History will not record what Princess Kate thought about being called a "shop window mannequin" (and much else besides) by Hilary Mantel.
Assuming she managed to lay her hands on a copy of the Daily Mail - required reading in the Middleton household, I'd imagine - what would have been her reaction to finding herself branded "A Plastic Princess" all over the front page? A boiling rage? A tearful collapse? Or an insouciant shrug?
My guess, with no insider insight at all, is the latter. Her friends would be united in indignation: who's Hilary Mantel anyway? I tried to read one of those dreary historical novels and I couldn't get further than half way. Booker Prize? Don't make me laugh. Not in the same league as Pippa's book.
Now, I'm sure that Ms Mantel didn't set out to cause offence to the Princess. In fact, her point was political rather than personal and, if looked at in that way, the assertion that Kate Middleton was regarded as little more than breeding stock to continue the lineage was more sympathetic than controversial.
I suppose what was noteworthy about Ms Mantel's intervention was that someone in public life dared to say what was on their mind. How rare it is these days to encounter an individual prepared to spell out an honestly-held view, irrespective of the inevitably hostile and hysterical reaction.
Those who are now ranging up in opposition to Ms Mantel are probably the same people who complain about anodyne, obfuscating politicians, and business leaders who speak in jargon, and cliché-peddling sportsmen. (I cannot have been alone the other morning in finding it a relief that the Today programme was a victim of the BBC journalists' strike. What a pleasure not to hear a Cabinet minister failing to answer the question and instead reciting a wonk-devised mantra.)
It's fitting that a writer should be the one to reject the conventional wisdom. A novelist should operate outside the system, which is why it's hard to avoid feeling that, every time a writer or artist accepts an honour, he or she has in some sense been co-opted by the establishment. Ms Mantel would have found it much harder to speak what she understood to be the truth if she had three capital letters after her name. (By the way, Hilary, don't hold your breath for the invitation from the Palace now.)
I believe others should take their cue from Ms Mantel, and bring some honesty into their discourse. And that, in time, might inspire a more mature response from the public and the media. Politicians should speak candidly to the electorate. In any case, I'm sure there's votes in it: look at Boris Johnson's success, and half the time he's merely faking authenticity. Supermarket chiefs shouldn't hide when horsemeat is found in their burgers: they should confess their failings, and explain truthfully how it happened.
In such a climate, we will have much more faith in public institutions, and we'll become a wiser, more tolerant, and better functioning society. So let Hilary Mantel be a torchbearer for a new age of plain-speaking and honesty. It will have been a little uncomfortable for the Princess, but it served the rest of us.Reuse content