Few books cast such a spell that the reader can’t tear him or herself away.
This is how I felt about The Royal We (Grand Central Publishing, 2015), the book born out of a labor of love that involved thorough research, clever plot twists and the imagination of two very funny women, Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan, otherwise known as the team behind the hugely popular (and hugely witty) site, Go Fug Yourself.
Even Buffy’s getting involved:
— Sarah Michelle (@SarahMGellar) April 20, 2015
The Royal We tells the story of Rebecca “Bex” Porter, an American exchange student at Oxford who befriends and, eventually, falls in love with her classmate, Prince Nicholas of Wales. While some might be quick to write this novel off as replay of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s relationship, those who read it soon realize that it’s a story of two people from completely different backgrounds who, despite the odds, just want to be together. More importantly, it brings to life the unpleasantness of an experience that many of us assume to be a tale of “happily ever after.”
I met the girls inside Le Peninsula Beverly Hills’ Living Room for high tea, where I think I speak for all of us when I say we could have ordered at least two rounds each of cucumber sandwiches, clotted cream and scones (oh, the scones).
“Our first draft of the book was over 800 pages,” Cocks said as our tea was being poured (from fancy brocade cozies, I might add).
“Yeah, next time that happens, just give me a copy,” I told her, mainly because I now have to resume a social life. UGH TIGHT CLOTHING AND HEELS.
What I liked most about The Royal We was how well Cocks and Morgan were able to humanize Bex in the sense that she didn’t handle her relationship with Nick as gracefully as Kate allegedly did in her 20’s. Kate seemed to hold it together really well when Will called time on their courtship, while I appreciated Bex’s overall inability to do so.
Kelly: “May I just thank you for making Bex a drunk.”
Jessica: “Hah! You’re welcome.”
*Kelly spills clotted cream* “Oh my God, did that just go face-up?”
Heather: “Yup. It’s fine. ”
*Heather tips over champagne glass as she wipes up Kelly’s mess*
Back to the conversation, re: Bex and booze.
Jessica: “Well, she’s a 20-year-old!”
Heather: “My sister went to Oxford for her masters, and she lived in Pembroke [Nick and Bex’s dorm]. When I visited her, she and her friends played a game that we had in the original outline. There was a point where we went all the way through to the end of term, with an actual Oxford game called ‘sconcing’ (It’s kind of like ‘Never Have I Ever’). You’d call someone out on whatever they were or weren’t guilty of. The Oxford culture involves a lot of drinking, so we said, ‘Ok, we’re going to go with it.’ I don’t know if the Glug [see chapter 4] would be physically possible without killing somebody, but hopefully no one will try it.”
Jessica: “It’s an adult book.”
Heather: “In most colleges, this behavior is pretty normal. And when Bex attends Oxford, she’s legally old enough to drink.”
Jessica: “And [further into the book] as a 23-year-old single person, it’s customary for many people to go out and get drunk.”
Heather: “I think we’re always fighting against the perception that the book is essentially a retelling of Will and Kate’s romance and that it’s just fan fiction/a recap of everything you already know about them. You’re always afraid that people think they already know the story [before reading the book], because they ‘know’ Will and Kate. We borrowed some themes, but the story is about the emotions [involved] which is what a lot of people don’t realize when they think they know Will and Kate.
“We definitely derived a lot of inspiration from real life when it came to fleshing out the characters. We hope that people won’t take one look and assume this is how Will, Kate, Kate’s sister, Pippa, Prince Harry and their friends behave like in real life. Or worse, read the cover and say ‘I know what this is, I don’t need to read it.’
“There are some obvious similarities. For instance, Lacey is inspired by Pippa and by a lot of what Pippa does. One of the things we found so interesting was that Kate and Pippa seemed so close for so long, and nowadays, you never see them together.
“I know that some of that is because Kate’s life has changed, but before the wedding you heard that maybe Kate was going to build a staff and Pippa was expected to be a lady-in-waiting. Then…nothing. I don’t know if Pippa’s bru-haha with the paparazzi in Paris [had anything to do with it]. So our theory is that somehow – whether from on high or between them – something changed. There’s a distance there that exists either forcibly or naturally.
