Last week, when giddy praise followed the grim loss of Peaches Geldof, my colleague Guy Rundle was on hand to bury the death. In a rather good piece for Crikey, he observed that Britain’s fascination for “It Girls” was made possible by the nation’s bygone attachment to nobility.
Geldof’s rule — more authoritative than a (Kylie) Minogue’s or a (Lindsay) Lohan’s — was permitted by the heredity of fame and maintained by a life apparently spent in the new sovereign leisure: gold teeth, Grey Goose, tripping in the bathroom.
She would never be royal, but she was, in the least figurative sense, a princess.
Guy is not the first to observe that the divine right once reserved for kings is now enjoyed by the famous. Just as monarchs were once held to be subject to no judgement but God’s, celebrities are above earthly law. Even if they’re done for DUI, their mug shots are not so much evidence of criminality but a promise of forgiveness for every weekend spent in blood stains, ball gowns, trashing the hotel room. Actual royals no longer enjoy the possibility of redemption.
If Guy, as is often the case, is right and drug-fucked celebrocrat princesses now inspire the best deference, then what of the changes to traditional princess employment? The Duchess of Cambridge, newly arrived in Sydney, has a purpose that is certainly diminished and probably distinct from those who once stood in her espadrilles.
Catherine and her husband are, I would argue, not part of an ongoing tradition as far as we, their future subjects, are concerned. Their lives are a new exercise in wholesome niche-branding — mildly less successful than One Direction’s, given the modest size of their audience in Sydney yesterday.
Royalty is no longer the business of royals. What we have seen on this tour — and from the time that normal dad William put normal son George in a normal baby capsule in a normal car in a normal act of normal as his normal wife normally displayed her normal baby bump — is an act of press choreography as bland as it is novel.
Monarchists, of course, will argue that tradition remains undisturbed, that the grandly dull young Mountbatten-Windsors are as conventionally inspirational as they will be one day constitutional. But monarchists forget their history, and accolades for an imagined ongoing practice of niceness continue. This rot in TheCourier-Mail typifies the idea that the purpose of the monarchy is renewed by the couple. They are “fresh-faced, respectable people who have managed to restore the public’s regard of royalty to a level not observed for generations”. Although no generation ever esteemed its monarch for being fresh-faced and respectable.
“It is certainly true that the Duke and Duchess offer no hint of scandal in an age afflicted with it.”
Blah blah return to tradition. Blah blah role model. Blah blah we hunger for the steady dignity of a sovereign in an age dominated by reports of crank-fuelled blowjobs in the loos of the Chateau Marmont.
Such lavatory acts were the remit of Knights of the Garter for centuries. Those born noble were not required to act well and so, for the most part, they did not. It wasn’t so long ago that a blozzer-in-the-hotel-loo royal story would have been unsurprising. Monarchists seem to have forgotten a recent age of royal-celebrity fusion that featured toe-sucking, bulimia and tampon-fetish. The contention that William Wales is acting as his family always has is pish. Pop him in a Nazi uniform and into the arms of a transgender sex worker dressed as Anne Frank. That’s the royal tradition, now enacted by celebrities.
The Duke and Duchess represent a new habit of complicity with a press that finds moments of non-scandal are good for business.
Naturally, there were those prompted by old habit to greet them at the Sydney Opera House. But there were also those, including contemporary hit FM station Nova, which used the occasion as a branding exercise, who like the couple for precisely the same reasons they like Zooey Deschanel. Namely, they are “fresh-faced, respectable people” who have managed, unlike Deschanel, to secure what seems to be a fairly binding guarantee of uncritical press.
It is certainly true that the Duke and Duchess offer no hint of scandal in an age afflicted with it. But their decorum is hardly traditional. If we overlook Her Majesty, an unusually dutiful sovereign, the royal Houses have long and recently been staffed by adulterers and idiots. When one’s reputation is acquired by birth, there is no point in maintaining it. William’s parents certainly didn’t bother. Nor did his great-aunt Margaret, his abdicating antecedent Edward VIII, James I, Henry VIII and anyone called Charles. Profligate conduct has long been the royal rule and not its exception.
That the dreary Duke and Duchess are obliged to actively build and uphold the dignity once conferred by their titles is evidence that fewer of us give half a shit for the monarchy.
They will never be royals. But, if they continue their pact with the press, they just may continue to be impotent celebrities who are famous for being fresh-faced and famous. They will be judged by us here on earth while Geldof speaks to her maker.
Helen Razer is a writer whose work appears in The Saturday Paper, Daily Review, SBS Online, The Big Issue, and Frankie. She has previously worked as a columnist for The Age and The Australian and as a broadcaster for ABC radio.