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The illusion of the modern royal mother-to-be

By Autumn Brewington
The Washington Post

By last Wednesday, 78-year-old Terry Hutt had slept outside St. Mary’s Hospital for seven nights. He has been photographed in his Union Jack T-shirt, shorts and hat, under his Union Jack umbrella, holding handmade signs. He was participating in the #GreatKateWait, anticipating the arrival of Britain’s next prince or princess (if more enthusiastically than most).

Those of us not stalk- . . . er, staring in person at the maternity ward of the London hospital delivering the first child of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – better known as Prince William and Kate Middleton – relied on the media circus outside, which produced such voyeuristic aids as the Sun’s Royal Baby Monitor, a live stream of “all the comings and goings into and out of the Lindo Wing,” and Web and phone apps that combine live updates with royal and Middleton family histories.

Kate Middleton is the mother of a future British monarch.

We love her for this.

We love her for everything – even if we don’t always think about why.

During William and Kate’s years-long courtship, media coverage of the couple included intense speculation that Kate, a commoner by birth, might not have been a suitable partner for the future king. For Americans, it is easy to view the couple’s narrative in fairy-tale terms: Ordinary girl marries tall, handsome prince, leveling society’s class system.

But that story line is not quite right. Kate might not have been aristocracy, but neither was she the typical girl next door. The daughter of self-made millionaires, she had flexible hours working for her parents’ party-supply business, or not working, which allowed her to focus her life around her prince. And William and Kate’s popularity ensures the continuation of the monarchy – reinforcing, not eliminating, Britain’s class system.

Kate and William radiate an ordinariness that endears them and the monarchy to their future subjects. He grew up standing in line at amusement parks and McDonald’s because his mother, Diana, the late Princess of Wales, wanted him to understand life beyond the palace walls. His wife is the first future queen to consistently shop off the rack. They go to movies and meals out – all of which makes them feel accessible. We feel welcome to continue calling her Kate, despite all the palace fuss about Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge. There are signs of modernization: After the “wedding of the century” in 2011, Britain and the commonwealth countries updated their laws of succession, deciding that whatever the baby’s gender, the first Prince or Princess of Cambridge would be third in line to the throne. (Bumping Prince Harry to fourth.) Twitter chronicled the baby’s birth. But for all the talk of William and Kate as modern young royals, they have clearly fallen into step with centuries-old traditions. Kate might have allegedly joked while they were dating that the prince was lucky to be going out with her. But she has embraced an extremely traditional role, with her life largely defined by her marriage, man and family. She is a happy homemaker. She has taken to royal life with aplomb, rarely putting a (perfectly shod) foot wrong, even in the glare of unprecedented media coverage. It is a supporting role in which she is seen and rarely heard.

On a certain level, the Royal Birth is the product of a popular illusion. People see youth and presume fresh thinking and 21st-century mores. But this is not a modern partnership of equals. Underneath the glamour, William and Kate’s relationship is as traditional as the monarchy he is destined to lead.

Autumn Brewington is editor of The Washington Post’s op-ed page.
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