“We would discuss how close they were as sisters and that is one major thing that, I imagine, has changed in Kate’s life. We said to each other, ‘Let’s explore that and see if that’s true.’”
Jessica: “Even if it was a positive change, for our purposes it was interesting.”
Kelly : “People are going to assume what they are going to assume, but you two explored what it must be like from their perspectives very well, especially Bex.”
Heather: “If it makes readers think differently about Will and Kate, then great. But we were very careful to give only the echoes of their relationship, and not let them ring so hard that it’s impossible to pay attention to the characters in the book.”
Jessica: “On GFY, we get a lot of questions about Kate’s fashion sense and whether or not it’s ‘too boring,’ which many know is a huge point of contention. My thought is this: She’s not an actor, and she’s not a model. Her job is not to be a fashion plate. I think a lot of people – especially those in the fashion industry – are judging Kate based on criteria that aren’t applicable.
Heather: “This is a woman who comes from a very well-to-do family, and has married into a situation where she theoretically has the resources to flip through runway pictures and say ‘I want that one, I want that one, and that one,’ but she can’t, because the royal household has to be very meticulous about paying for the clothes she wears, thus being conscious of the money being spent. She can’t seem to win with a lot of people.
“If she shows up to an engagement in something too boring, people will complain that she’s ‘staged’ and ‘frumpy.’ If she shows up in something too racy, then she’s not taking her job seriously. Very little of what we see is actually Kate, and if she had married some dude from, say, Wiltshire, and was just a working woman or a soccer mom, she’d be leading a very different life. We’d see a very different person. It’s interesting to see the trickle down effect where there are all sorts of consequences. You end up being somebody who you probably thought you would never be, because you don’t think things through that much when you’re in lust or love.
Jessica: “You don’t really think, ‘Oh, in 8 years I’m not going to be able to pick out the skirt that I want to wear.'”
Kelly:” It seems to me that neither Kate nor Bex really took into consideration the life they were dating/marrying into.”
Jessica: “If you fell in love with some hot dude in college, you’re not really wondering, ‘What is this life going to look like if we’re together eight years from now?’ You don’t think that far ahead, nor should you! I think it speaks well for Bex that she never stopped to think about their life that far down the road, because she doesn’t think of Nick that way.
Kelly: “She thinks of him as just ‘Nick.’ He’s really hot, and she loves him.”
Jessica: “He’s just her boyfriend.”
Heather: “Reality does starts to creeps in slowly, though. It was tough trying to decide how to map out the book because we asked ourselves, ‘Are we spending too much time on Oxford?’ We obviously know they get together. But if we don’t define the romance, then the reader is simply going to see them as Will and Kate proxies. We wanted to take our time with that section of the book, but not too much time.”
Kelly: “Well, knowing Will and Kate’s relationship as well as I do, I think you pulled it off. Bex and Nick were only Will and Kate in the essence that she was a commoner who happened to fall in love with the heir to the British throne. But everything else was very uncharacteristic of what I assume to be Will and Kate’s relationship, and that’s what made the book so interesting. There were real problems.
Jessica: “We wanted them to feel like real people with real problems. Bex says that she fell in love with a person, not a prince, the rest is just circumstance. In many ways, that’s the theme of the book.”
Kelly: “It rings true in real life as well. Kate is a catch. She could have had anyone she wanted.”
Heather: “Bex played it differently from Kate when she and Nick broke up. Occasionally we would joke that we’re never going to write another book; we would simply write this one 10 more times, in all its’ different permutations, one of them being that Kate is a conniving sexual sorceress who cast her love spell on William. That’s my favorite anti-Kate argument, that she’s somehow keeping William whipped through sex.
Jessica: “What’s the problem with that? If she’s keeping him under her spell with sex, he’s happy, she’s happy. They’re married. Everything is fine.”
Heather: “If you’re a sexual sorceress, A) Bottle that B) It’s not doing him any harm.”
Jessica: “I would like to take her sexual sorcery classes. She and Will have been together over ten years, and they’re married. I hope there is some sexual sorcery there! Whenever those two go on some tour outside of England – and this is so inappropriate to say – they eye-bang each other all over the place.”
