Yesterday’s rumors that Pippa Middleton had got engaged to her boyfriend Nico Jackson while the pair were holidaying in India were swiftly rubbished by friends of the young royals. But the damage was done anyway. The Us Weekly story that Nico had made a ‘very romantic and grand’ proposal in the shadow of the Taj Mahal completely stole the day’s royal headlines, inching out the big royal set piece of the advent period, the Queen’s Christmas lunch, which sees the extended royal family gathering at Buckingham Palace for a pre-Christmas celebration.
The papers and websites should have been full of pictures of the Queen, William and Kate arriving at the palace, along with the cavalcade of minor royals such as the Kents and the Linleys. Instead twitter was afire with rumors and counter-rumors about Pippa’s love life.
Pippa remains a problem for the Royal family. The public steadfastly refuse to accept the palace's oft-repeated plea that she is not a member of the Royal family. And ever since the wedding, she’s been stealing the limelight. Initially, of course, her starring role was unasked for and somewhat forced upon her, but in the intervening years she has moved to embrace and capitalize on her rather bizarre fame, launching a commercial career nakedly cashing in on her royal connections including a column in Vanity Fair, a column in The Telegraph, a book. Pippa’s professionalization of her contacts would make Fergie blush.
And Pippa is increasingly seen as a good commercial bet; the supermarket magazine she writes for in England has enjoyed a staggering 17.4 percent rise in circulation in the six months after she came on board, and her book, although widely mocked, (“a good book for people who need instructions to make ice,”) reached No. 7 on the New York Times sought-after “hardback advice and miscellaneous” chart.
In retrospect it probably would have been better if Pippa had been taken into the fold as a lady-in-waiting and married off to a landed peer at the earliest opportunity, but hindsight is a beautiful thing.
The settlement she has made with the royals instead is that while she will not do TV and media interviews about the family, she will continue to write about whatever else she damn well pleases (and indeed, her choice of subjects for The Telegraph has been a dizzyingly disparate cornucopia, from working out with the Cirque de Soleil to installing the Christmas lights at Oxford Street).
The Royal family would like us to believe that they are not bothered whether the press stand at the gates to snap family events such as yesterday’s lunch.
And while on a personal level, the principals such as William, Kate and Charles are indeed indifferent to whether or not their photo makes the paper, on a corporate level, the Royal family – or ‘Firm’ as they refer to themselves - are well aware that their continued existence is entirely dependent on positive public opinion and a crucial factor in achieving that is successfully managing press coverage.
On any independent analysis, yesterday should go down as a fail for the army of press officers and media consultants that have that job. Part of the reason is that while they are adept at chatting up old media, they appear to have absolutely no idea how to even attempt to channel the tidal force of social media. Social media simply didn’t want to talk about a grim-faced, rather grudging-looking William roaring up to Buckingham Palace in his Range Rover, it wanted to talk about Pippa’s forthcoming wedding, however shaky the sourcing may have been.