Can I be frank? I can’t get enough of the Middletons. I am mad for them. Not just the Duchess of Cambridge, heroically staying awake throughout a cruelly protracted tour of Ottowa (you try it). Not just because of the fact that if you type the words ‘Pippa Middleton’ into Google, it offers you a remarkably narrow range of options from ‘underwear’ to ‘bottom’. Not just because of the Mail Online’s laudable efforts to get Prince Harry and Pippa paired off (before the advent of posh knicker-model ‘Flee’ Brudenell-Bruce).
It is because the Middletons represent something we have not seen in proximity to the royal family since — well, perhaps ever. This quality can’t be called ordinariness, for the Middletons are far from ordinary. You can’t even really call it middle-classness. The Middletons seem beyond such dilapidated terms. They are their own class: Upper Middleton. This meta-class has found an answering echo in the younger members of the House of Windsor. It has had the effect of making the royals much more attractive to the public of late.
Since the wedding, Middleton mania has been humming away as a sort of background noise, like an electricity substation, without many of us consciously realising it. Pippa and her charity triathlons and her shorts. James and his much admired wedding reading, plus his cornering the market in cake-baking kits. Cake-baking kits. Carole and Michael at the Goring Hotel to celebrate the opening of a revamped bar. Pippa considering going on Strictly Come Dancing. Pippa calling Harry ‘captain’, and him calling her ‘commando’, after certain rumours concerning her royal wedding clothing arrangements. All hypnotically readable tabloid items.
Until the Middletons, Princes William and Harry were Jungian archetypes of red-jeaned Sloanes, spending too many evenings in nightclubs filled with the weird glossy drones that you see in Tatler. After the Middletons: well, don’t William and Harry seem a little less removed? Hasn’t their association with Kate and Pippa and James and Carole and Michael rounded them out a little? Neutralised that tang of Boujis waster?
At a time when the press is once more hounding the Prince of Wales for his alleged Sun King levels of spending and his assiduous badgering of government ministers, don’t you find yourself reflexively thinking of Kate shopping at Anglesey Waitrose? And of Carole and Michael quietly beavering away at their Party Pieces business?
Back in the day, the old cliché was that the royals worked very hard. It’s not something we hear that often now, but here are the Middletons, subliminally reconnecting the royals with the idea of a work ethic. Like the Queen, they understand about money.
And through the Middletons the boundaries of royal etiquette are being subconsciously renegotiated. Look at Andy Murray. His bow to the Duchess of Cambridge at Wimbledon perfectly captured this fresh new royal settlement. It contained a touch of irony, while also managing to be surprisingly gallant and natural. It was as if both the Duchess and Murray were trying on unfamiliar clothes and finding to their surprise that they fitted perfectly.
Of course the tabloids are enamoured of all this; and consequently, too, of the heir to the throne who has married into it. Any modern monarchy needs the popular press not merely on side, but actively cheering.
‘Don’t be a bloody fool,’ I can hear many of you saying. ‘The tabloid backlash against Pippa’s bottom is long overdue. No one out there thinks that Pippa is all that interesting and actually, come to that, isn’t she probably quite ghastly?’ Leave the poor girl and her bottom be! Who are we to judge? But as to press loathing: well, yes, of course it has to happen one day. Even the Duchess of York was popular once. Only for about two weeks in 1986, but still. Then the press turned.
But the Middletons are made of sounder stuff. Whereas Fergie’s problem seemed to be her endless doomed, daft efforts to fit her attention-grabbing neediness in with the Windsor way, the Middletons are brilliantly not bothering. Why should they? They know what they are doing. They have already had enough tastes of hostile publicity to ride through any storm. They simply batten down the Party Pieces hatches, and turn The Archers up.
Until then, the Middletons have made it possible for us all to imagine what life would be like if we married into the royal family. The future Queen of England comes from a family that represents the best of middle Britain. And for once, I think the old saying is justified: long may they reign.