It seemed like the world collectively gasped when they got their first peek of Pippa Middleton as she arrived to her sister Kate’s wedding to Prince William at Westminster Abbey. First there was the plunging neckline in the front of her maid-of-honour dress, an Alexander MacQueen couture creation. Then she turned around.
The ultra-slim fitting gown was positively jaw-dropping from behind, at least for the male half of the species, as a row of covered buttons ended provocatively exactly at her perfectedly proportioned derriere. Every sashay—ordinary steps were impossible—and each graceful stoop to pick up Kate’s train guaranteed Pippa a place in tabloid immortality.
Christened the new “it girl” and instantly recognizable by just her first name, Pippa has been under the media microscope ever since that day in April. Every day photographers waited to snap her picture as she walked to work—Pippa edits an online magazine for her family’s party goods business and holds down a part-time job as an event planner in London—or went out to one of the many social events that populate her busy calendar.
The attention quickly turned nasty. Old topless snaps were suddenly on every website. And when Pippa, a tennis fiend, went to the French Open and sat at a dinner next to an executive of the tournament’s sponsor, critics opined as to whether she was “taking advantage” of her royal connections. “The lucrative rise and rise of Her Royal Hotness” snarked the Daily Mail. A few weeks later papers speculated whether she’d ditched boyfriend Alex Loudon when they published snaps of her out and about in Madrid with friends including her old university flatmate George Percy, heir to the dukedom of Northumberland. References resurfaced of Kate and Pippa’s old nickname: the “wisteria sisters,” for their tenacious social climbing.
Even her athletic feats were suddenly breaking news: in June she participated in a gruelling 30-km run, 50-km cycling charity race through the Scottish Highlands, finishing in the top 15 of 160 female competitors.
For aficionados of her tall, slim figure but lacking both the same genetic good fortune and the dedication to hours of exercise including strenuous Pilates sessions, the “Pippa look” was soon available through plastic surgery or body-shaping garments, such as Invisible Shaping Bum Boosters that claimed to flatten the stomach and enhance the butt.
By August the attention was so white-hot that she landed the cover of Tatler, the high-society magazine, which had named Pippa the top society singleton of 2008. This time it gave its “No. 1 most invited” slot to the Middleton family, writing simply “Everyone is fascinated. Everyone.”
Lost in the drip drip of tabloid headlines were the facts that she entered top-tier Marlborough College on a sports scholarship and then studied English at Edinburgh University before beginning to carve out a career in London. As Tatler recounted “it is easy and convenient to believe that Pippa has risen on the coat tails of her elder sister. Except it isn’t true. Pippa was always a star.”
Through it all, Pippa, 28, adopted the “say nothing, keep smiling” mantra perfected by her sister Kate: no interviews, no Twitter or Facebook updates, no demands to correct patently false stories.
Still, the constant attention has taken its toll on her romantic life. In October she and longtime boyfriend Alex Loudon, an English cricket player turned financier, were snapped in a clinch after a ball. In the end, the intensity of the spotlight so permanently fixed on Pippa was too much for him. Weeks after that romantic kiss, the ultra-private banker called an end to their relationship.
While her sister, now duchess of Cambridge, enjoys a post-Diana cordon sanitaire denied Pippa, that doesn’t seem to phase the younger Middleton. She’s got a loyal family and group of friends. She doesn’t hang out with celebrities, doesn’t drink much—she gets a booze rash—and doesn’t talk about her royal connections. As Tatler wrote, Pippa is “secure in her own skin and perfectly willing and able to control her own future.” And right now, that future is limitless.