Ed. note This is the second in a series of posts that Alex Aldridge, a London-based journalist who covers legal affairs, will be writing for Above the Law about the upcoming royal wedding of HRH Prince William and Kate Middleton. You can read the first post here.
In Britain, middle-class people who don’t know what to do with their lives have the option of trying to wed a royal.
If that doesn’t work, the situation is much the same as in the US: they become lawyers. A case in point is Prince Harry’s on-and-off girlfriend, Chelsy Davy, who will begin a traineeship with “Magic Circle” law firm Allen & Overy in September, having failed to secure the ginger hell-raiser on a permanent basis. Had Kate Middleton’s 2007 split with Prince William proved final, our future queen — whose ex is an in-house lawyer — may well have gone down the same route.
Needless to say, royals don’t do law. It’s too aspirational. They don’t even sue; one lawyer who has had dealings with The Firm once told me (in jest, possibly): “The royal family don’t take people to court, they kill them.”
Perhaps this explains why they’re so keen on the military: Wills and Harry have followed family tradition by going into the air force and army, respectively. They probably won’t stick around long, though. Like Princes Charles and Andrew before them, the pair will soon be eased into a middle age of government handouts and state-provided housing. Royals, bless ‘em, are basically very rich poor people.
So is a union between a very rich poor person and a member of the middle class likely to work?
History doesn’t bode well. Middle class artist Anthony “If it moves, he’ll have it” Armstrong-Jones proved a poor match for the Queen’s late sister, Princess Margaret, the pair divorcing in 1978. More recently, the engagement between Jonas Bergstrom, an associate at Swedish law firm Vinge, and Sweden’s Princess Madeleine was called off after it emerged he’d cheated on her.
Unsurprisingly, the Windsors (who are worth billions) and the Middletons (whose successful Party Pieces business is worth rather less) are refusing to comment, leaving the lawyers and journalists to speculate.
James Stewart, a partner at London law firm Manches, which handled Madonna and Guy Ritchie’s multi-million dollar divorce, says: “It’s an absolute statistical no brainer that a prenuptial agreement would be highly beneficial in this case.”
Guardian legal correspondent Afua Hirsch agrees, arguing that a pre-nup, with confidentiality clauses, would avert “another Martin Bashir-type interview with a disillusioned princess” — a prospect much feared by the Queen.
Others, though, like London-based celebrity divorce lawyer Raymond Tooth, say that if there were a pre-nup, it “would have leaked out” by now.
Kate — nicknamed “princess in waiting” at school, years before she met Wills — seems far savvier than Sarah Ferguson, who reportedly ended up with just £15,000 a year when she split with Prince Andrew in 1996. But if things don’t work out and she ever finds herself short of cash, there’s always law school.
CUT OUT AND KEEP GUIDE TO THE BRITISH CLASS SYSTEM
Royalty – e.g., Prince William.
Hereditary aristocracy – e.g, Princess Diana (descended from a pair of viscounts).
London-based global elite – e.g., Harrods’ Egyptian owner Mohammed Al-Fayed, whose son Dodi dated Diana and died alongside her in a car crash in 1997.
Upper middle class – e.g., Former British prime minister Tony Blair and his wife Cherie Blair QC, who are both barristers (elite British lawyers specialising in advocacy). Neither has been invited to Friday’s wedding.
Middle class – e.g., Kate’s ex, Rupert Finch, an in-house lawyer at chemicals company Johnson Matthey.
Nouveau riche – e.g., Kate Middleton’s mum and dad, who worked respectively as an air hostess and a flight dispatcher, before setting up a successful party supply company.
Working class – e.g., John Haley, landlord of Kate’s family’s local pub, the Old Boot Inn, who has been invited to the wedding.
The under class – e.g., Shozna, the homeless woman whom Wills has invited to the wedding.
On Friday: An account of the royal wedding, live from London.
Alex Aldridge is a London-based freelance journalist specialising in law and education. He writes a weekly column for The Guardian and contributes regularly to specialist legal publications. Previously Alex was Associate Editor at Legal Week, having begun his career with The Times. Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexAldridgeAA or email him at [email protected].