Kelly: “Oh, heck yeah.”
Jessica: “They did it all over Australia.”
Heather: “That’s one of the reasons why people are so fascinated by what Will and Kate do. You’re just looking for signs of that inner life they keep so private. Comparatively speaking, I don’t know if Prince Charles and Diana ever had a private conversation. That dynamic was so odd, uncomfortable and strange.”
Kelly: “I believe that the public’s affection for William is so enormous that they were thrilled to see him find true happiness with a partner who he sees as his equal and with whom he can be candid behind closed doors. I remember [royal reporter] Richard Palmer saying that Kate was the one who calmed William down during their 2012 South East Asia tour after topless photos of her were published.”
Heather: “If I were Kate I would have said, ‘Keep Calm, I looked good.'”
Jessica: “‘Let’s all just realize that I looked great.'”
Heather: “Will seems to take that stuff very personally, and it’s been reported that he’s particularly sensitive about Kate getting the proper deference and respect. I don’t know if that’s coming from the family or dates back to when his friends would make cracks about Kate’s commoner background. He’s protective of her.”
Jessica: “Which I think is lovely, and as it should be. And I think Will is extra protective of Kate with regards to the press because of Diana. I was reading something the other day where a royal reporter (not unkindly) pointed out that William is not very flexible when it comes to working with the press. And I want to say, ‘You guys, do you really expect him to be holly-jolly with you?'”
Kelly: “His mother died as a direct result of media intrusion.”
Heather: “William grew up seeing inappropriate photos of his mother in tabloids and splashed across front pages of newspapers, not to mention photos of some guy sucking Fergie’s toes, all during his formative years. Even without the tragic end, we don’t blame him one bit.”
Jessica: “You can’t expect him to embrace the press, given his family history.”
Kelly: “And yet, he tolerates them, and he’s still polite.”
Heather: “I think he gets how it works. He’s only willing to give so much, and I think that’s healthy. Someday he’ll have to, but let him be this way now.”
Jessica: “The crazy thing, to me, is hearing people say, ‘They [Will and Kate] don’t do enough.’ I don’t think they’re taking into account the fact that William is not the Prince of Wales.”
Heather: “There were a lot of things we thought about [while writing the book], and that was one of them – the idea that when Nick was working on projects behind closed doors, there was the public perception of laziness, but his father kept telling him ‘you have to prepare for your future job.’ William is getting an education as a working man right now. He’s not the Prince of Wales yet, and until he is, he can live a life that is his own. I think a person will be a better monarch if he or she has had a little bit of normalcy. That grants him or her a little bit of a thread connecting them to their subjects.”
Kelly: “Kate attended a Buckingham Palace garden party in 2012 and her face lit up when she was introduced to a fellow military wife. They talked about their shared experiences and their concern for their husbands when they were on duty. It was so normal.”
Jessica: “There was yet another poll recently stating that Britons want Prince William to be the next King.”
Kelly: “It’s not going to happen.”
Jessica: “They [the Brits] might want this to be the case, but it’s never going to happen.”
Heather: “I feel sorry for Charles.”
Kelly: “From everything I’ve studied, read and watched, I like him.”
Heather: “He’s got his issues. He’s waited his whole life for this [the throne]. I feel like he was never the person that people wanted him to be. He was never dashing enough, or never doing what was expected of him. The funny thing is that Charles was years ahead of the world in terms of the environment, sustainable farming, etc. He’s never really gotten the credit for that.
“My parents went to a garden party at Buckingham Palace in the 80’s, and my mom said that guests were separated into receiving lines, and theirs happened to have Charles. ‘We weren’t expecting much,’ my mother told me.
“Afterwards, she said that both she and my dad were really impressed with Charles. When he came down the line, he was charming and exuded a lot more charisma than one would think. He was just very easy with people, very fluid, really good at talking and recognizing and acknowledging everything people would say. My mom said she left with the best impression of him, not least because she expected so little. Ever since then, she’s had a soft spot for Charles.
