Désormais, l’ère de la Katemania est lancée. Bienvenue dans un monde d’élégance, de charité et de glamour où tout est réglé au millimètre près. Qu’il s’agisse des médias, des entreprises de mode, des membres de la famille royale, tout le monde est conquis ! La duchesse de Cambridge participe ainsi au rajeunissement de la royauté britannique, de nouveau dans l’air du temps. Nombreux sont les journalistes qui soulignent l’appartenance de Kate à la classe moyenne. Son mariage avec le prince William serait donc un véritable conte de fée qui se réalise. Mais cette attitude médiatique n’est t-elle pas symptomatique de l’obsession britannique pour les classes sociales ? La société britannique est-elle devenue pour autant plus égalitaire ?
Five years ago, the British monarchy was completely outdated and out of touch. Indeed royals were more famous for Prince Philip’s gaffe and Prince Andrew’s links with billionaire convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein than for their role in modern society. But a radical shake-up of the way the monarchy works was spurred on by the marriage of Prince William to Kate Middleton. One of the greatest changes happened in October 2011 when Commonwealth nations decided to change Royal Succession Laws : from now on, the sons and daughters of any future UK monarch will have equal rights to the throne. It does send a powerful message that girls are just as good as boys to rule a country. According to the queen, women should have a greater role in society: “It encourages us to find ways to show girls and women to play their full part.” Besides, a female monarch has become the norm in Britain: there has been a reigning queen for 123 of the past 174 years. Moreover, as Jeremy Paxman pointed out in his book On Royalty : the sovereign has lost the “historic male functions of god and governor and general” and retained the more motherly tasks of “giving comfort and nurturing good causes”.
Kate’s arrival has transformed the royal family’s position in public opinion and created a new wave of optimism, as the newsstands were saturated with bad news because of the recession. Thus, a YouGov survey shows that optimism levels in Britain are set to hit their highest levels since the royal wedding.
She is the first middle-class queen-in-waiting. The fact that her forebears were Northumbrian miners, that her parents made their own money, and that she met William at university rather than a stately home are to her advantage. Unlike Diana, who was disadvantaged by warring aristocratic parents and by a tiresome stepmother, Kate comes from a stable background. She has a better chance of making a go of her marriage than Diana had.
But for a future king to marry a woman from such an ‘ordinary’ background amounts to a revolution in Royal terms. Does it reflect a more egalitarian British society? No, Britain has relatively low levels of social mobility : “Those who were born poor are more likely to stay poor and those who inherit privilege are more likely to pass on privilege in England than in any comparable country,” Micheal Gove, the education secretary, said. But, the resolution of this problem became the principal goal of the Coalition Government’s social policy. The Social Mobility Strategy -Opening Doors, Breaking Barriers launched in February 2011 ensures that everyone has a ‘fair chance’ at getting a better job than their parents. It aims to tackle unfairness at every stage of life with specific measures to improve social mobility from the Foundation Years to school and adulthood. Actually, the attitude of the media reveals that much like its obsession with the monarchy, Britain’s obsession with class remains depressingly invincible. Indeed, the media exploit the flexibility of the term “middle class”: Kate is certainly no aristocrat but her parents became millionaires after starting a small party-organising company and her childhood was privileged.
Kate is already the patron of four charities. But in this field, it is trivial in comparison with what Diana did before. Indeed if there was one thing Diana said she was good at, it was her ability to “care for people”: during her marriage, Diana was patron of over 100 charities. However, whereas indiscretion has been the common currency until now, Kate is setting a much-needed example thanks to her quiet reserve, tact and ability. Because she isn’t supposed to speak, her job is to define visually what the monarchy means for the new generation. She’s managed her appearance with military precision and it’s an incredible way of subconsciously manipulating us: as she shops at Topshop or Zara, many women can identify with her. But while her clothes have been appropriate and very nice, they have also been inconclusive: she looks great but unremarkable. It is non-controversial and dull. And do we really need a generation of “appropriate” young women? Nevertheless, the ‘Kate-effect’ is real: Time magazine recently chose her as two of the 100 most influential people in the world.
“A surge in web traffic caused the website [which sold the dress which she wore to meet the Obamas] to crash for two-and-a-half hours”! So if Kate is the ultimate ambassador for British fashion, more than a supermodel or a famous actress, what will happen to the baby name effect?
Léa CASSAM-CHENAI, Clara DOMINIQUE, Astrid MEZIERE