A plastic princess or how a Duchess should be?

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There is nothing like a comment on how a woman should be to stir up the passions both online and off.

Today, comments from author Hilary Mantel’s lecture on Royal Bodies has stirred up a right hornets nest.

The Daily Mail splashed Ms Mantel’s comments, describing the Duchess of Cambridge as a “machine made” princess, “designed by a committee” and as having a “plastic smile” across its front page.

The full essay is about Royal Bodies and focuses especially on the Duchess of Cambridge, Princess Diana, Marie Antionette and Anne Boleyn.

The Booker Prize winner started by saying the Duchess of Cambridge would be her dinner guest of choice and that she would present her with a a book published in 2006, by the cultural historian Caroline Weber; it’s called Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution.

She explains in comments that have caused a furore: “It’s not that I think we’re heading for a revolution. It’s rather that I saw Kate becoming a jointed doll on which certain rags are hung.

“In those days she was a shop-window mannequin, with no personality of her own, entirely defined by what she wore.

“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.”

Even Prime Minister David Cameron is talking about the comments, saying Ms Mantel was “completely wrong” to compare the Duchess with a “shop-window mannequin”.

Although I’ll confess I have found the Duchess of Cambridge quite Stepford wife like and unrelatable in the past, launching this attack midway through what we know is a difficult pregnancy for the Duchess, really doesn’t seem the best timing.

I do feel sympathy for the Duchess who is one moment sneered at as “thrifty” by the fashionista crowd for re-wearing outfits, such as the white Reiss dress she wore for her official engagement portrait with Mario Testino that she then wore in Canada, to being told by designer Vivienne Westwood this week that she should re-wear her outfits more. She can’t seem to do anything without someone saying it is wrong.

As for her personality, really, all that we actually know about the Duchess is the careful image that Buckingham Palace has nurtured. She doesn’t really get much of an opportunity to be gregarious given that the only time she appears in public is for usually serious engagements - most people would be demure while visiting sick children in hospitals.

The former Miss Middleton certainly impressed when she visited Northern Ireland in 2011. I saw her at Hillsborough Castle and came away with the impression of a sweet girl keen to make a good impression and willing to spend as much time as she could shaking hands with the crowds that turned out to see her. Even one local woman’s direct and firm instruction to the soon-to-be-Royal to “have a good feed”, was met with giggles and a shy smile.

On Facebook Stormont Junior minister Jonathan Bell posted: “So the excellent genuine Duchess of Cambridge is wrongly criticised- reminds me of the saying - any fool can criticise and many of them do”.

While on Twitter the row turned into Middleton vs Mantel with lively opinions voice in support of both, and both surnames trending.

Author and editor of Che Bella style magazine @HurufApi tweeted: “Mantel said something really interesting about Kate Middleton, and I must say, she’s right... No offense, but sometimes I think that way.”

And @gingertom5 tweeted: “I’m no Kate-hater but is this not just freedom of speech? Why does it require PM comment? #mantel #middleton”, comedian ‏@VivGroskop commented: “Kate” = code word for “Latest Little Lady We Must Worship Because She Lovely Little Lady”

But BBC Radio DJ ‏@laurenlaverne “I mean, I know she won that Booker and everything but if you can’t say anything nice... #Mantel” and newspaper columnist ‏@SamanthaBrick tweeted: “Think the likes of Mantel et al should back off. No one needs this in their 1st pregnancy. #Mantel”

Read Ms Mantel’s full lecture here