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Is This Supposed to be Sympathetic? Let's Decode That Tatler Piece on Kate Middleton

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Celebrity | May 27, 2020 |

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Celebrity | May 27, 2020 |


‘Has the Duchess of Cambridge suddenly become one of the most influential women in the world?’

That’s the opening sentence to the latest cover piece by Tatler, the glossy magazine dedicated to the lives, quirks, and superiority of the British upper-classes. The publication has been documenting the Royals for decades now, with Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, being one of their most adored topics. She’s featured on the cover multiple times — although she has never officially posed for them — and they even made a dress-up paper doll of her for readers to have fun with (don’t worry, she was wearing very sensible underwear.)

In the game of thrones that is the Windsor family drama, Tatler has firmly established itself as Team Kate, whether they acknowledge it or not. Their most recent cover story on Meghan Markle included debates from multiple points-of-view on whether the newest addition to the Firm was a good or bad choice. The magazine has been a key battleground for ‘sources’ to air out their grievances with the Sussexes, with Meghan being labeled as ‘Me-gain’, an ambitious schemer who has hen-pecked her poor husband into submission. Coincidentally, Tatler regularly and positively features Rose Hanbury, the Marchioness of Cholmondeley and Kate’s BFF who William is alleged to have had an affair with.

Ironically, Tatler also claimed that it was a bad move for Meghan to allow her friends to speak anonymously in her favor to People magazine. That feels especially entertaining now given that this Kate cover piece is full of ‘sources’ close to her who want the world to know how wonderful she is. If this is a battle of words via the press then the House of Cambridge has chosen to play a very familiar hand by sticking to Tatler. So, since I’ve nothing better to do, let’s dig into that article!

This piece has a very clear goal — to make Kate look amazing. She’s beautiful, she’s drama-free, she’s a dedicated mother, and she’s the ace up the sleeve for the Windsors. Duchess Catherine is positioned as the safe port in the storm of recent royal drama, with the obvious focus being on the Sussex exit and not, you know, Prince Andrew being unashamed BFFs with a literal pedophile. As much as this is a Kate puff-piece, it’s also hard to deny how much of it comes across as yet another excuse to paint Meghan as the enemy of the family, the ‘uncouth’ side of the cat-fight. The message is clear: Kate is the ideal and Meghan is the great pretender.

The piece isn’t overwhelmingly glowing for Kate or her family. Her past reputation for laziness and a lack of commitment to royal duties is discussed. Her mother Carole is referred to as a social-climbing snob with tacky taste in decor, while her sister Pippa is derided by ‘one of her circle’ for being ‘too regal and try-hard.’ The increasing poshness of Kate’s accent is noted, as is her ‘aura of blandness’, but these two elements are ultimately seen as positive signs of her assimilation into the throbbing mass that is royal life. The ultimate goal of this piece is to position Kate as ‘the ultimate power player’ of the family, the one who pulls the strings and keeps everyone else in line, unlike that unruly Meghan or even her own husband (this piece eludes to the ‘falling out’ with Rose Hanbury over her ‘apparent closeness to William’, and that’s as much as we’ll get in this publication about those alleged infidelities.)

Hilary Mantel’s much-derided and deeply misunderstood comments on Kate are mentioned in this context. That blandness is realigned to be a sign of reliable stoicism. She is unknowable, according to one of the young royal set, but that’s a good thing. It makes her strong. You can’t cause a fuss or publicly f**k up if you refuse to reveal anything of yourself to the public. It’s something she’s lived with for half her life now, and a criticism she faced during the earliest years of her relationship with William. That she has never admitted to feeling hurt by such accusations is seen as the best demonstration of her strength. Never show emotion, never admit that you even have them, and all will be well. Keep Calm and Carry On. It’s what the Queen would want, what the Queen would do.

The British stiff upper lip and our ceaseless commitment to this archaic concept has arguably done more harm than good to our societal understanding of humanity. It’s not just that any display of raw emotion is derided; it’s that the simplest moments of sadness or irritation or excitement are then blown up to ridiculous proportions as a means to further malign them. Just look at how Meghan’s refusal to keep everything bottled up is seen as ‘gauche’ or ‘unsuitable’ for royalty, or, heaven forbid, ‘too American.’ Emotions are seen as weak and a betrayal of the public’s trust in a shaky institution that’s well past its sell-by date. This is what makes Kate so perfect for her position in the eyes of Tatler, their ‘sources’, and the Windsors at large — she’s forced herself into this narrow and smothering mold without complaint, without rebellion, and without so much as one word of dissent. This is the truth of every pro-Kate piece, especially when she is positioned as the ‘good’ woman in contrast to Megan: To be the perfect princess is to be less-than-human. Emotions are bad, having your own ideas is bad, feeling trapped in a system that has historically decimated women is bad. Kate does as she is told.

