So, that much-awaited Royal Visit (so important that it must always be capitalised) is now over. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have come to India, pressed some flesh, posed for some pretty pictures, made a little detour to Bhutan, performed the obligatory photo-call at the Taj Mahal, and gone back to their country home in Norfolk to cuddle their bonny babies.
But their short visit was long enough to give us some insights into both the royal family and the world’s (not to mention, the media’s) reaction to them.
And this, in no particular order of importance, is what we learnt.
* Prince William is always Prince William. At a pinch, he is the Duke of Cambridge. Sometimes, for novelty’s sake, he is referred to pithily as HRH. And headline writers seem to prefer the affectionate diminutive, Will. But Catherine, his Duchess, is routinely described as Kate Middleton. It makes no difference that she no longer uses her maiden name. It is of no consequence that she was never called Kate – not by her family nor by William – but always Catherine. As far as the media are concerned, the commoner who overreached and acquired the title of Her Royal Highness must be reminded every day that she is, at the end of the day, just plain old Kate Middleton (you know the one they used to call ‘Waitey Katie’).
* Bollywood is now officially Indian royalty. So the first evening engagement the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge attended (after paying tribute to those who died during the 26/11 terror attack at the Taj) was a fundraiser attended by Bollywood’s biggest and brightest. Everyone from Shah Rukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai to Alia Bhatt and Parineeti Chopra turned up to break bread with William and Catherine. And true to form, the Bollywood royals effortlessly out-blinged the blue-bloods; even the Duchess’s royal blue dress couldn’t quite win that battle.
The Duchess’ stylists were clearly confused between India and Saudi Arabia. So even in the sweltering heat of an Indian spring that felt more like summer, poor Catherine had to wear ankle-length dresses and full sleeves in keeping with the ‘modest dress code’ prevalent in these parts. The poor woman must have been thoroughly confused seeing the midriff and cleavage-revealing outfits the actresses wore to the ball (oops, sorry, fundraiser).
It doesn’t matter if you are British royalty, a movie star, a minor celebrity or a standard-issue woman, the tabloid press – and sadly, even some broadsheet papers – will treat you as a collection of body parts. So your legs, your derrière, your breasts, will be subjected to constant scrutiny and held up to some media-mandated standard of beauty. And yes, if you suffer a wardrobe malfunction, if that demure skirt flies up momentarily at a public function, then that’s the image that will be broadcast all over the world.
No royal visit (or any other kind, actually) to India is complete without a mandatory reference to Slumdog Millionaire. This time, the phrase was pulled out when William and Catherine paid a visit to underprivileged children in a Mumbai slum. And no, it never occurs to the British press that calling ‘little brown children’ slumdogs is incredibly offensive, not to mention rabidly racist.
The Raj may have ended decades ago but Indians are still suckers for British royalty. So the best and brightest of Delhi’s high society turned up at the British High Commission to greet the Duke and Duchess, even if they had to wait an hour for them to turn up. Wonder if any of them used that magic phrase of the Queen’s on her grandson: “Have you come far?”
No matter how minuscule your kingdom, if you are King and Queen you get to lord it over those with lesser titles. So it was that King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Queen Jetsun Pema of Bhutan granted Prince William, heir to the heir to the throne of the United Kingdom, and his wife, a royal audience in their Golden Throne Room. It is not clear if William and Catherine were required to bow/curtsy before the more senior royals. But going by precedent (William’s mother, Princess Diana, had to curtsy to Emperor Akihito when she visited Japan) it is not entirely beyond the realm of possibility.
The ghost of Princess Diana lives on and will continue to haunt William and Catherine for years to come. And not just in that famous sapphire engagement ring that the Duchess wears on her finger. No, their every public engagement will be held up to comparison with how the Prince and Princess of Wales conducted themselves in their time. And that famous photograph of Diana, sitting wan and lonely on that bench in front of the Taj, will be pulled out to contrast her sadness and loneliness with the picture of marital bliss her son and daughter-in-law law present five years into their own marriage.
Though she is constantly compared to Diana, the woman whom Catherine most clearly resembles is the one whom her late mother-in-law dismissed as the ‘Rottweiler’. She has the same no-nonsense, jolly-hockey-sticks, Home Counties charm that Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, exudes on her public appearances. There is the same ready laugh, the enjoyment of a good joke and the ability to put people at ease. And more importantly, there is the same discretion. Just as Camilla has never put a foot wrong after joining the royal family, Catherine has conducted herself just as impeccably. Makes you wonder how history would have turned out if Charles had been allowed to marry his own ‘Kate’ just like William got to marry his ‘Camilla’.
From HT Brunch, April 24, 2016
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