural enough stance for a young man, but this ambiguity has meant that the media, and of course the paparazzi photographers, chase William and Kate in search of any picture they can sell as proof of an impending marriage. William’s aim of keeping some room for manoeuvre has only intensified the media coverage. Although it is understandably unwelcome to the couple, no one can deny the genuine public interest surrounding them.

Recent events gave little away and superficially William and Kate’s relationship appears in stasis. There were the expected paparazzi following the couple during their holiday in Africa and Spain and some speculative articles comparing Kate to the late Princess Diana; which it can be noted were from solid publications, namely The Daily Mail and, interestingly, America’s People Magazine. So, what we got were some nice images and some flattering commentary. Allison Pearson in The Daily Mail complimented Kate – “who looked like Aphrodite’s sensible sister in a white bikini on holiday in Ibiza” – whilst advising her to get a firm commitment before moving in with her prince. How times have changed! But as to where we are in the story of William and Kate seemed no clearer. So, if the press could not define the moment could someone else? Back in 1992 millions will recall that it was Andrew Morton’s ‘Diana: Her True Story’ that defined the year when Prince Charles and Diana’s troubles finally became impossible to conceal. That most famous of royal books was a unique event, written with the cooperation of the unhappy Diana and, justifiably, caused a sensation. It was, and remains, a defining moment.

For the monarchy Prince William’s marriage is the next big thing, of more symbolic importance than the Prince of Wales’ remarriage last year. Robert Jobson’s ‘William’s Princess: The Love Story That Will Change The Royal Family Forever’ is not, despite its slightly teasing title, in the same mould as Andrew Morton’s tome. Happily so of course, as there is no scandal or hidden unhappiness to uncover for William and Kate. But with its solid analysis, reliable sources and the author’s experience as a royal reporter it brings together everything we know so far, adds some significant details and argues convincingly that the real dynamic in the story is the fact that William and, indeed, the monarchy, need Kate. Jobson is certain that William and Kate will, indeed must marry.

A biography of the couple’s relationship to date might be seen as premature – particularly in an age when the latest pop star or sporting hero has an official ‘bio’ before they turn twenty. But William is Princess Diana’s son and a future king. The traumas of the 1990s weigh so heavily on the monarchy that everything depends on his broad but young shoulders. It is something of a gamble to posit that marriage to Kate is not only vital, it is inevitable; however the timing of the publication and the author’s impeccable credentials suggest that his confidence is not misplaced. The world of 2006 is vastly different to the one in which the news of Lady Diana Spencer’s future as the Prince of Wales’ bride changed the face of royalty. This fact is reflected in Jobson’s analysis. Whilst William and Kate are undoubtedly very much in love, it is the combination of circumstance – the interplay of the personalities and the particular historic moment for the institution of monarchy – that give the relationship between two twenty-four year olds a unique significance. At the centre of the whole affair is Kate.

Kate is no ice queen and as vulnerable as any young woman. But she is also cool headed and endowed with good judgement, which has been seen with her reactions toward the media and during times of stress within the relationship. Her irresistible rise has placed her in a position both enviable and daunting. She is young and must be protected, at the same time she is in a uniquely influential position. From this perspective much of the circumspection emanating from Buckingham Palace becomes understandable. Yet we still know rather little about her personality beyond the biographical details and her emergence from William’s circle of university friends. Jobson does not speculate on this, rather he draws on his own observations and highly placed sources to flesh out the young lady’s character.

Kate is clearly an intelligent and dependable young woman, but she is also smart and independent. She won William’s heart through strength of personality as much as charm and saw off any possible romantic contenders through patience and the maturity to not overreact. The pivotal moment in the relationship came during William and Kate’s first year at St. Andrews University. William’s much publicised adjustment troubles became so acute he thought about quitting altogether. Prince Charles intervened and father and son agreed that William had to knuckle down, but that did not solve the specific problem of his unhappiness. It was Kate who suggested he switch courses, from History of Art to Geography. Apparently part of William’s unhappiness at that time was also caused by his relationship with a twenty-one year-old ‘PR girl’ named Arabella Musgrave. William decided to end the relationship to concentrate on his four-year university course, but his emotional reaction was less controlled. It is worth noting that when she later spoke to a national newspaper, Arabella said she hated being turned into a public figure because she was close to William. That was the predicament that Kate would shortly have to deal with. Her friendship with William had started naturally enough as they lived in close proximity in the halls of residence and there were plenty of opportunities to meet for a drink, play tennis, or just socialise. But as soon as friendship shifted toward romance, everything changed in the spring of 2002 as the media got a whiff of Kate’s existence. It was actually premature as they were not yet a couple. Throughout the remainder of their university years the media were a constant if relatively unobtrusive presence.

