I can remember a time when no one had really heard of Kate Middleton. We all had a vague notion that William had a long-term girlfriend; didn’t she have a poster of him on her bedroom wall when she was at school? Yes and there’d been that big break-up at one point, right? And didn’t the tabloids call her ‘Waity Katy’?
That was all before she flashed Diana’s engagement ring at the world, graced the aisle of Westminster Abbey with Alexander McQueen, unleashed her sister’s posterior onto the grateful British public and wafted her glossy, golden brown locks round our drizzly island. And of course, we mustn’t forget the latest development, the wonderful news we’d all been waiting for: the people’s princess finally fell pregnant.
If we now condense all that down, put the last two years of emotion, excitement, glamour and pride into one simple statement to explain what really accounts for our never-ending fascination with this pretty yet unremarkable young woman, what do we get? Well it’s simple, isn’t it? Kate is the girl living the fairytale. She is the commoner who won the heart of a prince. She is our modern-day, real-life Cinderella. So what exactly is my problem with her?
I think what it comes down to is that she could be such a good role model. Many say she already is and the argument goes something like this. By marrying into the Royal Family, Kate Middleton has chosen a life in the public eye, a life ruled by public engagements, by primary school openings and charity visits, by foreign dignitaries and garden parties. An exhausting life? An often boring life? Certainly not an easy one, yet she carries it off effortlessly, always immaculately turned out and constantly smiling. An interested question here, a kind word there. She should be lauded for her efforts, held up as an icon of good grace as she has sacrificed any prospect of a career for herself or a normal existence. All for her love for the heir to the throne.
Except I don’t think she has made a sacrifice. I think she has made a choice. The Royal Family is moving into the 21st century; its various members haven’t just married commoners but made scandal (Prince Harry), dropped titles (Princess Anne’s children) and got divorced (erm…all of them). In the last few weeks, Kate’s unborn baby was given the right to inherit the throne ahead of any future brothers, should it turn out to be female. So why on earth should Kate Middleton, holder of a degree from one of the country’s leading universities, be denied a career? The answer is, of course, that she hasn’t been denied; she has chosen the life of a dutiful spouse over a career because she preferred it. That was her choice and she has an absolute right to do what she wants. But she could at least be a better role model in the life she’s chosen.
Let me ask you this, have you ever heard Kate Middleton express a meaningful opinion? Actually, come to think of it, how often have you heard her voice at all? She is the ever-smiling presence on television screens and newspapers pages across the country every day. But curiously, she is also a silent one. When the aspects of her life that have been pored over again and again are her wedding and now her pregnancy, it makes one wonder what century we are living in.
When Hilary Mantel recently remarked that “Kate seems to have been selected for her role of princess because she was irreproachable… without quirks, without oddities”, it caused quite the stir. Naturally, the media erupted in a frenzy of moralising indignation, defending poor and vulnerable Kate tooth and nail. Personally I recognised Mantel’s provocative point of view after reading the original transcript of her speech – which, I might add, it seems hardly any of the defending journalists had – I realised that Mantel hadn’t really attacked Kate at all, but rather our country’s treatment of royalty across the years. And she certainly had a point when she noted Kate’s mainstream image. If nothing else, Kate is certainly not controversial. Is that why we love her?
What spoke louder than anything was Kate’s lack of response to Mantel’s comments. Did she care? Did the Royal Family stop her? Or did PR advise her to remain silent? Whatever the reason, she at least kept the moral high ground, and left it to the media to do the talking for her. I strongly suspect it was the latter and this I find very sad.
Surely in this day and age a woman should be able to defend herself against criticism without fearing any comment will mar her perfect image? Kate is human after all and despite her smiling exterior, Mantel’s words must have stung. Defending herself would have shown a generation of teenagers and young women that it’s OK to fight back, to stand up for yourself. Instead she continued with her duties, shaking hands, exchanging small talk and, of course, smiling.
I want to know Kate’s opinions on politics. I want to know what TV shows she watches, what books she reads, what inspires her. I want to know where she stands on arming the Syrian rebels, who she wanted to win Eurovision. She’s educated, she’s smart and for all we know she’s extremely nice. But that’s the thing, we don’t know because we’ve never heard her voice. I want Kate to take a stand on something, be it trivial or important.
Kate’s celebrity status could be put to such good use. She could follow Michelle Obama and choose to champion girls’ education or perhaps something completely different; the mistreatment of horses, climate change, food waste, sex education, anything! Because I bet, behind those pastel fascinators and that glorious hair, she has thoughts and feelings worthy of being given a voice, worthy of being heard.