"Why, it's like a dream. A wonderful dream come true."
- Walt Disney's Cinderella
Oh no, it looks like we're going there again. Have we learned nothing in 30 years? I mean, even this newspaper went to bed a sober deliverer of the daily news and woke up with an eight-page Royal Engagement insert.
Now we know all about The Proposal! (Kenya, a complete surprise, romantic.) The Bride! (Down to earth, very pretty, discreetly loyal.) The Ring! (Sapphire and diamond, the same one Diana wore 30 years ago when, also dressed in blue, she smiled shyly for the cameras. Bad juju or poignant gesture? More on the Ring Cycle later.)
Will and Kate, a royal gusher. But is the story of Prince William and Kate Middleton just a rebranding of the same old some-day-my-prince-will-come myth - so potent and hardwired into the female psyche that decades of feminism, not to mention the late Princess Diana's tragic real-life tale of a royal wedding gone bad, can't dismantle it?
You expect People Magazine to invoke the F-word, but the CBC's Peter Mansbridge did too, calling the engagement of this undeniably attractive and likeable couple, one of whom happens to be a Prince and the other of whom, from a solid middle-class background, may one day end up a Queen, a "fairy tale."
Except it isn't. And if their union has any chance of survival, the last thing it should be seen as, from the inside or out, is a fairy tale.
Now, I would be hypocritical to claim I didn't hoover up the details on E-Day. But some of those details seemed just a tad ominous. Let's start with the unearthly sound of that wall of invited cameras whirring and clicking as Will and Kate walked into a royal red room at St. James palace to make the announcement. That sound alone could bring on Post-Diana-Stress Syndrome in the vulnerable among us, so eerily did it invoke one of the chief reasons for the late Princess's downfall - unrelenting, full-glare media attention. If you overlaid the sound of paparazzi motorcycles, you'd have the start of an opera. And operas almost always end tragically.
Then there was the ring. "The biggest mistake EVER" was the scuttlebutt from one dinner party, as a bunch of accomplished women parsed this engagement announcement as though it were a change-of-mission statement from their bosses. "Cursed!" pronounced a twenty-something friend about the ring.
I did flinch when I heard about the ring, but isn't a son, especially one who lost his mother at 15, entitled to honour her memory and keep her close as he sets off on his own marital adventure? Kate Middleton could have said, "Nah, let's go shopping for a new ring," but she bravely didn't. And her new fiancé was fairly firm in stating that no one was trying to fill those Jimmy Choos.
The third discomfiting sign was the media slideshows comparing, frame by frame, Kate and Diana: There they are in red jackets, now in deep blue evening gowns. Knock it off, folks, she's not Diana. Diana is never coming back, and that is both sad and a big relief.
Contrary to Diana's tale, that of a woefully undereducated aristocratic 19-year-old selected as the sacrificial virgin, Kate Middleton is a well-educated young woman from, by all accounts, a loving and stable home, who has known her husband-to-be for eight years, shares his bed and interests and, as he put it, can "take the mickey" out of him. (The modern science of marriage, which analyzes which marriages are likely to survive, would pronounce this a good fit.)
Still, there was something more than a little pre-feminist, a little Sleeping Beauty, about the Waity Katie thing. My twenty-something friend - well-educated, good job, living the single life in Toronto - confessed, "Oh, I am sooooo into this story! But it's not at all about Will. It's all about Kate. There's something alluring about her and the transformation she underwent from being a 'commoner' to a royal, which is so medieval and bizarre. But when you think about it, still so reflective of our current standards."
Despite a parentally provided (they're millionaires) flat in Chelsea and, I'm sure, all sorts of opportunities, she quietly waited for Will for five years, which is almost like being in a Sleeping Beauty coma.
Yet consider this: Doesn't every young couple getting married these days have to cope with the fairy-tale ethos? The entire wedding industry - that white-lace vortex - is geared around creating the image, at great cost, of a "princess" on her wedding day, floating down the aisle to her waiting "prince" (who is, in most cases, a junior Web developer with a job that barely pays his half of their rent.)
We so want to believe in white-lace love. And we have an unshakeable thing for the Royals, even though the actual job of being a Royal is not uniformly fun. That's why we can't take the mickey out of this fairy tale.
Young women would do well to admire Kate Middleton's spunk and style, and then ask themselves if they'd really want their own lives to be a perennial royal-rope line. I'm saying this now, because once the actual wedding-day hoopla starts, reality will be as hard to find as a spot on the Mall to watch the coach go by.
Hopefully, this will be the triumph of experience over hype. Perhaps this time, for this young couple, there won't be tragedy and tears. And no matter who they are, that would be something to celebrate.