Her talents as a writer may be arguable, but it all comes down to her commercial value.
Note: This article is from the Guardian.
Anyone who is finding it tough to get published in print might not feel too pleased about Vanity Fair’s newest contributing editor. The glossy title has hired emerging journalistic talent and the UK’s most celebrated sister-in-law, Pippa Middleton.
Unsurprisingly, the announcement caused some bitterness on Twitter, where it was hard to find anyone who referred to Middleton as a writer without the use of inverted commas. The country is packed with penniless graduates desperate for journalism jobs who are prepared to spend 18 months making tea for magazine staff in the hope that one day someone might let them write a picture caption. Some organisations claim that, for a substantial fee, they can help secure a sought-after internship. Middleton leads a privileged existence, with many big brands approaching her with potentially lucrative endorsement opportunities –it’s not like she needs a writing gig to pay the rent.
Her talents as a writer may be arguable, but it all comes down to her commercial value. Admittedly her party planning guide, Celebrate, failed to sell and spawned parodies, but Waitrose have reported soaring sales of their Kitchen magazine since she was signed up as a columnist in February. When she wrote in the Spectator challenging Boris Johnson to a game of ping-pong, the story made national news. She is to journalism what her sister, the Duchess of Cambridge is to fashion. People fall over themselves to complain that what the Middletons do is dull, bland and a preserve of the privileged – but it shifts units at an alarming rate.
Celebrity journalism is nothing new, and it’s hard to pick up a newspaper or magazine that doesn’t feature a regular column from a famous contributor. As a staff writer on a teen magazine, I ghost wrote several columns for pop stars, based on interviews I had conducted. Many big outlets pay their celebrity columnists six-figure sums, when there’s an uncredited (and usually badly paid) hack behind the scenes cobbling it together from some very generalised quotes. It’s an open secret that many big name writers aren’t there to write – they are merely offering their brand name. As depressing as this is, it is an extremely tough time for anyone working in print media, and sometimes the right celebrity can tip the balance when it comes to getting enough sales to keep the whole operation going for another few months.
Pippa Middleton’s harshest critics should remember that although she might not have much editorial experience, in many other ways she’s perfectly qualified for the job. Vanity Fair is a society magazine, and Middleton leads the kind of socially active existence that its readers identify with or aspire to. She might not be able to write searing political commentary, but she can use the knowledge and skills that her connections bring her in a practical way.
Besides, if people aren’t accusing the Middletons of abusing their privilege, they are accusing them of social climbing, so it’s fitting that the younger daughter of the family should be working for a magazine that shares a title with a novel about the perils of extreme social ambition. In the story, Becky Sharp is in a position that enables her to mock the manners of the ruling class. And Pippa Middleton may have an enviable number of aristocratic connections to deploy, but as people regularly take pains to point out, she is not of aristocratic stock. Like Becky, she’s still an outsider looking in, and in a position to bring a new perspective to the magazine.
The Middleton family is an industry, generated by an impressive amount of work on their part – Pippa’s mother Carole grew up in a council flat in the unglamorous London suburb of Southall. I don’t think it’s of particular interest that the daughter of a flight attendant is about to give birth to an heir to the throne. But if one of Carole Middleton’s children can land a coveted editorial position in this difficult climate, maybe there is hope for all of us.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010