FIRST let me say that I am not much of a Royalist.
But when Prince Charles visited The Examiner several years ago - to share in the celebrations for the paper’s 125th anniversary – I found him to be pleasantly polite and willing to work a room full of people he’d never met before and would never meet again as if he positively enjoyed it.
He behaved like a consummate professional Royal and I have to say that I was impressed.
Kate Middleton, now the Duchess of Cambridge, and incubator of an heir to the throne, has taken well to her role as a professional Royal.
She is also politely interested in those she meets and, even when suffering from pregnancy sickness, has managed to keep on smiling. This is no mean feat as I know well.
And yet this week the award-winning historical novelist Hilary Mantel had a go at what she called the "machine-made" princess "designed by committee".
Mantel has made her name writing about that most troubled of monarchs, Henry VIII, and his problems securing an heir. In her recent lecture at the British Museum she decided to compare his wives and other famous queens with modern-day royal wives, such as Diana and Kate, and suggested that nothing much had changed – the sole purpose of royal wives being the production of an heir and looking bland on portraits.
She says her first impressions of Kate were a woman "painfully thin as anyone could wish, without quirks, without oddities, without the risk of the emergence of character."
Unsurprisingly, the content of her speech was cherry-picked and heavily rounded upon by the tabloid press, who accused Mantel of being vicious.
As I understand it Mantel, in speaking from an historical perspective, was saying that the public has always wanted its queens and princesses to be sweet, pretty, demure, elegant and conscientious. And when they don’t live up to these high standards they are scrutinised, critiqued and pilloried for their failings. So far Kate is living up to the cardboard cut-out image of perfect princess in a gilded cage. She is keeping her nose clean and her opinions to herself.
And there’s nothing really wrong with that. That’s where I take issue with Mantel. The public appetite for gossip and scandal may be thwarted – although kept ticking over with tales of topless and bikini photographs – but a dignified ‘plastic’ princess is far preferable to someone who speaks out of turn, attracts front page scandal and dresses badly. We’ve had one of those before. Remember Fergie?
This other one-time royal bride has personality in bucketfuls and at the height of her ‘reign’ she was largely despised for it. Unlike Kate, who is beatific and serene, Fergie failed to understand that the job description of princess meant that she had to keep her mouth shut and restrain herself from trading shamelessly on her royal connections.
Of course, time will tell if Kate is as saintly as she seems. Diana appeared innocent and malleable in the early days of her marriage – and look what happened later.
But Kate is no Diana. For a start she is highly educated and at 31 is hardly a child bride. If she appears to be lacking in personality then this is a mature, professional manner at work. No-one lacks personality. That’s like saying we lack a blood supply. We all have our quirks and hang-ups it’s just that we often choose to conceal them.
Anyone who holds down a job has to put a face on to the world every day that might not be truly representative of their character. It’s called being professional.
It’s almost certainly true that Kate has been schooled and moulded into the royal consort we see today but one could argue that it would have been unkind not to prepare her for her future life. The world’s eyes are upon her; waiting for her to say the wrong thing, make a mistake or fall prey to an indiscretion. She is scrutinised for the condition of her hair, the clothes she wears and how she wears them. Hers may be a life of privilege but it comes at a price.
None of us will ever know Kate personally so we can only judge her on her actions and demeanour. So far I have to say that she seems like a genuinely lovely young woman; the sort that any parent would be proud of.
I would vote tomorrow to abolish the monarchy, but given that’s not going to happen I have hopes that Kate and William will turn out to be better role models for families than the so-called ‘celebrities’ who have such a huge influence – and whose lives are also exposed for public viewing – and yet so rarely provide inspiration.
As an ambassador for our country I’d much rather have Kate Middleton than a Katie Price.