John Walsh: Tales of the City

'At least she didn't light up a Lucky Strike and offer the pack round, or plug in her iPod and start jigging'
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The Independent Online

As we try to come to terms with the tragedy that has befallen the nation, as we dry our tears and wonder if Time will ever erase the hurt we're all feeling, and as newspapermen across the land, faced with the most important global news story of the century, exercise their characteristic restraint and tact in sparing the feelings of all involved, we have to address the question: was it really the chewing gum and the word "toilet" that did for Wills and Kate?

That's what folks are saying, it seems, in bitchy circles around Chelsea and Kensington. That's how the Daily Mirror is spinning the story of the royal bust-up. Apparently, the young pair had to split because Kate was just too common. Nice girl, don't get me wrong, perfectly acceptable-looking, sweet face, wore hats with style, didn't swear, fart or summon taxis by emitting piercing whistle. Looked the part.

But my dear, the family. Her father, did you know, made a packet by selling children's costumes, and not in a shop, which would be bad enough, but by mail order. How perfectly ghastly. They probably bought the poor girl's party frocks out of the Argos catalogue. The mother, if you please, started as an air hostess; utterly priceless, don't you think, leaning over fat businessmen with trays of boiled sweets and helping them pull their seat belts over their straining tummies. How could she possibly have imagined her sprog could marry a prince?

It was, they're saying, all Carole Middleton's fault. She had never, poor thing, read, Nancy Mitford's invaluable "U and non-U" guide to upper-class speech, and didn't know that some usages are social death. "She is pushy, rather twee and incredibly middle-class," said a feline "royal insider" at the weekend. "She uses words such as 'pleased to meet you', 'toilet' and 'pardon?'"

Oh my god. Hold me upright lest I expire. Don't tell me the poor woman hasn't learnt to say "lavatory" and "what?" like classy people? Some palace flunkey leaked the news that, on first meeting the Queen, Mrs M said "Pleased to meet you" instead of "Hello, Ma'am." Is that so bad? She could have said, "Hey, Queen, wassup?" or "Turned out nice again, dinnit?", which would (I suppose) have been worse.

But what really bothered the Queen, they say, and hardened her heart against her grandson's girlfriend, was the fact that the mother chewed gum as she sat with Kate during William's passing-out parade at Sandhurst in December. Was that really what scuppered it? Is there no profounder depth a person can fall to than to introduce a stick of Wrigley's into their gob during a parade of guards?

I think everyone's being a little harsh on the poor woman. At least she didn't light up a Lucky Strike and offer the pack round. She restrained herself from pulling out the Doritos and a jar of chilli dip and munching through the afternoon. She didn't plug in her iPod and start jigging to The Pussycat Dolls...

It's amazing, is it not, to find class prejudice still bleating away in the shires, insisting that royalty shouldn't find itself in bed with, or sharing a throne with, anyone who's not from their tiny, stagnant gene pool, and blaming the sad end of a romance on the fact that someone's mother used the wrong word for "water closet"? It's not just the anonymous "neighbours" and "palace insiders" who are at it. James Whitaker, the Mirror's sleek royal commentator, recently told readers that Kate wasn't from the right "stock". "I don't mean this in a snobbish way," he said, snobbishly: "I just believe that evolving from a middle-class background (Marlborough public school, her father Michael running a party mail-order business while mummy Carole worked as an airline 'hostie') is hardly the best training for becoming Her Majesty."

I should have thought that "evolving" was exactly what you needed to do to become a royal, although, obviously, evolving backwards towards the primeval slime would be preferable.

We live and learn, however. Just when we thought class mobility and social democracy were givens of the modern world, we have to mind our Ps and Qs all over again. So remember: as of now, chewing-gum is totally non-U. Saying "toilet", "pardon" or "cabin doors to manual" is out. Mail-order firms, forget it. Anything to do with children's clothing is hopelessly déclassé, as are certain public schools. The mothers of a hundred potential Queens-in-waiting must be brushing up on their etiquette while they're waiting for Prince William's phone call. "Lavatory," they'll be saying to their reflections in the mirror. "If Your Royal Highness does not mind, I wish to use the lavatory..."


Now that local councils have lowered the minimum age of candidates from 21 to 18, the streets will be full of teenagers standing for local office before they've taken their A-levels. I'm sure we're very impressed by the ambition and idealism of politically engagé youth, but can you imagine the issues on which they'll stand? "Hi there. I'm Damien Dean, I'm 19 and I'm standing for Labour in Harlow on a mixed platform of Re-Nationalise the Railways and The Arctic Monkeys Have Totally Sold Out And Their New Record's a Pile of Shite." "My name's Nicola Byrne and I'll be your Conservative candidate for Newquay, where I'll fight for More Efficient Refuse Collection, Better Street Lighting and Mandatory Opening of a Primark Store in the High Street By Christmas." "Good morning, I'm Sue Speedy, Lib Dem councillor, and I'm passionate about Animal Rights, Wind Farms and Deporting My Mother to Australia Because She's Being a Complete Bitch Just Because I Borrowed Her Eyeliner..."