Her Majesty’s Secret Service
Here, Shinan Govani decodes why the Royal Family still reigns supreme in the popular culture.
The good news is that Her Majesty’s grandchildren keep procreating, keeping the Royal lines robust.
The more precipitous news? That there’s no room at the inn.
During the traditional December rigmarole at Sandringham, held this most recent Christmas—set amid the Victorian splendour of the A-grade country pile—months-old Princess Charlotte became just the latest add-on to a guest list 31 people deep. The crammed affair meant—as with other recent gatherings headed up by a near-nonagenarian Queen Elizabeth—royals lower down the pecking order were asked to sleep in servants’ quarters, while some servants were required to share rooms or, well, even move to outhouses on the estate.
As far as portraits go, it was a heady one: here loomed a monarch who’d only just passed the threshold of oldest reigning, surrounded now by kin from four different generations, all of it fusing to cast a very particular psycho-subtext frisson. On one side of the column, as the gong went at 8 p.m. for pre-dinner drinks and the family sat down for a candlelit supper starting promptly at 8:15 (men in black tie, women in their finery and jewels): the sine qua non Elizabeth II, who only floated into her role when her father, King George VI, died peacefully in his sleep in this very house in the early hours of Feb. 6, 1952.
On the other, as gifts were later being exchanged (it being the Windsor ritual to do so the night before, rather than Christmas morning): the Instagram-worthy brood-within-a-brood that is Kate, William and their two tots (plus Uncle Harry).
Everyone else (including William and Harry’s own father, the pensioner-aged Charles who waits and waits) might well have been slotted into the category known as the “squishy middle.”
Oh, paging Julian Fellowes. Clearly, though, even his merry band of Crawleys has nothing on the interweaving threads of this dynastic tale. Within the complex geometrics of British Royalty, what was palpable on Christmas—and never more palpable than when William and Kate walked side by side and to great flurry to the royal service held at St. Mary Magdalene Church—is the extent to which a stealthy synergy lies between the matriarchal mainstay of this clan and its next next generation.
Kate, Kate, Kate, Kate, Kate. Where this saga swoops. Soon enough, the commoner would become the secret ingredient in this recipe – the fresh truffles of the present-day monarchical feast. Where William has gifts of his own but indubitably grew less golden as he aged, there is little question that it is the image of him and the now-Duchess of Cambridge as a team that has given them a combined oomph. Glossy of hair. Prim as a martinet. Ps- and Qs-minding and yet dutifully clothes-recycling and Pinterest-mommy-set-seeming. If nothing else, Kate proved to be the right princess for the right moment, to the extent that novelist Hilary Mantel once described her as one who was “designed by committee and built by craftsmen.”
No matter. The press clips speak for themselves. Exhibit A: celebrity magazine, People, which featured Diana 57 different times on its cover (a record), but, after her tragic death in 1997, where royal coverage withered to a drought. With nothing to feed the beast, it was a muffled period in the annals of the Windsors … until, well, Kate. “She is already our fourth most featured cover star,” said Simon Perry, the magazine’s chief foreign correspondent, in an interview. And that was at the end of 2014!
Her influence is not only on William but on the whole family—to the extent that some think that the whole titled clan has “now been completely Middletonised,” as per Tom Sykes, the royal watcher for The Daily Beast. Contrary to those days when the upper classes frequently married the middle classes (for moolah!) and the middle-class arriviste swiftly moved to adopt the mores of that upper class, the mobility has been moved in near reverse. Rather than Kate marrying William’s family, it is, Skye argues, more and more apparent that he wed into hers, as per the image of Kate’s parents being the first to greet the couple’s first-born, the third-in-line Prince George, at the hospital nearly an hour before Prince Charles. The Queen did not see the baby until the next morning at Kensington Palace. “Although there is no official protocol in such matters, there is little doubt that it should have been the Queen or Prince Charles who was the first to see the baby,” wrote Sykes.
The move to a new informality is also one that is signposted by the embrace of a breezy tone on Twitter (which Kensington Palace increasingly uses to communicate to the public) and even a less fussy approach to public engagements. With Prince William’s press operations having been taken over by one Jason Kanuf (a youngish outsider who was hand-picked by the Prince), the shift is best demonstrated by the use of Kate/Wills/Harry as a power trio of sorts during royal walkabouts.