Kate Middleton: Caribbean Queen? (Part 1)

Intelek Int'l By Intelek Int'l, 22nd Jul 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL http://nut.bz/245-hk7w/
Posted in Wikinut>Celebrities>Personalities

Written from a uniquely Caribbean perspective, this is the first in a series of essays on what lay ahead for the Duchess of Cambridge as she entered England's Royal Family. Her biggest challenge: comparisons with her future husband Prince William's mother, Princess Diana.

Catherine Middleton and Prince William's engagement: hard talk and soft politics

The engagement of Prince William to Catherine Middleton, a member of the British upper-middle class has come at a very interesting time in British-Caribbean relations.

The pending class-crossing union of the young, attractive couple -however marginal or miniscule the crossing of class boundaries - is widely expected to bolster Britain’s domestic self-confidence and external image, at a time when the country’s Conservative leaders seem intent on reclaiming something of the global influence and prestige Britain had during its imperial dominance of many Caribbean territories.

Less than 24 hours before the announcement of the forthcoming convention-challenging union of the Prince and probable future Queen of the realm, British Prime Minister David Cameron told London’s captains of commerce of the “hard-headed” commercial and broader national self-interest that would characterize his administration’s foreign policy.

And days before that, in a Canning House lecture entitled “Britain and Latin America: historic friends, future partners”, Foreign Secretary William Hague declared: “We will halt the decline in Britain’s diplomatic presence in Latin America. Britain’s retreat from the region is over, and it is now time for an advance to begin.”

Like Britain’s suspension of the Cayman Islands and Turks and Caicos administrations some months ago, and its imposition of a tax on travel to the Caribbean (despite warnings by Caribbean leaders of dire consequences for their tourism-dependent economies) these bullish pronouncements by top Tories of the Con-Lib coalition government may be ideologically in step with the controversial commercial adventures of former Conservative Party Chairman Lord Michael Ashcroft – the buccaneer-style businessman and politician who dominated the banking and other commercial activity of the Caribbean island of Belize for decades.

However, it may be harder to reconcile such rigorous rhetoric with the rehabilitated, relaxed image of royalty that the reputedly down-to-earth “Kate” and deliberate William Wales - an obvious, unabashed devotee of his royalty reforming mother Diana, Princess of Wales - seem set to project.

With the creation of Youtube, Twitter and, most recently Facebook accounts, there can be no doubt that the British Monarchy has been undergoing a significant populist reformation or modernization since Diana’s death, and the backlash it experienced around that time. The only question is how far this social reconciliation, masses engaging exercise will be allowed to go.

I think too, that it can reasonably be assumed that Princes William and Harry, both Counsellors of State (along with their father Charles, the Prince of Wales and their uncle Andrew, the Duke of York), have directly or indirectly influenced the course this monarchy popularising exercise has taken.

The main question I am concerned with as a Caribbean citizen, is how much of Diana’s reformist, even iconoclastic influence, the younger royals – with whom Kate is aligning herself - are bringing to the process.

Will their contribution be something in the vein of the radical New Labour ideological re-orientation that characterized Tony Blair’s premiership? Or might it be closer to the comparatively less distinct “Blue Labour” innovations of David Cameron?

I am wondering if a consciousness of possible diplomatic dissonance between a relaxed approach to ruling by the young royals and the Tories’ “hard-headed” rhetoric might have been behind Cameron’s comment that while Kate and William’s engagement was a time of national celebration, the young couple should be given “plenty of space to um, think about the future and what they’re about to do”?

I thought the “um” that escaped the Prime Minister’s lips was particularly telling. This briefest of hesitations – and it was so brief you could have missed it – was out of sync with the smiling, overall upbeat character of Cameron’s doorstep interview outside Number 10.

As was his abrupt turn and retreat from the journalists, which brought that press briefing to a somewhat sudden end.

Could Cameron’s speech have been checked by some presentiment – even a premonition – of the difficulties that may lay ahead for the Tory led coalition if the class and possibly broader convention challenging royal couple resumes Diana’s radical royalty reforming mission?

Much has been made of the romantic and sentimental significance of William’s gifting of his mother’s engagement ring when he proposed to Kate. However, I have not yet come across any consideration of its political significance.

Yet there can be no doubt that despite her much attested vulnerabilities, Diana was a rather shrewd political operator and populist force to contend with. Cameron’s “um” may have been a reflection of his mindfulness of this and the possibility that guided by her Prince, Middleton might take on his mother’s reformist mantle.

