By Alyssa Rosenberg
I’m not saying anyone should care about the upcoming Royal Wedding, but if you want to understand why people get insane at the prospect of tiaras and titles and the possibility of an Alexander McQueen wedding dress, I cannot recommend Tina Brown’s The Diana Chronicles highly enough. Whatever you may think of her as editor of various American magazines, when it comes to royal gossip, she is absolutely aces. And her dissection of the gender politics of Diana and Charles’ marriage explains both the genuine nationalist enthusiasm for William and Kates’ nuptials and the sick fascination with the whole spectacle.
Reading the book, the thing that struck me most was that between their first social meeting with her as prospective bride for him and their wedding, Diana and Charles got together thirteen times. The royals are so far behind ordinary society that it’s considered progress that William met Kate at university, rather than through the social whirl she’d have gone through as a debutante a generation ago, or through machinations that pushed them together because she checked the virgin box on the “qualifications for potential bride of the future king” list. That this nonsense is state-sanctioned, even a function of the state (the reason Charles and Diana were pushed to divorce is that their obvious enmity created a constitutional crisis over whether she could be crowned if she hated and wanted to undermine the King) gives audiences permission to have one of two reactions: to luxuriate in ordinarily square nostalgia for fairy-tale weddings, or to pretend that our horrid fascination with the rich and famous is at least nominally serious.
Brown does a great job of teasing out how emotionally awful it was to be a member of the royal family: this is a group of people who doesn’t understand that someone who’s had three strokes might not be able to make it to formal meals on time; or postpartum depression; or the idea that it might not be super-sensitive to keep your mistress when you’re trying to build an emotionally meaningful marriage. Yes, the Royal Family is insanely privileged, but Brown builds a fairly persuasive case that the money and status might not be particularly worth it. A Royal Wedding, particularly one that brings a commoner into the Royal Family, resets the clock on that speculation: for Diana, becoming a Princess was the start of a rotten-at-the-center fairy tale. If Kate Middleton likes it better, it’ll restore and maybe modernize a very tattered fantasy.