I was four years old in 1981, the year that Diana married Prince Charles in that gigantic, poofy, fairy-tale dress. I had a long, gauzy curtain to play dress-up with, and a pair of sparkly silver shoes (size 10) inherited from my mother. I put the curtain on my head and the shoes on my feet, and I clomped up and down the hallway, pretending I was walking down the aisle. I was beautiful. I was enacting my happily-ever-after. I was . . . Olive Oyl.
The point is, much as I’d like to deny it, I’m reluctantly fascinated by royal fairy tales. And royals in general. And I know I’m not alone in this, because . . . well, yes. They’re everywhere. We’re obsessed, and they’re not even our royals. This year has been especially generous in the royal-obsessing department, because it gave us the wedding of Kate and The Dull Prince and the Prince Harry Naked Vegas Scandal (Who knew you couldn’t trust a bunch of random woman you picked up at a casino? WHO KNEW?), followed by Topless Kate Middleton and the ensuing kerfuffle.
Yes. The world is obsessed with princess lumps, of both the “baby bump” and “boob” variety. It is not a romantic era in which to be a princess. And yet the fascination continues. Nicole Kidman is filming a Grace Kelly biopic right now, and Harlequin Presents sells just as many girl-falls-for-the-prince (and my favorite variation, girl-gets-conquered-by-the-sheikh) books as ever.
So what’s the fascination? I asked expert Megan Mulry, who’s penned a series of romance novels featuring Americans marrying British royalty.
RK: Welcome, Megan!
MM: Thank you. I am so excited about this post…other than the depressing discovery that I am ten long years older than you! So, yes, I was fourteen when Prince Charles married Diana Spencer. I had no interest whatsoever in the Wedding of the Century. In July of 1981, I was working at my summer job in the yogurt shop on Long Island to make enough money to buy my first Sony Walkman while trying to sneak into New York City on weekends without my parents finding out. I had also just finished ninth grade at Miss Porter’s School. I only mention it because, looking back, I’m pretty sure the school was in the midst of consciously shedding the idea of preparing its students to be wives. So I think I had gotten some sort of subliminal message that Princess Diana was a bit of a traitor to the modern woman, or at least a lamb being led to slaughter. By the early nineties, when Charles and Diana’s marriage was publicly disintegrating, my circle of friends had a consequent, “Well, what did you expect?” cynicism. We thought The Whole Royal Thing might dry up once and for all.
RK: Not so much, eh?
MM: Right! Instead, in the reinvention to end all reinventions, Diana became her own woman! Whether it was meant as a bunch of PR blather or not, she was suddenly (briefly) this independent, sexy, sweet woman of the people. When her divorce went through, I had the same giddy excitement I recently experienced when Katie Holmes divorced Tom Cruise (i.e., “You did it!”). And then a short year after her divorce was finalized, Diana was dead. I think so many people had accepted Diana, identified with her challenges, admired her, that it created this bizarre positive backlash. People were able to indulge in an outpouring of love — the flowers, the Elton John song — it was a chance for everyone to be loving and kind to her memory.
RK: But it seems like since Diana’s death, it’s been mostly downhill for the royal family — much to the public’s delight.
MM: Yes. I think royal watching also satisfies a darker side of our nature. I’ve always had a tendency to pull up rocks and be revolted and obsessed with the squirmy, pale worms underneath. All of the poofy dresses and trumpets and horses are great (seriously great! I love clothes! I am addicted to What Kate Wore!), but I get tingly excited when I take it a step further.
Because who was in the car with Lady Di when she died? Dodi Fayed. Even the most cursory glance at his Wiki page is enough for 75 Harlequin Presents. (Not to worry, Maisey Yates is on it and closing in fast!) His father was the Egyptian billionaire owner of Harrods. His mother was Samira Kashoggi of the Saudi-billionaire-arms-dealer Kashoggis. Talk about satisfying our desire to enter secret worlds! Diana was some sort of modern day Skye O’Malley — going from Prince to Sheikh. It would all be preposterous if it wasn’t so real.
RK: Secret worlds, hmm? So you think Diana became the everywoman who gave the public access to the royals — just as a romance novel heroine gives the reader access to her romance with the hero?
MM: In a sense. And Grace Kelly offered that same kind of backstage pass feeling. My mother and her sisters identified with Grace so closely that I actually thought she was a personal family friend of theirs by the way they talked about her. Of her father, they used to say, “Oh, you know Jack Kelly, from the Philadelphia Kellys?” It was like a sisterhood-of-the-traveling-Catholic-girls or something. And then there was always the murmured asides about what a “hot ticket” Grace was. (Note to self: make Eliot’s father use phrase “hot ticket” to describe Abby in L is for Lady.) Apparently, Grace was hot. She was real. And then she became a princess. She offered access.
