April 28, 2011
I admit it: I love Kate Middleton. I love that she defied the usual dating advice and waited years for her prince to come around. I love that she's a commoner but still wears those outrageous feathered hats. Most of all, I love that the hats are the most remarkable thing about her.
Pretty without being distractingly gorgeous, fashionable without pushing boundaries, reserved without being shy, Catherine Elizabeth Middleton doesn't have even a fraction of the tragic mystique of Diana, Princess of Wales. And that could be her saving grace.
In Middleton's favor is that, unlike Diana, she is presumably not contending with a groom who's in love with someone else. Nor does she bear much resemblance to Sarah Ferguson, Prince Andrew's bride, who captured the public imagination with her frisky, slightly mischievous interpretation of post-feminist royal wifedom (remember the tabloid stories suggesting that she and Diana had developed a friendship that involved lots of sneaking out of palaces and furtive visits to nightclubs?).
Middleton also seems unlikely ever to need the victim narrative that explained so much about Diana (and Sarah). And it's not just because, at 29, she's been in an on-again/off-again relationship with William for eight years (hence the nickname Waity Katie) and ostensibly knows what she's getting into. It's not even because she genuinely appears to be marrying for love (a nice change for the British royal family). It's because, I daresay, Kate is bland. Brilliantly, spectacularly, perfectly bland. And because much of that blandness appears to be born of her devotion to William, it's hard to imagine a better woman for the job of … whatever title she gets after Thursday.
If we are to believe what we read (and for the sake of argument, let's just say we do), Middleton has spent her entire post-college life hoping and waiting to be the wife of the future king of England. She met William when they were both students at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and he considered her merely a friend, or so the story goes, until he saw her in a fashion show in a revealing outfit. She graduated with a degree in art history and has held a job or two, but at least according to a recent Newsweek article for which almost no one spoke on the record, she has been careful about accepting job offers lest she appear to be using her boyfriend's connections to unfair advantage.
"She's been driven by a desperate desire not to do anything that's tricky for him," said an unnamed source in Newsweek.
Is that a nice way of saying she didn't want to work? Maybe so, but who cares? In a world full of people whose ambitions mightily outweigh their abilities and whose drive to distinguish themselves from the pack all too often just makes a mess of things, there's something to be said for simply performing a role rather than trying to transcend it. Or, as yet another anonymous insider put it in Newsweek, Kate's willingness to take a backseat to her husband may, ironically, be the thing that makes her special, particularly if it results in a happy marriage.
"I think it's good that Kate seems to lack ambition," said this source. "She's a strong girl, definitely not a pushover. But her job is to walk two steps behind him. If you've got someone who likes being in the spotlight herself, well, that's when all the trouble started with Charles and Diana. The best royal marriages are when the consort keeps her head down."
I know, I know. How antediluvian. How insulting to the legacy of Diana. But, let's admit it, how refreshing!
Look, I'm not saying this is the way to go for most couples. Walking two steps behind your husband, unless your husband has an exceptionally nice posterior, seems like an express train to boredom, frustration and powerful pharmaceuticals. But as Kate's predecessors learned the hard way, being a royal means all the usual bets are off. You can try to distinguish yourself from the married-with-monarchy expectations, but it will probably come at a terrible price. Kate seems to not only understand that but even celebrate it. Maybe that's why she wears the feathered hats. Even with your head down, you still look like you might have wings.
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