What are the Royals going to do about Miss Philippa Middleton?
Ever since the fateful day when she walked down the aisle behind her big sister, Kate, and comprehensively stole the limelight at the wedding of the century, Pippa has been an object of fascination.
But she occupies an odd space in the national conversation about the British Royal Family, as no one, least of all herself, seems to have the faintest idea what her role is.
A few decades ago, the fate of a pretty sister-in-law of the future king would have been fairly simple—marry a rich earl and spend the rest of her days hosting shooting parties.
But a few decades ago, the sister-in-law of a king would, by definition, have been a noble herself, not the daughter of two upwardly-mobile, middle-class parents who had made a fortune selling party bags.
Pippa tried the rich earl thing with George Percy, anyway, and besides the fact that the two didn't have enough chemistry to produce the heat required to boil a thimbleful of water, there was also, according to friends, another problem.
"Going out with Pippa is a complete nightmare," a friend of the Percys told me last summer, when there was a riot of press speculation about Pippa's relationship with George. "None of that lot wants to go out with her because of the press coverage that comes with being with her."
British aristocrats have little desire to see their faces in the newspaper more than once a year at Ascot, so it is perhaps fitting that it is in another non-noble, Nico Jackson, that Pippa has now found a partner who may be willing to 'take on the role', as Harry famously described it, of being a royal spouse.
Ah, you're ahead of me. Because of course, as Buckingham Palace are swift to remind one if a telephone call is placed enquiring as to Pippa's engagements, Pippa is not a royal. She has no official rank in the order of precedence, no special privileges and no police protection (as was made obvious when she got photographed with a friend waving a toy pistol at a paparazzo).
And yet despite all their insistence that Pippa is nothing to do with the “firm”— as the royals half-jokingly refer to themselves—they clearly exert a significant influence and pressure on her life.
Astonishingly, Pippa was ordered by palace officials to lower her public profile just last week over fears she was hogging the royal limelight. The week before that, she had to pull out of a charity tennis match, again after pressure from the palace.
Of course, this is not a one-off situation. It's been going on ever since she announced her plans to publish her book, Celebrate, the poorly written but still not half as bad as is sometimes made out guide to party planning. Yes, it did contain advice to make ice before a party on hot days, but as one wag noted, if throwing a party is so easy, how come you've been to so many crummy ones?
Undeniably, however, the book was only bought by Penguin because of Pippa's profile. Imagine their horror when Clarence House, who had, according to sources in the literary world been 'a nightmare' throughout, and had tried to dissuade Pippa from doing the book in the first place, banned Pippa from doing any interviews to promote the book, even though Barbara Walters was openly pitching for the gig.
From the outset, the palace has tried to control Pippa, to fix the 'Pippa Problem' and while Pippa has reluctantly conceded to pull out of a tennis match, she is not going away. It is also clear that commercially, she is not going to roll over again. Ambition is in her DNA, and she has recently set up her own company to manage her finances (she shares a tax adviser and accountant with Simon Cowell) and is now starting to sign on a few dotted lines.
The palace may not like it, but it seems Pippa doesn't really care anymore. She's making a new calculation: if she is going to have all the hassle of being a royal, she might as well make a few quid too. You can almost hear the phone conversation can't you..."It's alright for you, Kate..."
Waitrose Magazine was first, Vanity Fair came next—and this may be enough for now. It is unlikely Graydon Carter won't be using Pippa at every available opportunity, and Pippa will be handsomely remunerated for her words.
If Pippa is content to be Graydon's girl in the UK, it may be a solution that the Palace can live with. Yet what if Pippa decides that actually, she would quite like to start a new business in New York? There is one word that sums up the Royals' fears over Pippa—and that word is “Fergie.” The ghost of Fergie's embarrassing commercial enterprises—Budgie, Weightwatchers—hangs heavy over all Pippa calculations. The Royals failed to fix that particular problem, and it resulted in an ongoing series of disasters that culminated in Fergie being filmed offering to sell access to Prince Andrew.
Fergie seems to have been silenced for now—but shutting smart, career-minded Pippa up will be a way tougher challenge for the puppet masters at the Palace.