It was, as Vince Vaughn’s Wedding Crashers character would say, “the Kentucky Derby of weddings.”
On April 29, 2011, dashing Prince William married his stately squeeze, Kate Middleton, at London’s Westminster Abbey. The royal nuptials attracted an estimated 300 million viewers worldwide, and Kate and her sister, Pippa Middleton, were absolute visions, both in elegant, expertly-crafted dresses courtesy of Alexander McQueen creative director Sarah Burton.
Months prior to William and Kate’s unveiling as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, a minor scandal erupted courtesy of the ever-invasive U.K. tabloid press. Reporters at The Daily Mail had combed through the Middleton family tree, looking for potential, shall we say, persons of interest. The search brought them to the Northeast of England—Sunderland, to be exact—at the doorstep of the Darling household, whose daughter, Katrina, happened to be a burlesque dancer.
“They referred to me as, ‘The royal family’s closest brush with soft porn since Koo Stark,’ which is quite an exclamation, really,” says Darling. “I’ve been called worse things in different languages since then.”
Katrina Darling (her real name, believe it or not) is a second cousin, once removed, of Kate and Pippa Middleton. Her grandmother, Jane Darling—on her father’s side of the family—is sister to the Middleton gals’ great-grandfather, Thomas Harrison. Her family first learned about their soon-to-be royal relative just months after the couple announced their engagement.
Upon meeting Darling for lunch, I noticed that, aside from a similarly shaped face, the she couldn’t be more different from her regal, high street cousin. Darling’s fashion sense is like a cross between the tattooed-punk styling of Travis Barker, and the capriciousness of 1980s-era Madonna. Her black, cut-off T-shirt is accented by a priest collar and crucifix over each breast, matching her gold-cross earrings, with skin-tight American Apparel disco pants and Ray Bans tortoiseshell glasses rounding out the ensemble. Matching feline tattoos cover each of her forearms—on her left is a cat, and the right, a cat lady matryoshka doll (there are eight tattoos total). Darling has short, black hair—she wears long wigs for her burlesque shows— speaks in a charming Northern English accent, and mid-way through our interview, devours a plate of teriyaki chicken wings.
“I think I’ve always been a bit of a show-off, to be honest,” she says with a grin.
“Neither of them are really to my taste. I’m not particularly into Eton men!”—on William and Harry.
The Brit has made her maiden voyage to New York City to perform her “God Save the Queen” burlesque dancing routine at the Tuesday Night Dropout Party at W.I.P, an exclusive SoHo lounge decked out in graffiti. Despite the royal connection, she claims she’s been performing the Sex Pistols-inspired act for years.
“It’s such a happy coincidence, isn’t it?” says Darling. “I think that’s kind of what made [the gossip] get a bit out of control. When I started messing around with the concept, it was just a joke. I wasn’t thinking that one day I’d be doing this act and The Daily Mail would get in contact with me and blow it out of proportion!”
Darling grew up in Sunderland, and confesses she was quite the party girl from a young age, attending various local clubs in her early teens. She’s been in a number of bands—as a singer and drummer—the last of which was, she says, “An ‘80s hair-metal-like cock-rock band called Dirty Tuppence—which means a girl’s bits in the U.K.” When she was 17, she caught a burlesque show and two weeks after her 18th birthday, performed for the first time with a local burlesque troupe.
“If you’re in a club and nobody expects it and all of a sudden there’s this statuesque woman on top of these amps, and this music comes in like impending doom, everybody turns around,” says a beaming Darling. “I love that. I love taking people by surprise.”
After dropping out of university—she attended Newcastle College, studying art and design—Darling held a number of odd jobs, including working in retail, as a makeup artist, and ultimately, traveling around the world doing modeling and burlesque. She’s also performed at fetish shows, doing catwalks at the Torture Garden—a fetish club in both London and Edinburgh that showcases cutting-edge latex designers. Naturally, when you’re in the fetish game you meet your fair share of weirdos, and Darling was no exception.
“When I was younger and I’d be selling clothes on eBay, I’d have guys message me asking me to pick them out outfits for them to wear,” says Darling. “That was a little heavy… but whatever floats your boat!”
Prior to learning of her royal connection, Darling didn’t really give much thought to the royals, saying, “It’s of no consequence to me, really.” She views the tabloid frenzy surrounding her uber-celebrity cousins as, “the same as young girls getting overwhelmed by guys in bands.” She elaborates. “At the end of the day, it’s just a girl or a bloke. There’s no real hierarchy. You’ve just got to have your substance and your wits about you, really.”
As for the royal men, Darling says she isn’t on “Team William” or “Team Harry.”
“Neither of them are really to my taste,” she says. “I’m not particularly into Eton men!
Either way, Darling has a boyfriend who plays in the hardcore punk band Sunday League. When she’s not traveling the world performing her dance routine, she prefers to stay at home and geek out with her plethora of cats and her beau, describing herself as “a total Clark Kent.” She also currently holds down a job at Barclay’s Wealth Management in London, though when the finance job was brought up she became noticeably tense—for the only time during our interview—and refused to elaborate further. Darling is currently working on what she describes as a “sexy-sophisticated” lingerie line, which she hopes to launch in winter 2013, and also enjoys acting, having appeared in several music videos by local British bands.
“At the moment, I’m just going to stick my fingers in as many pies as possible and find out what tastes best,” she says.
It’s 1:30 a.m. at SoHo hot spot W.I.P.—a dark lounge littered with banquettes and graffiti-covered walls, and it’s getting late. The motley crew of onlookers, including transvestites in skirts, flamboyant men in trench coats, and the requisite promoter/model-types, has gathered in front of the stage to witness Katrina Darling’s New York City debut. A topless female paparazzo with a mustache drawn on her face is parked in front of the stage, attracting puzzled looks from the crowd.
Suddenly, Darling struts out onstage in a shimmering red dress and white stockings. A white Union Jack apron is wrapped around her bottom, and atop her head is a miniature crown tilted to the side—similar to the Philip Treacy hats that were all the rage at the Royal Wedding. She rips the Union Jack apron off, along with the dress, revealing a red-and-gold corset with matching red panties. The white stockings soon follow, with Darling slowly removing them whilst gyrating atop the drum kit. Her blank stare is disrupted by the occasional Sid Vicious-esque punk grimace. Before long, she’s completely naked onstage save red pasties covering her nipples and lady bits… and, of course, the tiny crown.