The Pippa Middleton files deserve a serious update

It seems extraordinary that, in an age of apparent equality, the two main characteristics on which we still judge women are their bodies and their marital status.
Pippa Middleton and a friend attend a match during the French Open tennis championship at Paris’s Roland Garros stadium in May.
Pippa Middleton and a friend attend a match during the French Open tennis championship at Paris’s Roland Garros stadium in May.

There are two things about Pippa Middleton that you probably know, even if you profess a complete disinterest in the British royal family.

Firstly, her figure, which was clad in a slinky Alexander McQueen gown at the wedding of her sister the Duchess of Cambridge, has created an unprecedented demand for bun-lifting cosmetic surgery.

Secondly, and crucially, at 27 she is considered by the British tabloids to be prime marriage material, and the subject of her future spouse is a source of constant speculation.

What everyone is really hoping, of course, is that a fairy-tale liaison will take place between Middleton and her brother-in-law Prince Harry. Wedding-watchers were convinced they could discern a chemistry between the two as they stood on the balcony, and what could be more convenient?

Sadly for the dream, Harry remains very single (though reportedly still in thrall to his on-off girlfriend Chelsea Davey), while Middleton and her long-term beau, the 30-year-old former cricket pro Alex Loudon, are apparently back together this summer, after a number of break-up rumours. That also puts paid to the theory that she was seeing her former Edinburgh University flatmate and boyfriend, the dashing aristocrat George Percy.

Will Pippa Middleton ever realise that her destiny lies with the young royal scion Harry? Can Wills' and Kate's example of a happy young couple in love bring a calming influence to bear on the wayward, feisty Pippa? Will she, in fact, be off the shelf before she hits the dreaded big three-oh?

To those of us who have long passed that milestone without managing to get hitched (and we're in good company, with beauties such as American actress Cameron Diaz, about to turn 39, part of this not-so-exclusive club), the continuing press coverage reads like the chattering of gossips in a Jane Austen novel - Mrs Bennet and Mrs Phillips but without the redeeming humour, manners or plotline.

It seems extraordinary that, in an age of apparent equality, the two main characteristics on which we still judge women are their bodies and their marital status. Should Middleton put even half an inch on those famous curves, it will be documented in minute detail for the viewing pleasure of the gossip-mag readers of the world. And should she decide that, actually, she wants nothing to do with the posh boys with whom she currently associates, it will be a decision to be picked over quite possibly for the rest of her life.

That is a fate that Queen Elizabeth's sister, the late Princess Margaret, had to suffer when the church and cabinet refused to allow her to marry the older, divorced, RAF officer Group Captain Peter Townsend. The beautiful princess's subsequent marriage to the fashionable society photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones, Earl Snowdon, was punctuated with extramarital flings before it finally ended in divorce, and Margaret's decline and later relationships were constantly played out in the press.

Attitudes have moved on, somewhat, and Middleton has the advantage of being a relatively normal 27 year old - a "commoner" as she is often called - rather than answering to the protocol of the royal family. Yet she will still have to see her every move recorded in magazines, across the web and all over the TV.

Last week, the American channel TLC ran a documentary on the girl dubbed "Her Royal Hotness", called Crazy About Pippa, while the celebrity creator Simon Cowell admitted that, never having heard her sing, he would sign her up in a moment, for her star power alone.

In any case, few would argue that her dalliances are being explored to the exclusion of a glittering career. Certainly, she has a degree in English Literature from the University of Edinburgh, one of the UK's top institutions - and, like St Andrews, where Kate and Wills met, known for its high numbers of aristos and public-school types (her flatmates were Earl Percy and Lord Edward Innes-Ker), making it excellent husband-hunting ground. Her job, working with the family business Party Pieces for a reported two days a week, does not appear to tax her time so much that she can't pop into a King's Road salon for a blow-dry or attend the season's society events.

So is Pippa Middleton an Elizabeth Bennet or a Becky Sharp? Or will she instead delight the world and end up, Cinderella-like, with her prince? Someone better order a pair of LK Bennett's finest glass slippers before she turns 30.

Published: August 16, 2011 04:00 AM

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