The piece has a clear agenda, but there are issues with using such an upper-class focused publication as your implicit mouth-piece. A lot of the more tone-deaf aspects of your silent complaints aren’t given the context to make them sympathetic. Meghan’s friends and associates went to the U.S.A.’s top gossip magazine for their pushback against the bad press because the boundaries of American celebrity were the best fit to reach the people they wanted to reach. Tatler is by the posh and for the posh, so they shouldn’t be all that surprised when people find some of the more elitist aspects of this Kate piece laughable at best. This is in full view when one friend laments that Kate is ‘furious about the larger workload’ she now has to deal with and ‘doesn’t want’. The friend claims that Kate is ‘working as hard as a top CEO, who has to be wheeled out all the time, without the benefits of boundaries and plenty of holidays.’ If this was an attempt to refute the ‘Waity Katie’ stories then it failed miserably.

The Cambridges’ work-shy attitude has always been their fatal flaw and the one aspect of their narrative that the press has been less-than-glowing about. It’s hard to feel sorry for any 38-year-old woman who took on ‘11 royal engagements in a month - three in the space of 24 hours’, a process that was described as ‘grueling.’ Even if we weren’t in the middle of a literal pandemic, I struggle to see anyone who would sympathize with a Duchess with nannies, millions of pounds in the bank, and a lifetime of financial and societal security complaining about her workload. Working as hard as a CEO? Pull the other one. At a time when millions of people are at risk of losing their jobs, their homes, and their lives, this woe-is-me narrative feels trivializing at best and downright callous at worst.

The most insidious part of this profile remains, of course, the reliance on using Meghan as an enemy of Kate and the Windsor clan. This piece is implicitly Cambridge-approved. Her friends and associates have been silent for years and refused to go to the press with stories, positive or otherwise, about Kate, but now that Meghan is around and is seemingly a threat, they can’t wait to claim that their beloved was thrown under the bus by that darn American. Meghan is ‘selfish’, she is ‘rude’, she doesn’t treat her staff right, she always gets what she wants, she’s so unsuitable compared to poor quiet and uncomplaining Kate. This isn’t the first time that we’ve seen the might of the royal press directed at the sole woman of color among their ranks, but seeing Team Kate try to spin her as the attacker while Duchess Catherine is the poor beleaguered and innocent victim in all of this? To put it bluntly, it’s all a bit Karen-esque, isn’t it?

Clearly, it’s not gone as well as the Cambridges hoped it would, as Kensington Palace has already released a statement saying that it ‘contains a swathe of inaccuracies and false misrepresentations which were not put to Kensington Palace prior to publication.’ That seems hard to believe given that Richard Dennen, the magazine’s editor, used to go on holidays with Kate.

If you were wondering why the timing of this piece feels so curious then you’re not alone. In August, Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand will release Finding Freedom: Harry and Meghan and the Making of a Modern Royal Family, a book reportedly written with co-operation from the Sussexes that promises to tell their side of the story. If this is the Cambridges’ attempt to get ahead of the story then it will only work for those already stridently Team Cambridge. Nobody else will have much sympathy for a story about a woman who feels betrayed that she had to work ELEVEN engagements in one month.

I’ve had a lot of sympathy in the past for Kate because the crushing requirements of royal life are an abhorrent level of misogyny that I wouldn’t wish upon any woman, but it’s also clear that she is a committed player in this royal scheme. She’s invested half of her life and everything about herself into being the future Queen and I doubt she’s willing to give it all up so easily. Still, it says a lot that, even as her friends try to paint her as an untouchable idol, they can’t keep Meghan’s name out of their mouths. No matter how hard Kate or Team Cambridge try, that will hurt them more than it helps.

Also, death to the monarchy.

Kayleigh is a features writer and editor for Pajiba. You can follow her on Twitter or listen to her podcast, The Hollywood Read.

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