David Cameron broke off from his trade visit to India in order to defend the Duchess of Cambridge over remarks by the author Hilary Mantel, who described her as a “machine-made” princess.
The Prime Minister intervened in the row over the lecture on royal women delivered by the Booker Prize-winning historical novelist, in which Ms Mantel described the Duchess as “gloss varnished” with a “plastic smile.”
The Daily Mail called her remarks “venomous”. The Sun described the speech as a “bizarre rant”. Ms Mantel’s supporters took to Twitter to defend the author.
Mr Cameron said of Ms Mantel: “She writes great books, but what she’s said about Kate Middleton is completely misguided and completely wrong.”
Inadvertently awarding the Duchess an incorrect title, Mr Cameron added: “What I’ve seen of Princess Kate at public events, at the Olympics and elsewhere is this is someone who's bright, who's engaging, who’s a fantastic ambassador for Britain. We should be proud of that, rather than make these rather misguided remarks.”
Pro-royal newspapers fulminated at Ms Mantel, author of the Tudor-period novels Bring Up The Bodies and Wolf Hall, for her speech, delivered at the British Museum during a London Review of Books event, in which she compared the Duchess to Anne Boleyn and Diana, Princess of Wales.
Mantel described Prince William’s pregnant wife as “a jointed doll on which certain rags are hung. In those days she was a shop-window mannequin, with no personality of her own, entirely defined by what she wore.”
The author said the Duchess appeared “precision made” and as “painfully thin as anyone could wish, without quirks, without oddities, without the risk of the emergence of character.”
It was unclear whether Mr Cameron had read the entire lecture before commenting. A spokesman for Mantel urged people to read or listen to her speech in full “because it puts everything into its full context”.
Writer Jemima Khan defended the author, saying: “Interesting how the Mail misread Mantel on Middleton.” Caitlin Moran, the Times columnist, called the complete lecture “sane and beautiful”.
The Duchess declined to comment but during her first public visit since the furore broke, she confessed that she was nervous about giving birth and “showed off her baby bump for the first time at a public event”, according to the Press Association.
The Duchess chatted to a group of women recovering from drink and drug addictions at a treatment centre in Clapham, south London, run by the charity Action On Addiction of which she is patron.
Lisa, a mother-of-three who did not want to give her full name, said: “I did ask her if she was nervous (about giving birth). She said it would be unnatural if she wasn’t – she’s human like us.”
Nick Barton, who heads Action on Addiction, defended Catherine, describing her as an "intelligent" woman.
Mr Cameron’s intervention also came in for criticism. The Prime Minister was apparently keen to defend the Duchess as a “global ambassador for Britain” during his trade expedition to the sub-continent. Previously, Mr Cameron waded into the row over celebrity tax affairs when he criticised the comedian Jimmy Carr for using a tax avoidance scheme.
One Tweeter alerted Mr Cameron to a less-reported line in Ms Mantel’s lecture: “That’s what discourse about royals comes to: a compulsion to comment, a discourse empty of content.”
The Prime Minister’s intervention deflected attention from an embarrassing exchange with Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister, who publicly challenged Mr Cameron to provide British help into a corruption investigation involving helicopters from the AgustaWestland company.