PRIME Minister David Cameron waded into the heated argument over the Duchess of Cambridge’s public image yesterday, condemning the views of novelist Hilary Mantel as “completely misguided and completely wrong”.
In a wide-ranging speech on how the Royal Family is perceived by the media and the public, the two-time Booker Prize winner referred to the duchess’s “perfect plastic smile”, and argued that the then Kate Middleton had been “selected for her role of princess” because she was “irreproachable – as painfully thin as anyone could wish, without quirks, without oddities, without the risk of the emergence of character”.
Describing her as a “jointed doll on which certain rags are hung”, she added: “These days, she is a mother-to-be, and draped in another set of threadbare attributions.
“Once she gets over being sick, the press will find that she is radiant. They will find that this young woman’s life until now was nothing, her only point and purpose being to give birth.”
Her comments sparked a fierce backlash within some sections of the press. One London-based newspaper described the writer’s remarks as a “venomous attack on Kate”, while the Sun derided her “bizarre rant”.
The fallout from Mantel’s lecture became a major trending topic on social networking sites such as Twitter, where she was both attacked and defended in a deeply polarised debate.
Speaking during a visit to New Delhi, Mr Cameron lavished praise on the duchess and suggested the novelist had erred in her assessment of the 31-year-old.
Responding to Mantel’s comments, he said: “I think she writes great books, but I think what she’s said about Kate Middleton is completely misguided and completely wrong.
“What I’ve seen of Princess Kate at public events, at the Olympics and elsewhere, is that this is someone who’s bright, who’s engaging, who’s a fantastic ambassador for Britain. We should be proud of that, rather than make these rather misguided remarks.”
Labour leader Ed Miliband also took exception to Mantel’s lecture, saying: “These are pretty offensive remarks – I don’t agree with them. Kate Middleton is doing a brilliant job in a difficult role. She’s a huge asset to the country. She deserves our support in the roles she’s playing.”
In her speech, entitled Royal Bodies, which she delivered at the British Museum earlier this month, Mantel compared the duchess with her husband Prince William’s late mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, whom she termed the “emotionally incontinent”.
The lecture, printed in full in the latest issue of the London Review of Books, scrutinises the lives of royal women and the importance of providing an heir.
Mantel compared their fate to pandas in captivity, describing them as “ill-adapted to any modern environment” but “nice to look at” nonetheless.
She criticised the media’s “compulsion to comment” on every facet of the Royal Family’s lives, dismissing it as “a discourse empty of content, mouthed rather than spoken”.
Mantel has refused to comment on her speech, while St James’s Palace has also declined to comment on behalf of the duchess.
As the backlash grew yesterday, a spokesman for the Wolf Hall author urged people to consider her remarks about the duchess in their “full context.” He said that, far from being a criticism, the lecture was “remarkably sympathetic” and that the author spoke about royal women as victims of their predicament.
He explained: “It is a piece about appearance. It’s about being trapped. It is about the performance, how the institution of royalty has to project and how it comes across.”
The pregnant duchess showed no signs of being fazed by the row yesterday, when she visited Hope House, a London addiction centre run by Action on Addiction.
Nick Barton, the charity’s chief executive, praised the duchess yesterday. He said: “I can only speak of what I know and, having met the duchess several times, I find her to be engaging, natural and genuinely interested in the subject.
“You can tell a lot about someone from the questions they ask and she asks really good questions – the questions of someone who wants to learn. She is also an intelligent woman.”