In contrast, Jobson does not depict the future king quite as favourably as one might expect. William is portrayed as a more rebellious, more headstrong and, on occasion, even petulant character than the opacity of his prince-charming public persona allows us to see. Indeed, the distance William has created between himself and the media suggests that the traumatic years after his parents’ divorce and Princess Diana’s tragic death have left their mark. Whilst it is Harry who grabs the headlines, William parties just as hard and sometimes takes things a little too far as well. Part of it might have been that his relationship with Kate was still in its early stages, but in the autumn of 2003 William let loose. During his breaks in London he would frequent the well-known ‘Purple’ nightclub in West London, a great place for the young and eligible to meet and where Harry had made the headlines when he swapped telephone numbers with professional dancer Krista Tabone.

Unlike Harry, however, William’s escapades remain on the whole discreet affairs. Perhaps it is due to Harry’s accident-prone nature or William’s good judgement, but Prince Charles’ eldest son has, to date, led a charmed existence for someone so tempting to the media. But signs of William’s wilder side have seen him hit the headlines. He caused some embarrassment when he was caught speeding on his motorbike on Lord Bathhurst’s estate in Gloucestershire. The outraged aristocrat told the press “I don’t care who it is, royalty or not – speeding is not allowed on my estate . . . If I was to drive like that in Windsor Park, I would end up in the Tower. I thought he was some young yob in a beat up car.” Clarence House played the incident down but Prince Charles apologised to Lord Bathhurst. And there has been the odd occasion when William’s amorous adventures made the headlines. An Australian model, 19 year-old Elouise Blair, was so excited at being kissed by the future king she rushed to tell the press. She soon found herself on television relating a night of fun, dancing and a brief kiss from the Prince. Whilst it was light-hearted stuff alarm bells went off at Clarence House. Any chance, however, of Elouise getting closer to William had evaporated: kiss and tell cannot be tolerated for the future king.

William’s dilemma is undeniably a difficult one. He has less personal freedom than his younger brother, and Harry has, despite his run-ins with the media, created a robust public persona. Harry is not perfect and he is quite open about it; William would hardly claim to be the perfect prince, but he cannot afford to make the public faux pas that have made Harry such a colourful character. Of course if William had chosen another path, not embarked upon a serious relationship and ‘played the field’, this would have filtered into the public perception and he could have enjoyed his bachelorhood in the company of any number of beautiful women – as his father had. And, perhaps, this is exactly what he seeks to avoid.

William’s hope is to be viewed as a normal person, which is where his relationship with Kate becomes so crucial. Given the traumas he witnessed during his childhood, a stable, loving relationship is what he longs for. Kate, whose background is a paradigm of solid middle class values, can provide that. At the same time the monarchy itself is in a period of transition. The Queen will never abdicate but the passing years inevitably take their toll and the Prince of Wales is preparing to take on more and more official duties. To the public the changes may appear subtle but we are seeing the beginning of a new era, in which the Queen steps back, Prince Charles takes over while “the real hopes for the future of the monarchy are on William and Kate”. As for that announcement . . . even the confident Robert Jobson can only speculate: “Of course it is down to William to choose his moment but few in his circle would be surprised were he not nudged into action since his Sandhurst training has come to an end . . . But make no mistake. Kate’s days as William’s ‘princess-in-waiting’ are drawing to a close. Her time as his princess and, one day, queen is about to begin.”

Extract from Royalty Magazine Vol. 20/06

Royalty Magazine Cover 20.06

Royalty Magazine Cover 20.06