Matthew Bell: There's something peculiar about Pippa...


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The Independent Online

There are two reasons why the night of 25 September 2008 stays fresh in my mind. Amy Winehouse is one, Pippa Middleton the other. It was the night of the Berkeley Square Ball, one of those ludicrous so-called fund-raising events, so lavish you wonder why they don't just give the money straight to charity.

And I learned two things. One, that Amy Winehouse's voice really was a crowd-stopper, even when she could barely stand. Two, that there's something not quite right about Pippa Middleton.

Back then, the younger sister of Prince William's girlfriend was bobbing about at the bottom of the celebrity barrel, as you'll see when I tell you who else paid £700 to be there: Rebecca Loos (famous for claiming to have slept with David Beckham); Emma Noble; Vernon Kay, Radio 1 DJ; and singer Sonique, who turned up in a red-tartan jumpsuit. No, really.

It struck me at the time as an odd way for Pippa to spend (a) £700, and (b) a wet Thursday night. But the only way to become a celebrity is to act like one. And boy, was she milking it, making sure she got plenty of attention from the snappers by turning up in a sheer backless gown, despite the autumn chill. She worked the room well, too, circulating among the city bankers with a memorably determined expression on her face.

It was about then that she started stepping out with Alex Loudon, the Old Etonian former England cricketer. According to The Sun, the couple have now had a "blazing row" – is there ever any other sort? – and have separated. Apparently, he was not enjoying the attention she has had from drooling middle-aged newsmen ever since she sashayed down the aisle of Westminster Abbey wearing that bridesmaid dress.

The couple briefly split up last summer, but this time it's serious, according to "friends". And now that one particularly breathless commentator has named Pippa "Her Royal Hotness", this is officially the biggest news to hit the singles market since Greta Garbo asked to have some time to herself.

Well, you can count me out of the running. Why would any man want to court a woman whose full-time occupation is courting attention? You don't have to have seen Bridesmaids to know that the first rule of being one is not to upstage the bride.

In some elevated circles, it's considered common to have a job. In Pippa's case, it might do her some good. Since leaving university, she has dabbled in PR, and now does two days a week for her parents' firm. But she seems to spend most of her time managing her image, being snapped coming out of the right London nightclubs, or the right society weddings in Scotland. At least the princes fly helicopters or fight in Afghanistan by day.

Pippa Middleton is like a depressing remnant from Jane Austen's Bath, a simpering ballroom spinster plotting to snare an heir. And she gets off lightly. There was a time when the Middleton girls were known as the "Wisteria sisters" – fragrant but tenacious climbers. Questions used to be asked about the Middletons' source of income (just how do you afford holidays in Mustique from selling party-streamers?).

But now that Kate has proved to be an exemplary royal consort, which she has, everyone has stopped asking the question that first bothered me at the Berkeley Ball. Just what is the point of Pippa?