One of the most attractive aspects of the Middleton family to Prince William when he first started seriously contemplating marrying Kate was the excellent interpersonal relationships that exist among all members of the family.
Compared to his own family—in fact compared to most families—the Middletons are a bit like the Waltons with money.
James, Kate, Pippa, Mike, and Carole all get on extremely well—they still go on holiday together on an annual basis, when Carole rents a villa in Mustique after Christmas.
But within the family, it is perhaps inevitable that as two sisters separated by less than two years in age, Kate and Pippa have a deeper and even more special bond.
That is why reports that the reason Kate is not going to be acting as bridesmaid for Pippa’s wedding is due to sibling rivalry or because Pippa wants to make sure Kate does not “get her own” back on her scene-stealing role at the royal wedding by hogging the spotlight should be taken with a pinch of salt.
This analysis quite neglects the fact that Kate hates being the center of attention anyway.
There is some credibility in the theory put forward that Kate herself would not wish to “upstage her sister,” as put forward by veteran royal author Judy Wade, but another reason Kate won’t be a bridesmaid at Pippa’s wedding to city whiz-kid James Mathews is very simple and, sadly for the royal conspiracy theorists, much less exciting.
British tradition dictates that bridesmaids should always be unmarried and should be younger than the bride; indeed, many aristocratic British brides have children as their bridesmaids.
This antiquated piece of protocol—which non-royal brides these days choose to embrace or not—does neatly solve what could otherwise have been a sensitive problem for Pippa.
The Middletons may get on well, but they are also, as a family, intensely competitive, as they have frequently admitted.
No Middleton family gathering is complete without some form of game or competition, friends of the family have long attested. Pippa admitted in her book Celebrate that her competitive streak was present at school even when playing “conkers,” a game played in British schools where horse chestnuts are hung on a shoe lace, and two kids take turns to hit each others conkers until one smashes.
Pippa wrote, “The trick was to paint clear nail varnish on the conkers to make them very tough and less likely to break.”
Pippa’s nickname at school was “Perfect Pippa” and she was commonly seen not only as more dynamic and fun than Kate, but also brighter and more likely to excel in life.
Kate was a hardworking, good student at Marlborough, a British private school where one teacher described her as the kind of girl who always had all her pencils sharpened, but Pippa actually won an academic scholarship to the same school.
The two girls went to nearby Scottish universities, St Andrew’s and Edinburgh, but while Kate was the model of quiet reticence, as she sought above all to protect her relationship with William, Pippa was by all accounts the life and soul of any party going.
She was commonly hailed as the Queen of the “Castle Crew” at Edinburgh, which involved wealthy students taking turns weekending at each other’s country pads to enjoy riotous shooting parties.
Some of the girls of her set were known as “brown-sign hunters,” referring to the brown signs that point from highways to Britain’s stately homes, and Pippa and Kate have frequently been accused of being “wisteria sisters”—aka social climbers.
The criticisms have, for the most part, caused them as much trouble as rain does a duck’s back. Pippa helped organize Kate’s wedding and her birthday parties, they still holiday and spend Christmases together, and Pippa is a frequent visitor to their house in Norfolk.
Pippa's working life has been both enabled and sabotaged by her ridiculously famous sister. Kate’s wedding—and the flattering dress Pippa wore as bridesmaid—made her famous, but her sister’s role in public life meant she wasn’t able to milk that fame very effectively.
Pippa can’t speak about her sister or report on royal events, and a foray into television presenting for NBC in the States last year didn’t work out for the very reason that the one thing everyone wants her to talk about is the one thing she can’t discuss.
But in marrying James Mathews, many would argue, Pippa has in fact carved out a much more enviable future for herself than her sister has.
James has created enormous wealth for himself through setting up and running an investment fund, Eden Rock, named after the luxurious hotel chain his parents own. Unlike Prince William and Kate, James and Pippa will be free to enjoy their riches without public criticism. They can shoot at the weekends, eat at the best restaurants, and go on holiday five times a year without it being whipped up into a national outrage.
Pippa will almost certainly ask her sister to read a piece of poetry or a passage from the Song of Solomon at her wedding.
But we could be clear about one thing; not making Kate a bridesmaid is not a pre-emptive strike, an act of revenge or an indication of a burgeoning bridezilla.
It is a simple act of respect to a married woman, no matter whom she might be wed to.