02 May 2011

The Downside of Princesshood

The Duchess of CambridgeAs Catherine Middleton and Charlene Wittstock are surely discovering, becoming a princess isn’t quite the fairytale young girls are led to imagine. You’ll remember that those fairytales end with winning the prince and only Stephen Sondheim has really attempted to explore what happens after that. (If you have never seen "Into the Woods," I highly recommend it.)

Of course, a middle class woman marrying into a royal family has a number of fringe benefits that we ordinary folk can only dream about: access to fabulous jewels, the ability to travel around the world, designers dying to dress you, wealth and never-ending public attention. [See my article, “What Does a Princess Do?”] But, that’s just the upside. The trade-offs might make some would-be princesses decide to explore other career options.

“I would think the most challenging part, especially for middle-class women marrying into the royal family, is the lack of privacy and flexibility,” says Yvonne Strong of the blog, Royal Universe. The lack of privacy extends even further than the media’s zoom lenses. Indeed, the paparazzi are going to try every trick in the book to photograph you getting angry, wearing a bikini or looking sad, but you may not be able to indulge in much privacy even in your own home.

“They're going from a regular home to a palace with an extensive staff and a tradition going back hundreds of years, and are having to fit into a routine that's pretty much set in rock,” Strong says, adding that “there's no real way out if they decide they don't like it.” That may be why Prince William and Catherine, now The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have decided to spend as much time as possible at their cottage on remote Anglesey, where they famously live without so much as a maid to do the washing up. Away from the listening ears of servants and courtiers, they may have more luck avoiding the tell-all books of butlers and the like.

Of course, another constant stress is the pressure to appear perfect all the time. “The main challenge of the role is not overshadowing the spouse,” says Marilyn Braun of Marilyn’s Royal Blog, The Princess Catherine Report and the Internet radio show, “The Royal Report.” Braun says new princesses are expected to “look beautiful, but not too beautiful, lest you draw attention away from the royal family.”

Indeed, one of the early pressures on the infamous marriage of Charles and Diana was her ability to draw a crowd away from her husband, who had become quite used to being the star of the show. Although Diana later regretted media intrusions into her life, early on she seemed to relish the attention. During her very first foreign tour, she crossed between him and the photographers, who were scheduled to watch him play cello. She settled on a piano bench and surprised them all by playing beautifully, revealing a hitherto private talent and earning the headlines intended for her husband. She was probably just bored with the hectic tour schedule, but her impromptu moment did not play well back at the palace.

Furthermore, princesses are expected to dress impeccably, fashionably but not fashion-forward. Indeed Catherine has already received more than her share of public criticism for wearing sensible, square heels instead of stilettos. Princesses must also be well-coiffed with nary a bad hair day and her mascara should never smudge. And, she is expected to wear full evening attire with great frequency. Sure, it’s fun to dress up occasionally but to be constantly turned out could get exhausting and Diana complained that her tiara gave her a headache.

Braun adds that “There's also the challenge of subjugating their ego and in some cases, their level of intelligence.” Princesses are supposed to appear interested in everyone they meet (scientists, movie stars, shopkeepers, sheep farmers, small children in crowds, etc.) but not interested enough to stay for a long conversation. They’re expected to avoid any topics that could be considered controversial, racy or indiscreet by anyone, which leaves them asking scintillating questions like, “Have you been waiting long?” and “Did you travel from far away?”

Of course, the exception to this is that princesses are expected to take up “causes,” but even these are limited to health, children, sports and the arts. Stronger issues like environmentalism can only be broached by the heirs to thrones like the Prince of Wales and Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden. Going out onto a limb with more political issues, like Diana did with landmines, tends to tick off the politicians. And, I doubt you’ll ever see a princess become a patroness of PETA.

Finally, their schedules are only partially under their control. Princesses are expected to attend innumerable national events, ribbon cuttings, photo ops, movie premieres, galas, luncheons, investitures, etc., etc., etc. And, while princesses do tend to have great vacations, they don’t get sick days. They are expected to show up with broken legs (Camilla Duchess of Cornwall), sinus headaches (Queen Elizabeth II) and morning sickness (every princess on the planet). Not to mention, they have to eat everything that’s served to them, accept every gift no matter how odd with a smile, and put everyone they meet at their ease.

The good news for most princesses marrying into royal families in the last 15 years is that they seem to be receiving more preparation than their predecessors. First of all, many of them have been in relationships with their princes for many years and therefore are familiar with the royal routines, if only from the sidelines. Second, the royal establishments seem to have realized that newcomers need more training, so royal fiancées-to-be learn about protocol, traditions and expectations before the engagement is ever announced. When marrying into a new nationality, like Australian-born Crown Princess Mary of Denmark and Argentine beauty Princess Maxima of The Netherlands, they get extensive language training and lessons in history and culture.

As for the newest royal brides, Braun says Catherine and Charlene will be most successful—and content—if they remember to be good supporting players who don’t outshine their husbands. “It's a very fine line but I think that because Kate and Charlene have had exposure to royal life, they will be successful working within those confines.”

Strong believes “both ladies stand a good chance of making a success of it as long as they aren't hounded too badly by media types desperate for stories of conflict and failure.” To which she adds that a great portion of that success will depend on how well they are supported by their husbands and their new families.

For more about a princess’s job, read my article, “What Does a Princess Do?

Photo source: The British Monarchy (all rights reserved)

1 comment:

  1. Becoming a princess certainly has it's down side this may be why Catherine is opting for as normal a life as possible.