Prince William's choice welcomed by Britain
LONDON — On a wooden bench in Queen's Park, an aptly-named corner of northwest London, 8-year-old Eva is patiently listening to her mother explain the concept of a royal wedding, just hours after Britain's future king announced that he intends to make a commoner his future queen.
"Who's Prince William?" she asks shyly, before adding: "Who's Kate Middleton?"
While it's a bit of a surprise that Eva has no idea who the country's next monarch is, given the frenzied media coverage that greets William's every move, she can probably be forgiven for not knowing who Middleton is. No one else knows either.
Sure, we know a few basic facts: She met the prince when they were both at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland; her parents are a former pilot and flight attendant; they've dated since 2002 (temporarily separating in 2007) and she has worked in the fashion retail industry.
Other than that, thanks to largely-heeded requests by royal officials for the normally invasive British media to back off, there have been few insights into what makes Middleton tick. Prior to Tuesday she had never given a television interview.
And as conceded Arthur Edwards — a legendary tabloid photographer who has followed William's life from the day he was carried out of London's St. Mary's Hospital in the arms of his mother, Diana — "We don't know anything about her."
If Edwards, who was talking on Sky News just hours after the royal family announced that what is probably the most hotly-anticipated wedding of this century will take place in spring or summer 2011, doesn't know, then who does?
"At least she's one of us," said Queen's Park resident Geoff Napier. "That's all we need to know." When asked what he meant, Napier — a plumber by trade — added: "You know, not posh. Just an ordinary person. A Londoner."
Well, yes and no. Middleton is certainly not as posh as the current queen. She doesn't rate an official mention in Debrett's Peerage and Baronetage (the essential reference to the British aristocracy).
And although she did attend the exclusive Marlborough College in Wiltshire, west of London, such is the innate snobbery of English society, her high-class upbringing did not mask her distinctly middle-class breeding.
To that extent, much has been made in the U.K. press of claims that William's friends have derided the former profession of Middleton's mother, whispering "doors to manual" whenever Kate entered a room. Her mother, meanwhile, was accused of inexcusably using the word "toilet" in front of the queen.
Still, after eight years (on-and-off) of dating a prince, making full use of the queen's Balmoral vacation residence (not to mention its toilets) and lurking on the sidelines of polo games and royal ski trips, some poshness is bound to have worn off.
"I'll probably take it in my stride," said Middleton, speaking in the couple's first ever joint television interview, of the "daunting" prospect of joining the royal family.
But can she be called a true Londoner? That, too, is a bit of a stretch. Although she is one day destined to take up residence in the city's most prestigious address — Buckingham Palace — Middleton was born 40 miles west of London, in the town of Reading.
That doesn't seem to be a problem for many Londoners, who insist they will still take Middleton to their hearts.
"I don't think it's our choice who he marries, it's his choice," said Fadua Laaouti, another Queen's Park regular. "Charles made that mistake with Diana, listening to people about who he should marry. But at the end of the day it was Camilla he loved."
The references to Diana, the former Princess of Wales who was killed alongside her lover Dodi Fayed in a 1997 Paris car crash, and Camilla Parker-Bowles, who William's father Prince Charles married after a much-publicized affair, are inevitable.
The circumstances of Diana's demise (she was being pursued by paparazzi photographers at the time) and its perceived humanizing influence on the royal family have hung over William's adult life — perhaps even informing his choice of bride.
"He's taken his time — I suppose that's why they call her 'waity Katie,'" said Marion Smith, another Queen's Park resident. "But after what happened to his mother, he had to make sure it was right, and I suppose if she's right for him, she's right for us."
Not everyone is happy. At a time when the country is being asked to endure harsh austerity measures to pay for the financial follies of the past decade, some see a lavish wedding as inappropriate.
"I want to know who will be paying for all the fancy frocks," said self-confessed "anti-monarchist" Jo Bain. Bain isn't alone, and there are already mutterings on the sidelines of government that the whole wedding is being conveniently timed to distract from coming hardships.
Political blogger Guido Fawkes noted pointedly that the engagement was used by the government as a "good day to bury bad news," — in this case, an embarrassing climb down by Prime Minister David Cameron over using public cash to employ a personal photographer.
Still, wedding fever could yet cure even the most hardened of cynics. Adds Bain, "I suppose there is another side to it. The commoner marrying the prince: I could end up getting quite excited."
But what about 8-year-old Eva? Is she enthralled by the idea that she is growing up in a country where fairytale weddings come true and perhaps she could one day marry a prince if she so chooses?
Displaying a precocious grasp of the kind of media savvy that Middleton will need if she is to survive becoming a member of the most talked-about family on Earth, Eva responded: "No comment."
This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.