His rather vague reference to “what they’re about to do” could well have been a linguistic circum locution of his thoughts about the enormity and complexity of the political challenges that might come to characterize the interaction between the young couple and his government.

He may have been reflecting, for example, on the fact that whatever the constitutional or conventional constraints on the Royal Family’s political involvement, their visibility ensures a significant political impact and Middleton, under William’s guidance, could conceivably choose to exploit that visibility as Diana did.

Can Middleton match Princess Diana's Caribbean colourfulness. Should that even be her objective?

And how Diana exploited it! Her populist flair approximated that of the “Bacchanal woman”, of which Caribbean Calypsonian David Rudder sings. Her monarchy reforming exploits certainly had something of the spectacular, carnival commandeering, flag woman flavour to them.

It was Rudder’s compatriot, the peerless Aldwyn “Lord Kitchener” Roberts, a Calypso pioneer, who first extolled the flag woman’s impact on Trinidad’s carnival proceedings. In “Flag Woman”, his 1976 carnival Road March classic, Kitchie - as the deceased maestro was popularly known – was clear in his assessment of the iconic flag woman’s importance. That song begins “You have no band without a musical flag woman! You have no band without an experienced flag woman!”

Similarly, in a chapter devoted to the late Princess in his autobiography, “A Journey”, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair says of her political prowess and impact “She captured the essence of an era and held it in the palm of her hand. She defined it.”

Blair goes on to offer a description of Diana’s impact on the royal family specifically. It is rather insightful and particularly instructive (for “Calypso Kate”?), underscoring both the Caribbeanesque warmth, colourfulness, vigour and vitality with which Diana was naturally endowed and her awareness of a sense of mission. He says,

“This was gravely disconcerting for the monarchy as an institution... She so outshone the others in terms of charisma, ability to connect with the public, courage in embracing the new, that she was a rebuke rather than a support.

"That is not to say that she did not fully agree with the monarchy and all its hereditary tradition - she did – but her way of translating that into the modern idiom was so adventurous it throbbed with nonconformity; and thus danger.

"As she strode into hitherto forbidden places, vaulted carefully erected hurdles of proprietary and demolished vast swathes of the norms of royal behaviour with an abandon that was total folly at one level and utter genius at another, the royal family watched with what I am sure was a mixture of helplessness and horror.

"Of course she was much too smart to give her support to any political party, but in temperament and time, in the mood she engendered and which we represented, there was a perfect fit. Whatever New Labour had in part, she had in whole.”

It’s a lengthy quote, but only begins to do one of the most extraordinary women of our time justice.

Blair goes on to note Diana’s analytical prowess, typically overlooked by those who stress her affective or emotional intelligence. Her views on “the utility and force of photographs and how they could best be used” he says, “...showed a mind that was not only intuitive but also had a really good process of reasoning”.

He recalls repeatedly saying to his closest advisor, reputed “spin doctor” Alastair Campbell, that if the Princess ever got into politics “even Clinton would have to watch out”.

This is the person that William is seeking to ensure is remembered the day he and Catherine are wed: the “Flag Woman” icon who he and Harry heralded with a national concert in 2007.

This consummate icon and iconoclast combined is the person he sought to ensure was not “left out” of the country’s celebration of his and Middleton’s engagement.

What message do such measures to ensure Diana’s inclusion send?

An apolitical one?

I think not. I think it would be unwise to let ourselves be dazzled by the romantic and sentimental lustre of William’s distinctive sapphire and diamond gift to his fiancé.

Middleton certainly does not seem to be thus bewitched – or in Trini-speak “mamaguyed” .

In the exclusive ITV interview that she and William did with Tom Bradby shortly after the engagement announcement, she described marriage into the royal family as a daunting prospect.

And you get a sense of just how daunting a prospect this is for her when you see her response to a question from Bradby about the comparisons that will inevitably be made between herself and Diana – comparisons the gifting of Diana’s engagement ring to her will do nothing to prevent.

I have watched that footage a number of times during the preparation of this discourse and my overriding impression is that Middleton felt herself a bit out-to-sea – rather like an island - just then.

Despite William’s clear intent to stand with and shield her, and all the preparation that she most likely had for dealing with the issue of Diana’s legacy, Kate seemed truly vulnerable at that moment: she seemed overwhelmed by Diana’s hurricane force historical impact; invisibly shuddering under the soul shaking weight of simultaneously thunderous and inaudible, conflicting opinions and expectations (http://www.itv.com/wales/william-and-kate-interview15733/).

