Friday, August 8, 2008

Royal Comeback

August 8, 2008. Yesterday was a warm sunny day in New York. After dark there was a storm system off to the northeast. From the Promenade on the river you could see it lightning flashing, lighting up the skies, behind the dark clouds out toward Long Island and Connecticut. Later the rains came, and the cooler temperatures.

The Princess who is peeved. The British press love to pick on Princess Michael of Kent. This has been going on for years – calling her names, intimating that she’s had affairs, calling into question her social cachet.

Princess and Prince Michael of Kent.
Why her? I’m not entirely sure except she definitely is a sitting duck. Sometimes I think it’s because she’s beautiful and she acts out the royal persona as if you were seeing it in a good movie.

The Royals are at the center of British news all the time. It’s an ongoing family drama and everybody’s up for grabs at one time or another except for the Queen, and of course her late Mother.

Princess Michael is a far different story. Far different even from her husband’s press which is almost neutral.

The Royals, when you meet them in a social situation are very polite although perhaps reserved. It’s an odd existence, when you think about it, no matter how grand it might seem to us outsiders. They live in a veritable goldfish bowl no matter how high the walls they might build to hide behind. It is the nature of the modern monarchy.

The personalities differ, of course. Of those I’ve met, Prince Charles on meeting makes an effort to be gracious and charming. You can see by the way he looks around at his guests that he is indeed curious to know something about them.

His wife, the Duchess, is not unlike that middle-aged sunkissed girl from Piping Rock or the Greenwich CC, with the bright blue eyes, smiling face, not casual but definitely quite comfortable with casual. Her predecessor, Diana, on the other hand, had a look of abandonment in her eyes when the lights stopped flashing. Again, the family drama. And when spoken to, she responded like a peer…of yours. A peer who looked like a Princess; she made that possible.
Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and The Queen.
Prince Andrew, Duke of York. Sophie, Countess of Wessex and Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex.
Prince Philip is quite royal in bearing, impeccable but also quite gracious on meeting, and very witty and funny at times. In his public speaking, he can be quite funny. He has a strong sense of the ironic and it’s expressed in a way that will not only make you laugh but make you like him. His son Andrew can be difficult and ornery and not particularly patient with those who want to be near a real-live prince (and there are a lot of those). I’m always reminded of the stories (true or not) of a kid throwing a tantrum on the golf course if he doesn’t win. Bawww.

Princess Anne, the Princess Royal.
Princess Anne I’ve never met but it is said that she can be quite brusque and gives no truck to anything outside her interest or domain. She has not always been a favorite with the Royal Household Staff.

The Royal Household Staff talk about the Royals among themselves and their close pals both before and after their employment is over. They gossip, in the way, family members or relatives gossip about each other, which usually involves specific attitudes and behavior.

The favorite Royal, above everyone else, was the Queen Mother. She was famous for treating her staff like her favorite nephews and nieces. And with the “nephews,” many of whom could be very camp in their patter and gestures, she could play their game like a pro, and with unrivaled delight. The stories about Queen Mother give the impression that she had more fun at home with her staff than anywhere else she went.

People with staff, royal or not, often tend to forget that the loyalty depends very much on how staff are treated -- in terms of behavior firstly, and secondly in terms of The Money. The Royal Household staff is known to be well-treated with a few exceptions naturally. So despite what they might gossip about their employers, as they would with most of their family members, they often regard their HRH’s with empathy, affection and a certain amount of mutual respect.
The Queen Mother.
There are exceptions of course. One might think, the way the tabloids go after Princess Michael that she would be one of those “exceptions.” However, I’ve never heard any complaints about her, nor have I read any. So it’s not what puts her in such low regard with the press.

Last Tuesday, the day after my Diary about Prince and Princess Michael, their marriage, her reputations, etc., much of what had been reported in a Daily Mail article last weekend, I got an email from Princess Michael.

Having met me often enough she expressed her surprise at my words about her. She was frank about what she took to be a “really nasty” report on my part.

I wasn’t sure exactly what she was referring to but I could imagine. In the past I had defended her when she was unfairly attacked over an incident at Da Silvano in New York a couple years ago. My Diary must have seemed the opposite of defending. She was measured in her objections in this brief note, but she made them clear.