RK: Which brings us to the most accessible princess of all, right?
MM: Right! Technically, she’s Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge (Catherine Elizabeth “Kate”; née Middleton), but she’s really just Kate. Everything about her screams, “Hey! You! Yes, you Megan and Ruthie! Come sit with us at the Olympics! Come ride on this Polynesian palanquin with us in Tuvalu! Aren’t these shoes adorable? I got them at LK Bennet! You can too!” She just comes across as a person who’d be fun to hang out with, like she wants to have a good time — not out of some reckless, careless escapism, but because she is cheerful and grateful and maybe just a nice person. Who’s not fascinated by that?
RK: And yet I feel so guilty for being fascinated. Like a dirty, dirty voyeur.
MM: My heroine in A Royal Pain is conflicted in exactly the same way you are. She feels like she should “know better” than to be drawn into that fantasy world — with its dirty underbelly of imperialism and cruelty — but she loves it anyway. The royal watching. The dream. We all want to believe that happiness is possible.
RK: Also, dirty weekends in Vegas with fetching young princes.
MM: Don’t get me started. If the IRS tries to audit me when I deduct a portion of my visit to the Wynn in Las Vegas in November, I have all my Harry press clips in my very thick research file to shake at them. This is strictly business. As are the clandestine phone calls with Mira Lyn Kelly in which we forcibly deny the existence of our middle-aged lust for ginger-haired princes playing strip billiards. I have no idea what you are talking about.
*pretends not to Google ‘Harry in Vegas’*…[pause]…
Where was I? Oh, right. Royal watching. What were you asking again?
RK: I’m not sure I was organized enough to have a question. But here’s one: Do you think happy-ever-after is possible between a handsome prince and his outsider princess in this day and age?
MM: My answer is a very definitive yes, everyone can have one. But. It will weigh heavily in your favor if you like to kiss the lips of the person to whom you are married. And I think Kate and William like kissing each other. That little extra second one on the balcony after their wedding, just…yes. Here you go:
That three minutes says it all. The second kiss around time-stamp 2:20…Kate’s smile just after; the grumpy flower girl with her hands over her ears (who is later held in Prince Charles’s arms as the fighter jets roar past)…the Queen’s diamonds. Of course it is primarily pomp and circumstance, bread and circus, whatever, but there are little snippets of what look to me like real feelings, like they are just a family with all the messy family dynamics and skeletons in the closet and hoping that maybe these two young people can make a go of it.
RK: I have to admit, that does make me feel kind of warm and fuzzy. Thanks for visiting, Megan, and sharing your expertise!
MM: Thanks again for asking me to visit your blog!
Time to weigh in, readers — Do you have a secret or not-so-secret fixation on the royal family? How do you feel about royals in romance — and in real life?
Bronte Talbott follows all of the exploits of the British royals. After all, they’re the world’s most preeminent dysfunctional family. And who is she to judge? Bronte’s own search for love isn’t going all that well, especially after her smooth-talking Texan boyfriend abruptly leaves her in the dust. Bronte keeps a lookout for a rebound to help mend her broken heart, and when she meets Max Heyworth, she’s certain he’s the perfect transition man. But when she discovers he’s a duke, she has to decide if she wants to stay with him for the long haul and deal with the opportunities– and challenges– of becoming a royal.
Interested? Buy Here
About the Author:
Ruthie Knox graduated from Grinnell College as an English and history double major, and went on to earn a Ph.D. in modern British history that she’s put to remarkably little use. An earlier incarnation of Ride with Me won the 2011 Maggies Award for best contemporary series romance, as well as the 2011 Romance Junkies/Carina Press contest.
Book Copy for ROOM AT THE INN, part of the Naughty and Nice Bundle:
Carson Vance couldn’t wait to get out of Potter Falls, but now that he’s back to spend Christmas with his ailing father, he must face all the people he left behind . . . like Julie Long, whose heart he broke once upon a time. Now the proprietor of the local inn, Julie is a successful, seductive, independent woman—everything that Carson’s looking for. But despite several steamy encounters under the mistletoe, Julie refuses to believe in happily ever after. Now Carson must prove to Julie that he’s back for good—and that he wants her in his life for all the holidays to come.