Miss Jerramy Fine, 33, royal watcher and American expat, is sitting at the kitchen table of her well-appointed Chiswick flat, explaining the difference between a real princess and the fairy-tale kind.
“Disney princesses aren’t bad, but they generally suggest frilly ball gowns and horse-drawn coaches, whereas the real ones—whether it’s the princesses of Denmark, Norway, Spain, Sweden or England—are more about duty and manners and philanthropy,” she says, taking a sip of tea and smiling serenely beneath her crown of glossy blond curls. “And what brings both varieties together is kindness.”
Fine is the author of the 2008 memoir Someday My Prince Will Come, which chronicles her journey from reluctant child of western Colorado hippies (she was forced to wear tie-dyed hemp fibre and given the traumatizing middle name Sage) to fervent adolescent anglophile and eventual transplant to London, England—where, in her 20s, she attended the London School of Economics, interned at the House of Commons, and secretly schemed to meet and marry a prince.
The royal marriage didn’t work out, but Fine did learn a number of lessons along the way—for instance, the difference between American and Continental table manners and how to curtsy when meeting the Queen. And now she intends to impart her wisdom to the under-12 set.
Princess Prep, a London-based sleep-away camp that bills itself as “an elite program for girls age 8-11,” is set to run its first session this summer. A handful of American girls have already signed up for the week-long program which, for the cost of US$3,995 (excluding airfare), will see your little anglophile ensconced in a flat in the royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea, where she will be taught the rules of royal protocol and the history of the monarchy. Daytime activities include horseback riding in Hyde Park, tours of the royal palaces and Westminster Abbey, lessons on picnic manners, and evening screenings of The Princess Bride and The Princess Diaries.
Like so many savvy business people these days, Fine is cashing in on the booming international market for all things princess-related. With a royal wedding on the horizon, the princess industry is working at full tilt. Whether it’s Disney augmenting its multi-billion-dollar fairy-tale merchandising output with a line of princess-inspired wedding gowns, or Kensington Palace itself—where for a $50 family ticket you can embark on the Quest for Seven Princesses tour, which explores the restrictive girlhoods and often tragic adult lives of princesses including the future Queen Victoria and Diana, princess of Wales in the very gilded building they once graced. As tourist traps go, the concept is almost as spooky as the Diana exhibition at Althorp, her ancestral home, where each year tens of thousands of visitors make the pilgrimage to gawk at the wedding gown, childhood letters and burial place of the ill-fated royal.
Kate Middleton, the world’s most famous princess in waiting, has become a commercial enterprise in her own right. Tesco, Britain’s biggest grocery store chain, is currently sold out of its $25 knock-off of the blue silk Issa dress she wore for her engagement announcement. And sales of made-in-China replicas of her engagement ring—first sported by Diana—are reportedly booming as well. This consumer flurry should be no surprise to Middleton’s own family, whose mail-order business Party Pieces has for years done a brisk business in princess-themed birthday party decorations for children.
That young girls, and indeed grown women, are attracted to fairy tales is hardly new. But news of the royal engagement has seemed to have softened any lingering consumer cynicism over whether it’s responsible to encourage young women to aspire to be royal. And although preparing oneself for the arrival of Prince Charming is hardly a viable career choice in today’s tough economy, according to Miss Fine such feminist arguments miss the point. Girls, she believes, are naturally inclined to be attracted to all things pink, frilly and royal, so we might as well give them something besides the frothing aisles of the Disney store to learn from.
“It’s not about the trappings, it’s about what’s inside,” she points out, sounding not unlike one of her other idols, Mary Poppins. “If you carry yourself like a princess, you have every right to move in regal circles, no matter where you come from. You can get that lesson from a lot of different literature.”
She takes a sip of tea, then without missing a beat quotes from her favourite children’s book, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic, The Little Princess: “It would be easy to be a princess if I were dressed in cloth of gold, but it is a great deal more of a triumph to be one all the time when no one knows it.”