Princess Michael as seen on the diary.
I regretted that because I have nothing against Princess Michael personally, and a lot of journalists write about her as if they had a personal grudge. We’re not “friends” and never would be for a variety of reasons but she can be quite amusing company. And a very glamorous “royal” to be in the presence of -- tall and beautiful, probably the best-looking of all the royals almost anywhere.

However, public figures are historical figures. Princess Michael knows this from her own geneology and from her experience as a biographer of historical royal figures. And in these times, marketing oneself is a business proposition, strictly for proft and ego; and therefore open to the vagaries of us, the Great Unwashed, who turn to them for amusement.

When I portray a public figure, I attempt to give an impression of a real life. I don’t believe in maligning or making fun of people. I believe in being tolerant and empathic, but I also believe in providing the tools of insight for the reader.

That said, on early Tuesday morning, I was still in a deep sleep when I was awakened by the phone. A groggy: “hello.”

It was an unfamiliar woman’s voice with a thick British accent, and not one that had a royal ring to it. She told me she was calling from the Daily Mail.

Are you David Patrick Columbia, she wanted to know. Yes. “I understand you received an email from Princess Michael.”

What?! This woman I never spoke to before, never heard of before knows I got an email from Princess Michael?

Who told you??!! “We have our sources,” she said. I was dumfounded. I couldn’t recall telling anyone I’d received an email. No one.

“What did she say?” the woman asked as if she were reading the question off a police form.

“That’s none of your business,” I replied, again asking how she knew I’d received this email.

She then asked more pointed questions. Was Princess Michael a personal friend. No. Then why would she write?

I was waking up. She then asked me about the portions of the Diary – gleaned from the Daily Mail, mind you, as if she were learning about them for the first time, as if she’d never read her own newspaper: “Now you wrote that Princess Michael, etc., etc…”

I had nothing to tell her. It was a brief email except the stated disappointment and objection to a reference of Prince Michael going to the ballet with a woman named Marianne Krex. Prince Michael taking Ms. Krex, the email stated, was Princess Michael’s suggestion because she couldn’t go herself.

At the end of this phone conversation with the reporter from the Daily Mail, I asked again who had told her. She said she couldn’t reveal her sources. An odd claim under the circumstances.

Then I suddenly recalled. Aha! I had told someone -- an email exchange with a British journalist I know who’d commented favorably on the column that day. I replied telling him that PM did not find it so favorable. There was the culprit.

I was surprised, and embarrassed by my obvious naivete. Although another kind of person wouldn’t have been surprised. This guy was a journalist, and British too, and worked that beat. It’s always all about the story. For all I know he got a few pounds for it.

The problem is that the Royals can’t be royals without the media and the media can’t draws readers without the Royals (or similar celebrities, socialites, actors, etc.).

But we now live in a proletarian world, whatever the notion of classes are. At the beginning of the 21st century, it’s all about The Money. Even the elite can’t live without it. Even the Communist Chinese.

It costs tens, maybe hundreds of millions a year to support the system of the monarchy in the UK. That’s taxpayer money. That’s poor working slobs footing the bills of the royal doodles (as opposed to the Yankee doodles).

Princess Alexandra of Kent.
The nature of royalty has been infiltrated by proletarian budgets too; budgets that are shrinking. So the coroneted ones have to be more creative in keeping the gilt on their front doors and tiara sparkling. And if they’re going to use their scepters to gain entrance into the halls of financial opportunity, just like the rest of us they’re going to have to accept the huzzahs that come with the territory.

There is another Royal I met once, years ago, who was guest of honor at a party at Doubles that was hosted by Betty Sherrill, the socialite head of McMillen, and a kind of New York and Southampton grande dame. It was for a sister-in-law of Princess Michael, Princess Alexandra of Kent. Princess Alexandra was married to a second son of an earl, a man without a title, but a man who refused it when it was available after he’d married his royal wife.

Princess Alexandra, also blonde and attractive approached this writer with a direct curiosity. She wanted to know who I was and what I did professionally. When I told her, she asked what kind of people I wrote about. “People like you, for example,” I answered. “That must be very boring,” she commented. “No,” I replied, “sometimes it’s fascinating.” She found that worth a smile, adding, “oh, then I should be very careful around you.”

Although I had the feeling she couldn’t have cared less. As well she shouldn’t have.

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