What’s a girl gotta do to be a Royal Princess these days?
As Prince Harry sleeps off the jet lag after returning home from Guy Pelly's wedding last night, few could blame Cressida Bonas if that is the thought running through her head today, as she sits at home, on ‘compassionate leave’ from her job, eating delivery so that she doesn’t have to leave the slightly studenty rented apartment she shares with a friend, which is besieged by the more aggressive type of photographer, anxious to get another tearful shot of the girl who, it seems, will not be Princess Harry after all.
The split will be a source of mean-spirited satisfaction to some of the bitchier courtiers at Buckingham Palace who have been letting anyone know who would care to listen for months now that Cressie was ‘not really princess material’.
Do princesses really have ambitions for a career in dance? Do princesses really have mothers who scandalized London society in the 60s by posing naked in lads mags and marrying, remarrying and remarrying again? Wealth is certainly not a fact of large sections of the aristocracy, but do princesses really come from such terminally broke (if posh) families that they can’t afford the odd flight to Memphis?
And most importantly of all, don’t princesses, even modern ones, do what they are told?
These are the sorts of questions which, it now appears, can be answered definitively. For although some reports are speculating that the couple could get back together again after a summit this week, the Royalist has been told by friends of Cressida that the experience of the past week – a week in which Miss Bonas has been hounded by photographers and camera phone-wielding members of the public as she has traveled to work on public transport, as she has popped out to get a juice, as she has sobbed quietly in the park – have convinced her that life as a royal could never, whatever she might like to think, be remotely normal, and that a life lived in the royal goldfish bowl is not for her.
The truth is that bohemia and Buckingham Palace have never fitted together particularly well. Princess Margaret demonstrated that truth adequately.
Harry’s curse is that although he is only the second son, he is much more high profile than his brother – so he actually can’t do ‘whatever I like’ as he once asserted. Whoever he marries will need to be not just resilient and thick-skinned, but also be at least somewhat amenable to doing things the way they have always been done. And Cressida is not that woman.
The palace is a place where, for all the laudible efforts at modernization and innovation, convention is still king.
Chelsy Davy, Harry’s previous long-term girlfriend couldn’t accept those incursions on her freedom and, it seems, neither can Cressida.
The problems Harry is having in finding a bride make one realise, of course, what a blinder Prince William played when he allowed his heart to be captured by Kate Middleton.
For although Kate has in many instances gone in her own direction – she retains an unshakeable belief in the middle-class values she was brought up with, demands to be allowed to do her own shopping and cooking, resisted getting a nanny till the last possible minute and spends as much time at her mum’s house as she does at Kensington Palace – she has picked her battles carefully. She is a natural at palace politics; she has been prepared to give up large chunks of her individuality as the price of joining the firm, and, although she knows she'll be steering the ship one day, until then she has developed a handy knack of appearing the compliant little woman to Charles and the Queen when it suits them.
Cressida is way less politically astute. She has very naively insisted on retaining her individuality; Harry is drawn by her confident, free-spirited Bohemian nature but her absolute refusal to toe the line when it comes to ‘all the royal stuff’ is what some friends say has tipped the scales in the Royal breakup.
The Mail on Sunday, for example, carried an intriguing anecdote yesterday, saying that Cressida's preference for wearing striking red trainers to formal family gatherings, was one of the sparks which resulted in the detonation of their relationship. Harry reportedly suggested to Cressida that maybe she might think about wearing more conventional shoes on the red carpet, and Cressida responded that the Palace was ‘banning her’ from being herself.
Well, yes, Cressie. That's how it works. That's the whole concept of royal 'duty' right there.
The truth is that life as a royal – even as the wife of the historically unimportant second son – is not suited to unfettered expressions of one’s personality.
Just ask Fergie.
Harry’s mother, of course, also found out this truth all too brutally. The palace is not exactly Wolf Hall any more, but it does reward those who are prepared to accept that they are in a game, and decide that they may as well therefore play their hand as well as they can. Naivety is not a quality much prized behind the walls of the royal palaces, where life can often resemble a particularly bitchy sorority.
Cressida is not really suited for that kind of calculating existence of briefing and counter-briefing. And while there’s nothing worse than people telling you, when you break up with someone, that you’ve had a lucky escape, it probably truly is better if both Harry and Cressida face the unpleasant truth that she is not really cut out for a life in the hothouse of royalty now than in five years time.