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This Is What Is So Damaging in the "Catherine the Great" Tatler Piece

Thursday, June 18, 2020

This past month, Tatler unveiled its July/August cover girl, and it was none other than Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cambridge. The headline was: Catherine the Great. 

If you thought such a glowing cover would have a correspondingly glowing feature article, think again. It was a first-rate hit job. Cloaked as an ode to Kate, it wove in biting and damaging comments throughout. I could analyze every paragraph, but it would be too time-consuming. The article is one tedious regurgitated slur against Kate and the Middletons after another. It revives the snobby complaints about Kate’s commoner background, Carole’s smoking, and Pippa’s supposed envy of Kate (hint: I think Pippa, married to a fabulously wealthy man, with a sweet little baby, and with all of the perks Kate has and none of the burdens, has finally found her happy spot). The Tatler piece hits almost every nasty headline we saw throughout the dating days—without updating any of the stories with facts that have come out since—e.g. Kate said in her engagement interview that she did not have a poster of William on her wall. I guess the intern at Tatler who was tasked with pulling together the research to fluff out this article didn’t do enough of a deep-dive. 

I don’t think that any mainstream paper has every attacked Kate over her weight (plenty of weird tabloids have), but Tatler went there, repeating the supposed musings of other who have wondered if Kate has an eating disorder. We’ve hashed that silly idea out many times here. Kate is slimmer than many women, but nowhere near anorexic. She is clearly disciplined, naturally thin, and very athletic. One look at her legs last summer should have silenced even the most obdurate anorexia-theorist. It is truly outrageous that a magazine of Tatler's prominence would publish such obviously unfounded gossip.

The key to this piece, though, the reason it was written, was to level a very serious and damaging rumor at Kate. 

To set the stage, the article supposedly begins to praise Kate’s sense of duty and work ethic around the time Harry and Meghan were cratering out of the BRF, but it slips in an editorial comment that will, whether consciously or unconsciously, poison your attitude. The article says, “In the wake of Harry and Meghan standing down as senior royals and seeking exile in North America, Kate took on 11 royal engagements in a month—three in the space of 24 hours. It was grueling.” (emphasis added).  What? I am sure it was a busy week, and I bet it was a grueling month for Kate, but for a lot more reasons that 11 engagements and 3 in the space of 24 hours. Add to that the intense pressure within the family as it literally fractured while the world watched, the looming crisis of COVID, and her responsibilities as a mom, and I am sure it was a grueling month. But to whittle it all down and name those numbers as if Kate considered those engagements alone grueling, is to deliberately plant a seed in the reader’s mind that Kate is pampered and out of touch. Also, it might be good to note that there are plenty of examples of busy bursts of activity in the royal world, when we have seen William and Kate do back to back engagements like that. It wasn’t an unprecedented workload. Naming the numbers alone, without further context, was a deliberate and ugly attempt to set up the chief point of this article, which came in the next paragraph. 

Out went safe shift dresses, in came silk pussy-bow blouses and softer blowdries. Everywhere, there was talk of Kate, opening up on podcasts about ‘mum guilt’. As a good friend of hers points out, ‘Kate knows what the country needs and wants. Championing how to raise your children is perfect.’ Yet, privately, said another friend, ‘Kate is furious about the larger workload. Of course she’s smiling and dressing appropriately but she doesn’t want this. She feels exhausted and trapped. She’s working as hard as a top CEO, who has to be wheeled out all the time, without the benefits of boundaries and plenty of holidays.’ Some say that beneath the yummy-mummy exterior is a spine of steel; that, in many ways, she’s reminiscent of the late Queen Mother, whom Cecil Beaton described as ‘a marshmallow made on a welding machine’. Because surviving, let alone thriving, in the House of Windsor is no mean feat. (emphasis added).

There are three words in that paragraph that should sound familiar: exhausted, trapped, and thriving. This paragraph attributes to Kate the very attitude that did so much irreparable damage to Meghan’s reputation. I am not saying that Meghan is the source of this story, what I am saying is that this paragraph, these allegations, are damning for any royal to express. They are the very type of complaints that Meghan expressed multiple times in her short stint as a royal and that did massive damage to her reputation and popularity. Meghan expressed emotional exhaustion and feeling hunted and boxed in, she complained it wasn’t enough to survive, she wanted to thrive, etc. She made all those statements while jetting about living an elite lifestyle and it backfired catastrophically, because the common person isn’t inclined to feel sorry for fabulously wealthy and privileged people who enjoy every life advantage, complaining. Meghan destroyed so much sympathy and goodwill with her emotional and out of touch interviews. Who here believes that Kate, having watched her sister-in-law self-destruct on the world stage, would then follow her down that path just a few months later? After flawlessly performing her own duties as a member of the BRF for close to a decade, and seeing someone else make all the wrong moves, are we really supposed to believe that Kate decided to start whining about her lot in life now? It is absurd.

The royals challenged this article, and the writer stood her ground, which suggests she is confident in her sources. William and Kate are suing threatening legal action against Tatler, which is certainly the right move. 

Here is what I think. I am sure Kate is tired. Who wouldn’t be? She is homeschooling three children and working. Every mother in the midst of COVID will agree it is a tiring time. I am sure it is a stressful time for her, too. She has young children in the midst of a pandemic; she has a lot of new responsibility in the BRF; her father-in-law actually caught COVID, she can’t see her family, etc. I am sure at some point she expressed exhaustion to someone. She is human. She probably has also at some point confided in friends her disgust for Harry and Meghan’s behavior. That should not surprise you--most of the world is flabbergasted by the Sussexes’ behavior; their nearest and dearest can’t be any different and indeed it must be much worse for them. I bet the author of this piece has mishmashed those various accurate reports into this single paragraph. Someone, or several someones, betrayed Kate. She confided in people at various times and those thoughts made their way to a society reporter who clearly doesn’t like Kate. When put together, Kate sounds petulant, spoiled, and out of touch.  Melding together various discrete comments to form a cohesive thought is misleading, and it is my suspicion that that is what happened here. 

Ironically, the article goes on to criticize Kate for her careful reserve calling her bland and repeating all sorts of disparaging assessments others have made of her over the years. Kate’s brilliant blend of sincere warmth and polite reserve are what make her such a magnificently successfully royal. The article quotes a friend” saying “I don’t know if [Kate] would know how to let her guard down now, even if she wanted to.” I am sure that is true when she is in public. That’s the whole point of being a careful public figure--at some point you can't let your guard down in public. The insinuation that Kate has morphed into an emotionless Barbie who can’t even relax at home, though, which is the sense you are left with, is ludicrous. All famous people grow more and more careful when in public. People who don’t—cough, cough, Meghan—get burned. And Kate is right to be cautious with whom she befriends and confides, since someone (or several someones) clearly betrayed her confidences by repeating private reflections that she never would have shared with the public. And as I say, I believe those reflections are almost certainly out of context and melded together to create a damaging narrative. 

If I went through every ugly comment in this article, every back-biting and snide putdown, I’d be here all day, and none of us have time for that, but most of what was printed in this piece was nasty, but run-of-the-mill. That carefully blended-in allegation, though, is potentially very damaging, as we've seen with Harry and Meghan. The article is a hit job. You do have to wonder what is up at Tatler to run such a ruthless piece so boldly.