“I sort of have a soft spot for him, too, after all that’s happened. He seems so happy now. He and Diana were very ill-suited for one another. She was far too young, and he was pressured, hasty, and feeling jilted. He was not equipped to cope with her emotional issues; I think he just assumed that she was 19 and she’d grow out of it, but she had other issues that he didn’t understand. And if anyone in his family ever had experiences like that, they didn’t really talk about it. Eating disorders and mental health weren’t discussed back then.
Jessica: “You can’t blame her for marrying someone and expecting it to be entirely different. I think the whole thing is very sad. It’s fair to point out that if all of this hadn’t happened, William could very well be married to some upper crust yahoo.”
Kelly: “Unfortunately it’s a tough lesson to learn for everyone.”
Heather: “You never root for them to learn it that way.”
Kelly: “Diana’s absence is still felt. Victoria Arbiter once told me that on the morning of the royal wedding in 2011, there was a very powerful feeling of sadness that Diana couldn’t be there to see William get married.”
Heather: “I think the world would have loved it if a tear had come out during an unguarded moment. I don’t mean that in a perverse sort of way. I think people would have clutched William even tighter to their bosoms. To feel like you can’t show any emotion on your wedding day – or any other day – has to be so hard. If Kate gets a blister from her Sledge pumps, she can’t complain about it, because then we’d all be like, ‘Welp. Princess Blisters is injured.'”
Jessica: “’Stop complaining, you’re not a coal miner!'”
Kelly: “Was it hard creating the House of Lyons? I referenced that family tree a lot while I was reading the book.”
Heather: “If we’re tossing references to ancestors, we realized we needed some sort of an ancestral outline. We literally plotted out the royal family from Queen Victoria I’s reign.”
Jessica: “The family tree was initially five pages long, and naturally we had to cut it down. But we needed to draw it up order to keep straight what we were talking about. For example, we were three-quarters of the way through the book when Heather realized that the Queen Mum, Marta, was going to be way too old.
Heather: “She was going to be, like, 110, by the end of the book. We acknowledged that Marta was entitled to a long life, but that number was not realistic. We had to re-jigger the dates. It’s a great example of, ‘No one is going to see that work, but we have to do it.'”
Jessica: “Heather and I had this long-running conversation about whether or not their security is PPO [Personal Protection Officers] or RPO [Royal Protection Officers], because the royals use both terms. PPO would be used for non-royals who aren’t yet married into the family. The Daily Mail writers up a lot of royal articles that are logistically oriented, and we both read a piece from the Metropolitan Police Magazine to figure out what was accurate. The terms seem to be interchangeable for royal, but you’d never use RPO when referring to a non-royal (fiancé, for instance).”
Heather: “The other one that got us for a long time was gran vs granny [for grandmother]. We went with gran, but we were cautioned that in England ‘gran’ is not posh, whereas ‘granny’ is. To us, however, ‘granny’ sounds feeble, and doesn’t describe [Her Majesty] Queen Eleanor very well. So we thought ‘Gran’ would do better for this audience.
Jessica: “It wasn’t a pain to do all the research that went into the book. I enjoyed it. I think there exists a sub-set of the readership that will let you know if you’ve screwed it up.”
Kelly: “I am your sub-set.”
Jessica: “It was important to us for that readership (even if it’s a small percentage) to see that we had tried really hard to get the facts right. There were also some similarities [between real life and the book] that happened randomly. The Washington Post listed some of the parallels between Bex and Kate, and at the end, she pointed out that Kate dated a guy who also turned out to be a journalist (Willem Marx from Marlborough College).
Heather: “It was also announced while were writing the book that Kate was taking on another patronage, one that was similar to one of Bex’s projects.”
Jessica: “I should add to the book that ‘Freddie [Nick’s dashing younger brother] meets a gregarious elderly American blogger,’ and see what happens.”
Heather: “We want people to know that the book isn’t a veiled story about Will and Kate. We can’t escape the similarities, and we don’t want to. Our hope, though, is that people won’t read the book and then try to decode it. We are not sources of dirt on Will and Kate, so we don’t want people to back out of the story and try to figure out who is who and who did what. We want to suck people into the plot.
Kelly: “I was sucked in, and sad when the book ended, only because I couldn’t put it down. You realize you’re going to have to write a sequel, right?”
The Royal We is now on sale in bookstores and online.