Hilary Mantel's piece contains some harsh words about the Duchess of Cambridge, but lost in the media furore over phrases like "plastic princess" and "shop-window mannequin", was the meat of Mantel's speech.
It was an eloquent, beautifully-penned rallying cry, worthy of a double-Booker winner, about the media management of Kate, the nature of Royalty and voyeurism. Her lament is how Kate suffers at the hands of the media.
Hilary Mantel has been criticised for a speech she gave on Kate Middleton
Here's 10 reasons why Hilary Mantel might be right, and why Kate might just agree with some of the things she wrote:
1. "In her first official portrait by Paul Emsley, unveiled in January, her eyes are dead and she wears the strained smile of a woman who really wants to tell the painter to bugger off. One critic said perceptively that she appeared ‘weary of being looked at’."
Never a truer word spoken. Kate declared herself "delighted" with the portrait, but it made her look more dowdy, more prim, more managed than she looks in real life.
In reality, the Duchess is a young, very pretty woman who must have been horrified to have been given such ageing jowls in the portrait, which bears almost no resemblance to how she looks. Mantel is expressing her sympathy for Kate, not disdain.
The portrait of Kate criticised by Mantel
2. "BBC News devoted a discussion to whether a pregnant woman could safely put on a turn of speed while wearing high heels. It is sad to think that intelligent people could devote themselves to this topic with earnest furrowings of the brow, but that’s what discourse about royals comes to: a compulsion to comment, a discourse empty of content, mouthed rather than spoken."
Most pictures of the Royals that appear in newspapers are taken only by officially appointed photographers, or the Press Association.
The public are desperate for the pictures, but the words are almost always utterly boring. So controversy, including over the wearing of heels, is invented. Kate must be nodding her head in agreement with Mantel.
3. "Pandas and royal persons alike are expensive to conserve and ill-adapted to any modern environment. But aren’t they interesting? Aren’t they nice to look at? Some people find them endearing; some pity them for their precarious situation; everybody stares at them, and however airy the enclosure they inhabit, it’s still a cage."
They joke about it in interviews. But both Prince William and Harry have made it clear they know their heritage is a guilded cage, and probably out of place in the modern world. Even when the couple were pictured in a cute cuddle watching the Olympics, William said he was "absolutely dreading" the cameras panning to them, calling it "very embarrassing."
The cuddle captured on camera which embarrassed William
4. "You see that your life is a charade, that the scenery is cardboard, that the paint is peeling, the red carpet fraying, and if you linger you will notice the oily devotion fade from the faces of your subjects, and you will see their retreating backs as they turn up their collars and button their coats and walk away into real life."
The old saying goes that the Queen thinks the world smells of fresh paint. Mantel astutely points out however much the Royals put on a show for the country, the country also puts on a show for them.
5. "Once she gets over being sick, the press will find that she is radiant. They will find that this young woman’s life until now was nothing, her only point and purpose being to give birth."
No matter what Kate was set to achieve in life, well-educated with a good degree, Royal brides are still "the vagina", Mantel says. This is not a judgment on Kate, but on the public and media on "Royal Baby Watch".
6. "She appears precision-made, machine-made, so different from Diana whose human awkwardness and emotional incontinence showed in her every gesture."
Kate has been stage-managed, her appearance regulated, her background checked. Lessons have been learnt, by Royal aides, from the Diana era. Again, Mantel is not placing the blame on Kate, but noting her "appearance" in the eyes of the public, the character the real woman inhabits.
7. Describing a visit to Buckingham Palace, Mantel describes "The Queen passed close to me and I stared at her. I am ashamed now to say it but I passed my eyes over her as a cannibal views his dinner, my gaze sharp enough to pick the meat off her bones. Her Majesty turned and looked back at me, as if she had been jabbed in the shoulder; and for a split second her face expressed not anger but hurt bewilderment."
There is searing honesty here, Mantel admits the voyeurism that most feel encountering the Royal family. Wanting to watch, but embarrassed to talk to them. For a young modern couple like Kate and William, the embarrassment is excruciating.
8. "Adulation can swing to persecution, within hours, within the same press report: this is what happened to Prince Harry recently."
The current third-in-line to the throne would be in firm agreement, and said much the same himself in a recent interview after his tour of Afghanistan.
Harry has spoken about the escape that being in Afghanistan gives him
9. "It may be that the whole phenomenon of monarchy is irrational, but that doesn’t mean that when we look at it we should behave like spectators at Bedlam."
Like maniacs in Bedlam, the Royals are placed in ridiculous positions, and people pay, through newspapers and glossy magazines, to gawp, as they would at a Victorian madhouse.
10. "I’m not asking for censorship. I’m not asking for pious humbug and smarmy reverence. I’m asking us to back off and not be brutes. Get your pink frilly frocks out, zhuzh up your platinum locks. We are all Barbara Cartland now. The pen is in our hands. A happy ending is ours to write."
Mantel herself has now felt the full force of what she used her powerful speech to argue against, a witch hunt in the popular press.
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