Now that Catherine, the duchess of Cambridge has gone into hiding until she pops out the Royal Spare, there’s not much to see if you’re a consummate royal-watcher until someone emerges with news of a birth.
So much for further glimpses of royal pregnancy waddling.
However, the lull provides a perfect time for digesting fictive imaginings about the lives of the duchess, her princely husband, and their less reserved younger siblings.
No, no, not schlocky, bawdy world of “The Royals” on E!, which really does require a suspension of disbelief few can muster. Rather, there’s reading material that may suffice. Enter “The Royal We,” a new novel by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan, aka the Fug Girls, the witty fashion and celebrity bloggesses behind Go Fug Yourself.
“The Royal We,” their first foray into adult fiction, imagines the courtship of a couple suspiciously similar to the current duke and duchess of Cambridge. It hits a comfortable midpoint between the historical fiction of Rosalind Miles and E!’s scripted series that could just as easily be called “What if ‘Gossip Girl’ Was English?”
The idea for a tale loosely based on the courtship of William and Kate originated when Morgan and Cocks were talking to a friend at a party about how strange and isolated Kate’s life must be as a member of the royal family. Before college at St. Andrews, where she met Will, Kate was simply the daughter of the creators of a mail-order party supply company.
“I remember when Harry was born and then Fergie came along and that was a huge royal wedding,” Cocks said. “It was just a big spectacle. Whether you live here or you live there, it was really easy to get caught up in that. We were just at that age when Fergie and Andrew got married that it was like, ‘oh, a real, live princess,’ even though I know she’s technically a duchess. But you’re like, ‘this is so dreamy and exciting, and the fact that this actually happens in the world is so cool.'”
Bex Porter narrates her experience as an American exchange student from Cornell who winds up living in an Oxford dorm on the same floor as Nick, the heir to the English throne. The two develop a friendship through their shared love of bad American television and eventually it blossoms into a romantic relationship.
Early on, Bex reveals that the first night she met Nick, she went home with someone else, his best friend, Clive. She had no designs on Nick whatsoever. Bex represents a quintessentially British view of America; she’s the daughter of an entrepreneur who amassed a small fortune by inventing the Coucherator, a refrigerator-couch combo that ensures you don’t even have to walk to the kitchen for your snacks. Worth noting: the very English Onslo and Daisy from “Keeping Up Appearances” would have loved such a thing. Before long, American, tomboyish, laid-back Bex is navigating scandals, both real and perceived, of her own.
The inner lives of Will and Kate will remain mysteries to most of us, but “The Royal We” offers fully realized characters with understandable motivations. It makes it a little easier to sympathize with Kate and the enormous transformation she underwent to become this woman who comports herself in a manner befitting a princess, right down to those dowdy, rounded-toe L.K. Bennett pumps she (or more likely, the Queen mum) favors. You could call it the dark side of “The Princess Diaries.”
“[Kate] can’t win,” Morgan said. “It’s kind of a lose-lose situation for her. She gets criticized — not unfairly — for not taking more fashion risks, but if she were to take more fashion risks, people would obsess over
that. So I think she’s walking a very fine line in terms of what she wears to public events, both in terms of how risky she is, what she re-wears, how expensive her outfit is. The British press is very tough on her and I think that she really probably has to be very careful about basically everything that she does.”
Even though Bex and Nick are the main attraction, the especially dishy fun is in observing their not-so-perfectly-behaved younger siblings. Bex has a twin sister, Lacey, and Nick has a charming, rakishly handsome brother named Freddie with a reputation as a ladykiller. Bad judgement on both their parts leads to some of the juiciest plot points.
Real life inspirations loom large and small and Cocks and Morgan cleverly poke fun at the more ridiculous elements of British high society — there’s a minor character known as Penelope Six Names. One of William’s exes was named Isabella Amaryllis Charlotte Anstruther-Gough-Calthorpe. Pippa and Harry are pretty obvious parallels, but a close family friend named Lady Beatrix-Larchmont-Kent-Smythe (her friends call her Lady Bollocks) could be partially drawn from Zara Phillips, cousin to William and Harry and daughter of Princess Anne. Lady Bollocks, much like Phillips, is obsessed with horses.
One of “The Royal We’s” strengths is the way Cocks and Morgan have deftly woven the feel of the country and English high society throughout the book, observed through the eyes of an outsider. Cocks, whose father is English, spent seven years of her childhood there. She and Morgan took a research trip specifically for the book.
“It was important to us, because a lot of the themes that inspired the book are royal, obviously, but we had to walk a tightrope, being inspired by some of these events, but not having someone read the book and flip out of it every time and say, “that’s Harry and that’s Pippa,'” Cocks said.
The novel stands on its own if you pay no attention to the monarchy, but it’s easy to fall down a rabbit hole of royal gossip when you come across recognizable snippets. Here are some of the most intriguing parallels between the book and real life:
- The rumors that Kate was not Will’s first choice
- William and Harry did date women who were (half) sisters
- Prince Charles had serious last-minute doubts about marrying Princess Diana
- Kate dated a guy who is now a journalist before she dated William
- There really was a scandal that former household cavalry officer James Hewitt fathered Prince Harry
Morgan and Cocks, who also co-authored two YA books, “Messy” and “Spoiled,” will be signing books and answering questions Thursday, April 9 at 6:30 p.m. at Kramerbooks.