Like many members of the British public, I really wanted that interview to go well for her, but I could not help but feel that her response to Bradby did not support her billing as a model of composure.

She had managed competently until the issue of comparison with Diana came up. Up to that point she projected confidence and even playfulness as she and her Prince interacted.

However, a clear, concise response to the Diana-comparison question seemed beyond her competence.

The brief, rambling, arguably evasive character of her answer – focussing on the achievements of all the royals, for example - made her seem not as fully in command of herself or as apprised of the mantle she is assuming as comments by those who have known her - dating-back to her teenage years and college days at the exclusive Marlborough College - suggest.

Those persons attest to both her intelligence and athleticism. However, the possible future Queen of England seemed to lose her balance just then.

Here is a transcript - with some visual description - of what she said to Bradby:

“Well, obviously it would be, um... (she briefly looks to William, then changes tact) I would love to have met her..um. And, and and she’s obviously she’s a, she’s a, she’s an inspirational woman to, to look up to; and obviously on this day, and going forward and things, you know it is, you know its a wonderful family. The members I met have achieved a lot; and very inspirational, so um... Yeah, I do.”

Those of us wishing her well will take some comfort from the fact that despite her meandering, the words on which Middleton ended - “Yeah, I do (think about Diana’s legacy a lot).” – suggest that even in that moment when she seemed to feel somewhat overwhelmed by what she is undertaking, she was able to maintain her train of thought.

That may have been lost on her Prince though, as William promptly chipped in to wipe up the spill.

Significantly, he had done the same after Middleton’s response to a question from Bradby about her first meeting with the "anti-Diana" (opposite of Diana, not her adversary) of British royal family representation: her future grandmother-in-law, the convention-conserving incumbent Queen, Elizabeth II.

This time, with what is arguably the understatement of the year, William began “There’s no pressure”, then proceeded to assert on his betrothed’s behalf (“As Kate said”) things she may have rehearsed, but clearly had not said: like, that she would be charting her own course as a royal.

Even as he says this though, the sombre look on Middleton’s face makes one feel uncertain.

To be fair to the 28 year old, there is probably nothing like knowing that one’s performance will inevitably be measured by a legacy such as Diana’s to give a young woman pause: nothing like the prospect of being measured by seemingly opposing standards of statecraft to give a newcomer to national representation a virtual panic attack.

Middleton is, let us remember, only a “civilian” and, at twenty-eight, a rather young one.

“It’s about carving your own future. No one is going to try to fill my mother’s shoes.” William said.

It is equally true though that no one can erase Diana’s indelible imprint on the royal family’s public image. It is therefore probable that any future queen’s performance – Camilla’s, Kate’s or anyone else’s – will be measured to some extent by Diana’s humanizing, masses embracing and inspiring influence.

This, as Blair indicated, is not just the result of her giftedness, but as much the consequence of the extent to which her liberal gifts contrasted with the dominant talents and traits of the institution she represented – and especially the conservative talents and traits of that institution’s head, Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.

It is also true that any attempt to fill Diana’s shoes would be as futile and frustrating as Gordon Brown’s experiment with Tony Blair’s brand of politics (in so far as such an experiment was attempted) once Brown had taken over as Prime Minister.

However, the usefulness of a comparison between Blair’s and Brown’s politics should not blind us to its limits: while like the New Labour reformation in British politics, Diana’s royalty reforming work was profoundly and expansively political, it was also a priori private. She was first and foremost a wife and mother. This is why William and Harry are her most enduring testament.

“What she did is fantastic.” said William. He ought to know.

He, first with Harry, and now, uniting with the thoughtful Middleton are the supreme expression of what Diana did and is doing. They are the hub of her on-going royal convention challenging influence: the “is” (note that William did not say what Diana did “was” fantastic) that now most potently embodies her spirit and presence.

Of course, they bear Prince Charles’ imprint as well, and through him the current Queen’s.

However, as Blair indicates in the passage I have previously quoted, Diana’s reforming influence and the maintenance of traditions that the Queen and other royals represent are not irreconcilable.

And the success of William and Harry’s relationship with the Queen, their father and others on that side of the Royal Family is proof of this very thing. It is on that success that Middleton is set to build.

So, unlike the sceptical Bishop Peter Broadbent who infamously lampooned the young couple, the entire royal establishment and/or the media – depending on what view you take of his comments – I am optimistic that with time Middleton will establish her own style of statecraft and the young couple will do their nation proud.

For all the Broadbent-like detractors and anti-royalist critics, one gets the impression that if they fail to live up to the public’s best expectations, it will not be for a lack of goodwill among the vast majority of the British people.

