Marry a prince? I'll take the frog any day


FIFTYSOMETHING:Prince Harry has been voted the world’s most eligible bachelor. According to the chronicles of dross, “helicopter flying” and “flirting” rank as the two most admired attributes in his princely arsenal. One can only assume that the quaking Afghan citizenry he’s recently been choppering over weren’t polled for their opinions.

Anyway, regardless of his bellicosity and his tendency to confuse his job with a PlayStation game, the monotonous hopes of many girls and some sweet boys the world over have been crushed, like Corgi skulls under an articulated lorry full of Romanian donkey carcasses, since Harry was photographed in a ski-slope clinch with his on-again-off-again belle Cressida Bonas.

Cressida (nicknamed Cressie) is not an accompaniment to egg mayonnaise sandwiches; she is a socialite. Now I don’t actually know what a socialite is, and I suspect there’s not a whole heap of point in asking what they do (they socialise, don’t they?). But if I had to pick one out of an identity parade, Bonas would be the lucky recipient of the furry handcuffs.

Blonde and leggy, she has blue eyes already laced with irritation. It is as if she can already hear the tom-tom beats of avarice from the paps who will pursue her across the savannah of our lust and prurience.

Cressie, it seems, is destined to be a lone gazelle in a pair of eco-friendly designer flip-flops, being chased by a herd of sweating hyenas in nylon Y-fronts. She is fodder; hopefully, with a bit of sense, she’ll forget about marrying Prince Disarming and do something useful, like open a marmoset refuge.

The world seems to like Harry, it stifles a yawn over William, and is tentatively smitten with Kate Middleton, but its patience won’t stretch to two trinket princesses (remember Fergie?). We are endlessly tolerant of eternal boys, such as Harry; we like to tut and shake our mildly amused heads at the antics of one so young and brave and fool enough to play naked billiards in a hotel room full of squealing wannabes with iPhones. And, like many romantic leads, the boy has a tragic past.

He appears to have more fun than his brother William, who, after all, is going to have to be a king at some stage, which is the less amusing consequence of one’s blood being blue. Kings don’t get to slay dragons and scale maiden’s plaits any more; they just get fat on blackbird pie and runny honey, and sitting around in drafty castles counting other people’s taxes.

Haz is the desirable one, the one with the backstage passes and the free samples of hair wax. And he gets to shoot people and wear desert fatigues in the actual desert, and maybe he’ll even manage to keep his hair.

Meanwhile, his lesser-follicled brother has been sequestered to domesticity and pragmatism and ordering the servants to hold his skinny pregnant wife aloft while she throws up her breakfast.

Hilary Mantel’s brilliant essay Royal Bodies in the current issue of the London Review of Books chillingly imagines Kate Middleton being designed by committee, constructed by craftsmen, hewn and polished into something entirely innocuous, entirely palatable, “a breeder” without the “emotional incontinence” of her dead mother-in-law.

Her polemic, in all its crackling brilliance, makes one asks the question, why? Why does the fairy tale of royal romance refuse to lie down in a glass coffin and slip away peacefully? Why do 21st-century women still want to marry a prince? Or do they? I’m probably speaking for the vast minority, but I don’t remember my generation being so, well, conservative.

I don’t know if the world’s most eligible bachelor pollsters interrogated young women in this country. I’d like to think that if so, they would have had to re-evaluate their findings. I just don’t believe that the current appetite for party dresses and cupcake-making and tiaras in the hair is anything more than a bit of light relief from the dreary daily grind. Maybe I’m wrong, but I just can’t detect a national inclination towards pert obedience to a royal master.

Still, what do I know? I suppose if you grew up in cheesecloth and Jesus sandals and learned your politics from Joni Mitchell albums and lugubrious nights under cafe tables, you’re hardly qualified to judge who this world finds desirable or why.

One thing I am clear about though. Given a choice – I’d rather kiss the belching frog.

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