When Britain's future Queen, Kate Middleton, shyly admitted on her engagement day that she would be "learning the ropes", there were knowing smiles among palace insiders. Over the past three decades, a sophisticated network of experts has been on hand to coach ordinary members of the public – "commoners", as they used to be called – in the surprisingly complex business of being royal.
"It's a sort of foundation course," a source close to the Palace told me. "Kate won't just be learning the standard stuff – waving, conversing with the public and so on – but also the things a modern princess needs to know in the age of celebrity: camera angles, getting out of cars, beach behaviour." By the day of the wedding, Kate will be expected to have acquired the natural grace of a 21st-century royal icon.
So who are the experts who will be advising Princess Ordinary? I am told they include some names which may surprise those who underestimate the worldly Windsors. Fleet Street's premier gossip columnist, Quentin Letts, has offered to share his insights on dealing with the press. He has been hired on condition he will not write about the wedding preparations. Canny Kate has suggested that one of her idols, Carol Vorderman, should provide a media insider's view of celebrity style and poise in front of the cameras.
Mindful that not everyone knows the proud history of the Royal Family, aides have asked pint-sized historian Andrew Roberts to talk the bride-to-be through the history of the House of Windsor. There had been concerns that Wills's weakness with languages might let him down; he is said to have caused a minor diplomatic incident when referring to a visiting French aristocrat as "le Con de Paris". None other than Carla Bruni has offered to coach the tongue-tied Prince in basic French, although, at the suggestion of Kate's sister Pippa, lessons will also be attended by William's private secretary James Lowther-Pinkerton.
However, a decision to hire royal insider Isabella Anstruther-Gough-Calthorpe to coach the royal fiancée on matters of etiquette has been reversed. "Kate is not entirely top drawer, and we think that's a positive thing in the current climate," a courtier involved in plans said. Class, but not upper class, is to be the hallmark of this royal wedding.