Marrying the heir to Britain's throne brings with it great privileges of wealth and influence. But a punishing schedule of royal engagements coupled with intense media scrutiny creates a huge burden too, as Princess Diana found to her cost.
Prince William is acutely aware that the pressures of royal life can simply overwhelm those who are unprepared. The signs are that Ms. Middleton's immersion into this world will run smoothly, however. Observers are confident that her maturity and level-headedness will enable her to manage after the wedding, as will the couple's stated plans to lead a low-key life initially. And tougher media rules to keep the paparazzi at bay may help fortify the couple’s foundation – even though, given the glamour and charm they exude, the world’s spotlight will be firmly fixed on them.
Diana famously described that she felt like “a lamb to the slaughter” on her wedding day, so ill-equipped did she consider herself for the demands of public life. William himself witnessed at a young age the distress of his mother, whose fame attracted daily harassment from the press.
Consequently, he has talked about “learning lessons from the past” and signaled that he and his future wife intend to carry out far fewer official engagements in their first two years of marriage than usual. The strategy allows them to grow into their marriage, and gives Middleton time to adjust to royal life.
Already better prepared
In fact, she is already better prepared for the pressures of public and media scrutiny than was Diana. Having dated William for eight years (with a short break), Middleton has already been exposed to the kind of life that awaits her.
“I wanted to give her a chance to see in and to back out if she needed to before it all got too much,” William has said of their lengthy courtship. “I just wanted to give her the best chance to settle in.”
By contrast, Diana’s courtship lasted less than a year before Charles proposed and she was thrust into the public glare. Diana was then only 19. Middleton, at 29, is more assured and self-possessed. She has already surprised palace aides with her confident public appearances.
The rules of media engagement have changed, too – at least, they are supposed to have. Diana’s death, in a car crash that occurred while the paparazzi were in hot pursuit, prompted changes to the Editors’ Code of Practice in Britain, which banned information or pictures obtained through "harassment or persistent pursuit."
These changes were intended to provide protection for those in the news from excessive media intrusion. But the continuing allegations of phone-hacking into the voicemail of members of the royal household by the British tabloid the News of the World is a reminder that elements within the British press not only refuse to play by the rules but will break the law in order to get a scoop.
“When it comes down to the question of economics versus regulation or even legislation or legality, the economics of the news industry wins every time,” argues Alex Lockwood, from the center for research in media and cultural studies at Sunderland University. While acknowledging that newspaper editors, fearful of state regulation in the wake of the scandal, will toe the line for a period, he stresses no one should expect them to give the royals an easy ride.
“The next opportunity to break a big story and make good profits from it, the news industry will do that,” he says.
The question is whether the royal couple will give them such an opportunity. The good news for royalists is that William and Middleton look like a team. And that may be the key difference when it comes to the role that Middleton defines for herself and the role her husband’s mother created.
A shared agenda
As Diana’s marriage quickly broke down and her own independence grew, she was compelled to pursue her own agenda. That’s when her relationship with the media became “more complicated and dangerous,” says Lockwood. It’s still early days but Middleton seems much more inclined to share her husband’s agenda by playing a crucial supporting role.
That’s not to say that Middleton will disappear into obscurity after her honeymoon. Her popularity is already proving an advantage to an institution bedeviled with problems of failed marriages, errant royals, and public embarrassment. The royal family will be keen to deploy its new asset, albeit sparingly.
But her willingness to remain on-message and his desire to shield her from the limelight will almost certainly mean Middleton will not become the global star that Diana did, at least not initially. But that’s exactly the way William will want it.
He knows comparisons between his wife and his mother are inevitable but is at pains to stress there will be no pressure on Middleton. “No one is trying to fill my mother’s shoes,” he recently said. “It’s about making your own future and your own destiny, and Kate will do a very good job of that.”