And I feel certain that despite all the difficulties that have previously beset British-Caribbean relations - and might yet do so - this young couple will be wished the best by the vast majority of Caribbean citizens.

And among English-speaking Caribbean citizens, Barbadians like myself, may be among the young couple’s chief well-wishers, recognizing and accepting as we do, our interdependence with the British.

Our homeland celebrated its 44th year of independence on November 30th, but I think that such practical independence as we have achieved has done little to diminish the fundamental sense of common interest that we, like other Commonwealth peoples, share with the British.

Indeed, given the Queen’s unique relationship with Barbadians – she is the Queen of Barbados, our Parliamentarians still swear allegiance to the British Crown – it is probable that many Barbadians, like the late unapologetic Royalist Alfred Pragnell, have a keener sense of that common interest than other Commonwealth citizens.

It is to the extent that Cameron and Hague’s foreign policy rhetoric challenges this sense of common-interest that many Caribbean people may (I would say should) feel some anxiety about these Conservative leaders’ intentions.

After all, the comments of these “Blue Labour” politicians chime harmoniously with the New Labour legalistic, conservative mindset that led Gordon Brown’s administration to ignore the scientific counsel of Professor David Nutt and others regarding governmental policy on marijuana – a policy with serious ramifications for the Caribbean.

Indeed, in the past few days it has become apparent that the Cameron-Clegg government is pushing a legislative amendment that will not only limit but possibly pre-empt scientific input into drugs policy making.

I have written elsewhere in this forum about the recently deceased Barbados Prime Minister David Thompson’s apparent (and regrettable) resignation to the view that Barbados and other Caribbean territories are powerless to pursue a more progressive policy on Marijuana until such a policy is initiated by the British, American or a similarly powerful government (http://www.allvoices.com/contributed-news/7212702-puzzles-of-pm-thompsons-death-part-1).

Having publicly expressed views supporting the legalization of Marijuana while he was in Opposition, Thompson seemed to have retreated from that position once his party came to power in 2008.

He raised the issue of possible economic sanctions and/or other repercussions by developed countries as a defence of his apparent change of heart, when I brought the issue up during his visit to Canning House in London last year (2009).

Personally, I think Thompson’s retreat from the earlier position he expressed opens him to a serious charge of opportunistic political posturing – not unlike the opportunism that Cameron’s administration is now being accused of because of its retreat from Tory manifesto promises of imprisonment for persons found carrying knives and related criminal offences.

Fundamentally, I think that given the devastating consequences of Marijuana’s illegality - the criminalizing, socially stigmatizing and other harmful effects it has on Caribbean societies internally and on our foreign relations - Thompson’s flip-flopping on this issue seriously undermines the more salutary features of his legacy.

(And let me say here that I have never used Marijuana myself, and would never do so in a jurisdiction where it is illegal. Some persons at that Canning House meeting I mentioned seemed to think that my raising of the issue of legalization with Thompson reflected a personal indulgence. It did not.)

Middleton, as stated at the outset of this essay is known for her down-to-earth character.

Likewise, much has been made of Thompson’s accessibility. Many paying tribute after his death spoke of his ability to connect with Barbadians from the lowest echelons of society. I once saw him at one of Barbados’ more lowly, risqué entertainment establishments myself – a nightclub known for its propagation of reggae music, among other things (I visited that nightclub frequently when I lived in Barbados and now haunt a socially similar space in England with comparable frequency).

Was it just PR for Thompson? Did he make that nightclub appearance and others like it purely on the advice of his purported “king maker” Hartley Henry, in an effort to project an affinity with Barbadians that he did not actually possess?

Was he authentic? His flip-flopping on the Marijuana legalization question suggests that such authenticity as he possessed was somewhat restricted. It suggests that such populism as he preached was not always honoured by his practice.

(Continued at this link: http://www.allvoices.com/contributed-news/7564187-kate-middleton-caribbean-queen-part-one)


Barbados, Catherine Middleton, Prince William

Meet the author

author avatar Intelek Int'l
"I think therefore I jam"
I'm a holistic communication and education specialist, trading as Intelek International (www.intelek.net).
I write about spirituality, science, philosophy, politics, love.

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author avatar Retired
23rd Jul 2013 (#)

Did you mean 'Duchess' in your intro?

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author avatar Intelek Int'l
23rd Jul 2013 (#)

Hi Clara.
Yes I did. Thank you for drawing the error to my attention.

Any other comments/observations will be greatly appreciated.

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