I hate the English class structure. HATE it. The most nonsensical idea – that you are somehow a better or worse person, depending on whether you say ‘what’ or ‘pardon’, or on what your parents do for a living – still infects so many areas of life in this country. It stifles this society but making people believe that they have no real hope of improving their lot in life. Unsurprisingly, the royal engagement has brought some of these issues into the open, in a way that, in my opinion, does not cast Great Britain in a good light.
Rumours about Kate Middleton’s background and parents have circulated for years; in particular, the fact that her mother was an air hostess, which apparently prompted some
complete tossers cronies of Prince William to make snide ‘doors to manual’ jokes when they were just out of Kate’s earshot. Mr and Mrs Middleton have built up a hugely successful business, supplying God knows what rubbish to the type of parents who spend a fortune on their children’s birthday parties. Their wealth has enabled them to live in a nice house and send their three children to Marlborough, a public school, which undoubtedly assisted Kate to get good grades and earn a place at St Andrew’s, where she met William.
In most normal countries, the hard work and success demonstrated by the Middletons would be rewarded with warm feelings from the world at large. Aren’t we all told that the route to a happy life is through our own endeavours? In New Zealand, you are ‘posh’ if you live in a big house and drive a decent car. Bonus points are given if you can afford to take overseas holidays and if you choose to send your kids to a fee-paying school (although there are many children of lawyers, doctors and other supposedly ‘posh’ professionals who fare perfectly well at the local school and go on to see the world as full of opportunity for them). There’s always been a small faction in one part of the South Island that has tried to claim some kind of faux-aristocratic status, and there are similar pockets of imbred ‘we’re grand because we’re a very old family’ carry-on in other places, but for the most part everybody laughs at these people, or ignores them. You have Made It when you’ve made enough money to have a nice life. It’s fairly simple. The children of supermarket check-out assistants go to law school, if they’re bright enough to handle it. No worries.
However, this is England, and I can’t tell you how many newspapers have mentioned Kate’s ‘commoner’ status, or suggested that the Middletons (and particularly Mrs Middleton, because you might have known that the crafty, manipulative parent would be seen to be the woman) deliberately sent Kate to Marlborough and then to St Andrew’s with the clear goal of snaring a prince. And the endless ‘waity Katie’ remarks have been so tedious, as if she was unusual to be in a long term relationship and hold out hope that it might end in marriage. That scenario is completely true for so many people, in a country where the average age of a new bride is 33 and people tend to be together, and live together, for years before considering married life. However, in Kate’s case it’s as if this was more evidence that she’s the product of a pushy bourgeios plot to elevate the Middleton family.
A Daily Mail article about Kate’s family origins discusses the fact that her great-great-grandfather was a coal miner, but goes on to point out that she and William have a shared ancestor (an Elizabethan courtier). It’s such a weird article, seemingly written as though her ‘elevation’ signifies an end to class issues:
And although there can be no denying that many of Kate’s ancestors come from working stock, we mustn’t forget that she is also descended from one of the grandest English kings — Edward III, who reigned for nearly 50 years until 1377.
What makes Kate’s elevation wonderful, in this egalitarian age, is that she can claim entry at every level of Britain’s complex class structure.
Traditionalists can dwell on her royal lineage, the middle class will find nourishment in her father Michael Middleton’s family of lawyers, and many ordinary people will thrill to the idea that marrying into royalty is no longer the prerogative of the upper classes.
But if this was the case and we did live in an egalitarian age, surely articles like this would not be written in the first place? Mind you, the article is written by somebody who describes himself as working on the first Kate Middleton biography. Given that she’s only 28 and has, so far, done little aside from go to school, go to university, have a couple of part time jobs and meet her future husband, I can see why the author might be scratching around for something to say. This is also from the article – and if this is indicative of what the biography might contain, it should be sold with an accompanying sick bag:
There are bakers and charwomen, joiners and hatters among the wide range of Kate’s 19th-century ancestors; without the benefit of a welfare state all worked till they dropped.
It was unfashionable in those days to praise the working class, or even notice them, but it would be more than fair to say that their quiet heroism put the backbone into Kate. But also in the 19th century, there were other Middleton ancestors living a gentler life.
Sycophantic nonsense, isn’t it! And I laughed at ‘put the backbone into Kate’. Face it, writer man, the only people we can credit for Kate being a decent person (if she is one – she could be a raving lunatic for all we know) are her mother and father. To suggest that her solid working-class ancestors have played a part is like saying that I don’t shop-lift because a few generations of my mother’s family were in the police force, and I like beer because a couple of my father’s descendants owned pubs.
Before the televised interview with the happy couple earlier this week, the only quote attributed to Kate had been in response to a comment that she was lucky to be with the prince: she responded along the lines of, ‘no, he’s lucky to be with me’. Amen to that. She’s the product of a hard-working family, the child of a stable marriage, with normal parents and no obvious hang-ups. William should be counting his lucky stars.
And if the rumours are true and Mrs Middleton did actually have the audacity to say the words ‘pardon’ and toilet’ in front of the Queen, good luck to her. I would strongly suspect that the Queen herself couldn’t give a stuff, and it’s only the chinless wonders who make up the broader aristocracy (and the likes of the tedious journalists at the Daily Mail, convinced that they are relevant to the lives of these people) that would feel as though this was remarkable in any way. In my opinion a sure sign of class is the degree to which people will strive to put others at ease and refrain from judging their speech and behaviour. When I was younger I had a lovely boyfriend whose one failing was the absolute witch he called a mother, a woman who had ingrained in her children the idea that certain words (like ‘toilet’) were common. She was the kind of faux-aristocrat that I described earlier and, although she was a born and bred New Zealander, she remained convinced that she was second only to the Queen when it came to manners and behaviour. My boyfriend once made the mistake of telling me that a word I had just said was, in his mother’s opinion, common. Resisting the urge to tell what I thought of his horrible mother, I replied that my upbringing had taught me that the most common thing of all was to make pronouncements like that.
But what do I know? I’m a pleb.