In Britain, a Pedigreed Debate About Prince William's Girlfriend, Kate Middleton

By Mary Jordan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 28, 2009

If his glamorous niece weren't expected to marry Britain's Prince William, Gary Goldsmith might just be another cocaine-snorting, tattooed, embarrassing uncle.

But when an undercover video last week showed Goldsmith, 49, cutting lines of cocaine in "La Maison de Bang Bang" -- the villa he owns on the Spanish isle of Ibiza -- his oh-so-unregal lifestyle became headlines -- and a scandal steeped in the crass issue of class.

Goldsmith is the brother of the mother of Kate Middleton, who started dating William eight years ago when they met at St. Andrews University in Scotland. Ever since, there has been discussion about whether this "commoner," now a 27-year-old accessories-buyer-turned-photography-student, was good enough for the heir to the British throne.

Goldsmith is a property developer and has tattooed the words "Nouveau Riche" between his shoulder blades. Those born into "old money," commentators have noted wryly, decidedly do not use ink this way.

"The march of the middle-class Middletons" was one recent headline about the "kitschy" uncle, who jokes on the video that he will soon have his own room in Buckingham Palace.

Class in Britain is roughly equivalent to race in America -- despite enormous strides toward equality, social standing simmers never far below the surface. "Yes, I think class is the primary element in all this," said Robert Lacey, a prominent royal biographer. Britain has become more of a meritocracy, and nowadays a member of the royal family can "dip into the gene pool of the proletariat," he said, in contrast with the old days of arranged marriages with other foreign highborns. But marrying above and below one's station still brings "enormous fascination and envy. . . . Class is still a big issue.

"There you are in America wondering whether President Obama should get involved in this matter with a black professor and a police officer. . . . It's a minor matter consuming you in the way we are getting consumed by this subject."

Undercover reporters from the tabloid News of the World filmed bare-chested, pot-bellied Goldsmith, his underwear on parade above his low-slung jeans, all the while bragging about procuring drugs and hookers. Last week's front-page headline said he greeted William, when the future king of England visited three years ago, by saying "Oi, you [expletive]!"

Much attention has focused on Goldsmith's two divorces, familiarity with prostitutes, and the hard-core porn he is said to enjoy on his 52-inch TV.

As the Daily Mail explained, he even named his villa La Maison de Bang Bang, which, it said, was "crude French slang for House of Sex."

Speculation has mounted that a royal wedding announcement might arrive as early as this year's end, and, perhaps accordingly, Kate Middleton has increasingly stayed out of nightclubs and the limelight. With rare exceptions, she has won praise for being well-mannered, sharply dressed and dignified.

But her mother, Carole Middleton, a former flight attendant, has not fared so well in the tabloids, which never fail to describe her as hailing from a family of laborers and miners. Trim and turned out like her daughter, she founded Party Pieces, a lucrative mail-order business that sells decorations, cakes and other items for children's parties.

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