The New People’s Princess

His fair if thinning good looks, her shiny hair and dimpled grin: Prince William and Kate Middleton may so far have inspired only vicarious wedding planning in the media and mountains of Chinese-made tchotchkes, but the House of Windsor must nevertheless be congratulating itself on the successful soft launch of its latest brand. There’s even a Web site.

As the countdown to April 29 begins, London flights and hotel rooms for the wedding week are at a premium. A pinched populace, placated by the promise of public holidays, seems finally to be getting into the swing of it.

In recent decades, the world’s most famous royal dynasty has found itself tarnished by more than tourist-friendly antiquity. Together, the prince and his princess—or whatever title protocol eventually bestows upon her—are to become its much needed new face. And lest anyone forget the chief cause of its PR tribulations, there it is: Diana’s 18-carat sapphire, front and center of the more casual of the couple’s official engagement portraits.

Depending on your outlook, being presented with your legendarily dead mother-in-law’s ring is either doomy or touching. It’s also canny. In reclaiming the People’s Princess as his mother, William is determinedly bringing her legacy back into the royal fold.

Besides, Kate is patently no Diana. Miss Spencer was the daughter of a viscount and the granddaughter of a baron—only in Britain could she be classed a commoner. Miss Middleton, meanwhile, was greeted by Will’s snobbier pals with a smirking “doors to manual” reference to her mother’s stint as a trolley dolly. The Middleton ma and pa have gone on to make millions from an online party favors business, but what about the drug-dabbling expat uncle who named his Ibiza hideaway Maison de Bang Bang?

There is another crucial difference between William’s mother and his fiancée—virtue. Diana was barely 20 when she married, and grew up in a world before sexting. Regardless of that rumored prenuptial tryst aboard the royal locomotive, she appeared shy, blonde and, above all, virginal on her wedding day. Brunette Kate, pushing 30, may only have had one known boyfriend prior to William, but she is a long-term—and, back at St. Andrew’s, live-in—girlfriend.

Tom Bradby, who snagged the first television interview with the engaged couple, did sidle up to the matter of their college house share. It must have been awkward, he observed (awkwardly), for their roommates to have a courting couple in their midst. His probing led nowhere.

As that interview showed, Kate and William’s alliance is chummy rather than charged. They spoke frequently of “giggles” and not once of “love.” More than eight years have passed since he noted her hotness as she strutted down the catwalk of a charity student fashion show dressed in sporty black undies and a metallic mesh slip. Already, they have the sexless coziness of the long-married. That’s no bad thing, especially where a couple’s brand is concerned. Sex is volatile. The fizz often fizzles.

No matter who winds up designing the bridal gown, the prurient element of Charles and Diana’s wedding spectacular will be absent this time round. And thank heavens, because those of us old enough to have grown up surrounded by its fairy-tale imagery also came of age with the royal divorce, and graduated into the grown-up world amidst the strange, sad pageantry of her demise. Maybe we’re ready for wholesome—for a pretty girl who embodies old-fashioned assets of patience and frugality, waiting years for her prince, eschewing couture and wearing her own high street togs for the celebrity photographer.

Of course, while Kate is of the people, what makes her noteworthy is that a prince has chosen to marry her, and what makes him exceptional is that he was born into the royal family. Such elitism seems almost scandalous in the 21st century. She may not be a virgin princess bound for what in hindsight was something of a sacrificial altar, but this wedding will be transformative all the same. She’s one of us and will become one of them, transferring a mystery onto the occasion—and the brand—that’s perhaps a little like the mystery that sex must once have held before it became a staple of every sales pitch going.

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