Charlotte Beaulieu writes from London: It’s not easy being Kate. It’s very easy being Hilary. Kate is a duchess. Hilary sees herself as much grander. We’re talking Kate as in Wills & Kate. We’re talking Hilary as in award winning novelist, Hilary Mantel.
In a rather grand lecture at the British Museum, the home of antiquities, including ideas and opinions, Ms Mantel said the royal Kate ‘appears precision made, machine made, so different from Diana whose human awkwardness and emotional incontinence showed in her every gesture’.
Now, of course Ms Mantel was putting Kate in the context of other royal women and, of course, she was bashing the same media that has praised her own books that appeal so much to the loopy literary judges who give away awards easily. But the lady’s no slouch with a phrase and pen and she raised laughs and prompted nudges and even a few winks.
Ms Mantle was engaging in the easiest trick in the literary trade: she was exercising her own lit-royal position as if anything she said outside her writing subject mattered. But of course it did matter that day because she is the current hot-shot of historical fiction, the rightful winner of famous literary prizes and the darling of editors who need a namer to make a story ring true – even when it is not.
In Ms Mantel’s opinion, Kate is a wire coathanger-thin PR creation. The not so slim Ms Mantel known for her figure of speech rather than any other shape could not be bitchy if she tried. Mmm?
Why Ms Mantel had to produce a brilliantly written bitch piece about Kate says something about Ms Mantel more than what she said about the Duchess of Cambridge. If, as it sounded, Ms Mantel has little time for royalty then that is a fine and independent way of mind. What is cheap and nasty about her very clever piece of writing is that Kate is the wrong target.
Go for the heir, the sometime openly adulterous Prince Charles. Go for the hangers-on, Prince Andrew and his two daughters. Go for the petulant Prince Harry. They demand more from the system. Kate is a celebrity that lives in it.
Of course, the media loves Kate because she sells copy. She’s good looking, intelligent, clever – she hooked the ranking prince did she not? – and a bit of a fairy tale.
Ms Mantel is, of course, clever and a special craftsman. But she does nothing for the rest of us. No man leers at her legs. No woman envies her dress sense. In other words, Hilary Mantel is strong on the mind and her books are more interesting than she is. Kate is interesting because she is a running photo-op and one day she will – unless the whole system changes – be Queen Catherine.
Sadly, there was a terrible sense of bitterness rather than anything else in what Ms Mantel had to say. She is too good to need cheapness to grab a headline and the pinnacle of recognition: a working over by the Daily Mail. But let’s leave that aside.
What makes the whole affair so bizarre is the entry of David Cameron, the British Prime Minister. Dave was moved, or tricked, into defending Kate and it’s Dave who matters in this. Could it be that Dave’s PR pandas have seized on the Mantel-Kate story as a distraction from his public failure to stop the UK moving further into the red, and many other failures?
What other explanation could there be for his attack on Ms Mantel? She has turned out to be a witty and clever woman with a sour line in what some, not all but some, would see as petty jealousy. Cameron is a clever man for whom the job as PM has turned sour.
Why Cameron cannot be smart enough, and his PR pack even smarter, to say nothing at all on this non-subject questions the whole perspective of the nation’s political leader. So Cameron, a fringe aristocrat himself, gets no points for dignity and nous. Ms Mantel turns out to be a trashy celebrity. Kate we already know is simply a girl who landed the fish and gives a lot of people pleasure just looking at her. Maybe the three of them deserve each other.