By Catherine Ross
It’s funny, isn’t it, how reading reports of the same story in two different news outlets can give a completely different idea of what happened.
Working in PR, as I do, my job involves identifying stories that will be of interest to news outlets and telling them in a way that will results in journalists writing about them.
I wonder, then, whether Hilary Mantel wrote her lecture for the London Review of Books knowing the kind of controversy it might provoke.
Let me set out my stall. Hilary Mantel is an extraordinarily talented writer. Her books about the court of King Henry VIII, Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies, are incredible works of historical literature.
They are the kind of novels that make me doubt whether I could ever write a book. Her research is thorough. She knows what she’s talking about.
She gave a lecture to the London Review of Books in which she described nation’s sweetheart, Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cornwall, as a “plastic princess”.
Mantel suggested that Middleton had been carefully crafted for public life. My favourite quote from the lecture: “the spindles of her limbs hand-turned and gloss-varnished”.
Mantel has subsequently been described as jealous, her lecture has been described by various media outlets as a “vicious attack on the princess”.
Even “call me Dave” waded in and defended “Princess Kate”, describing Mantel’s comments as “misguided and wrong”. The Mail and The Express are leading the campaign against Hilary Mantel and defending their princess.
In fact, a more considered reading of Mantel’s comments reveals that she wasn’t attacking the Duchess of Cambridge at all, but the circus around her.
The one carefully staging public appearances, co-ordinating pregnancy announcements and objecting to topless and bikini/bump photos.
Mantel’s essay is, in fact, about the way we view the monarchy. It compares our curiosity with our attention to pandas in the zoo.
It considers the amount of serious discussion on TV news given to the subject of whether women should run in heels while pregnant after Kate Middleton was filmed with a hockey stick when visiting her old school.
It describes Mantel’s own reaction to seeing Prince Charles and the Queen for the first time and the way life around them is orchestrated.
Mantel talks about royal women through the ages, Anne Boleyn, Bluebeard’s wives, Wallis Simpson, Princess Diana, Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth I. She talks at length about the way they have been used and managed.
To describe her 5,500 word essay as an attack on Kate Middleton shows these commentators to be ignorant. Perhaps reading past the opening paragraph would have given a little more insight.