Feature writing


Poised to marry a prince? She will not be spared

The New York Times

December 24, 2013

Cressida Bonas, Prince Harry’s Girlfriend, Takes the Spotlight

Any potential royal bride running the feverish gantlet of the British tabloids must prepare to have her name mangled. Diana, soon to be the princess of Wales, became “Shy Di,” and Kate Middleton, now Duchess of Cambridge, was transformed into “Waity Katie” because of the long time she dated Prince William before they were engaged.

Now, Cressida Bonas, the 24-year-old girlfriend of Prince Harry, must endure the same punning wordplay.

To frame their story that Ms. Bonas might be joining Prince Harry for this year’s Boxing Day shoot at Sandringham, the Queen’s Norfolk estate and traditional Christmas holiday retreat, a Sunday Express headline ran: “Prince Harry Is Rewarded With a Warm Bonas.”

Ms. Bonas’s anticipated presence at Sandringham Thursday — a speculation floated by some of the British newspapers, only to be shot down by others — set off more fevered speculation that Prince Harry was about to propose, a sales-generating story line that has been kept alive for several months. “Will Harry Make Cressida His Princess?” the Daily Mail asked in August (answer: not then). In October he was reported to be about to propose under the Northern Lights in Iceland (not then, either), and in November that she had given up her dream to be a dancer to marry him. (Still to be determined.)

Ed Perkins, press secretary to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and to Prince Harry, declined to comment on Ms. Bonas’s holiday plans. But Ingrid Seward, the editor of Majesty magazine and author of “A Century of Royal Children,” wrote in an email that Ms. Bonas would most likely be staying with her father, Jeffrey Bonas, owner of MacCulloch & Wallis, a clothing and fabric manufacturer, who lives near Sandringham. Ms. Bonas “is one of the sweetest girls I have ever met, and I have known her since she was very young,” Ms. Seward said.

The British press, as is their wont, may have jumped the gun on the happy news.

“I wouldn’t be expecting a Christmas engagement, but they are very much in love, really serious about each other and spending a lot of time together,” said Sophia Money-Coutts, features editor of the British society magazine Tatler. Ms. Money-Coutts said speculation around Prince Harry proposing to Ms. Bonas had been heightened by the recent engagement of Guy Pelly, a close friend of Princes William and Harry, to his girlfriend, Lizzy Wilson. (There are also reports in the press that Pippa Middleton, sister to the Duchess of Cambridge, may be engaged to her boyfriend, Nico Jackson, a London stockbroker.)

The royal correspondent for the Telegraph reported on Sunday that Ms. Bonas would definitely not be joining the crowd at Sandringham, quoting a “courtier” who said, “His Royal Highness knows that it would not be appropriate for Miss Bonas to join the royal family for Christmas until they are a married couple.”

Tatler made Ms. Bonas its cover star in October with the headline “Harry Loves Cressy: 20 Things You Need to Know About Cressida Bonas.” The accompanying article reported that the couple were introduced by Princess Eugenie, a daughter of Sarah Ferguson, formerly the Duchess of York.

Inevitably there have been comparisons drawn between Ms. Bonas and the Duchess of Cambridge: the latter has been molded into a typically decorative, mostly mute royal consort, whereas Ms. Bonas is “incredibly arty, creative, happy-go-lucky,” according to Ms. Money-Coutts, who added, “She’s a party girl, but not wild or over the top.” Ms. Seward said Ms. Bonas was very different from the duchess: “less conventional.” Associates say that, whatever happens with the prince, she is determined to have a career of her own, probably as an actress.

If the Duchess’s style can be described as stunning if sensible, Ms. Bonas’s is haute-bohemian. At a recent wedding she wore a crown of flowers atop an ensemble of a black coat, geometric-patterned dress and black tights. “There are lots of photographs of her in the press,” Ms. Money-Coutts said. “The fact she is jaw-droppingly beautiful is obviously a help.”

In the summer, Ms. Bonas was photographed at the Glastonbury music festival wearing blue denim overalls and a hair scrunchie, previously the most benighted of fashion items. “Suddenly the scrunchie was cool again,” Ms. Money-Coutts said.

Ms. Bonas’s mother is Lady Mary-Gaye Curzon, the daughter of an earl, who achieved some notoriety as a model in the 1960s by posing apparently topless smeared in engine oil. She had five children by three husbands, and Ms. Bonas is her youngest daughter, whose name was derived from “Troilus and Cressida.” “She comes from quite a grand family herself, an aristocratic family,” Ms. Money-Coutts said. “She is not going to be fazed by the grandness of the royal family.”

After attending Stowe boarding school, Ms. Bonas earned a degree in dance at Leeds University, then studied contemporary dance at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in South London. The Tatler profile included tidbits such as if you drink with Ms. Bonas, offer to buy her a “rum, straight up,” and when embarrassed, she exclaims “cringe de la cringe.”

“Harry doesn’t go for high-maintenance girls,” Ms. Money-Coutts said, adding that Chelsy Davy, his ex-girlfriend, was also down-to-earth. “Cressida’s very relaxed,” she said. “Kate Middleton has to be the way she is: she’s married to the future first in line to the throne. When you’re Harry, you can be a bit naughtier, and Cressida has a freedom that comes with being with Harry.”

Ms. Seward said that it might be difficult for Ms. Bonas to pursue a professional path if she joins the royal family. “It’s very hard to have a career,” she said. “Many have tried and failed. I don’t see Cressy being able to carry on with her dancing, which is why she is doing a bit of teaching to fill in. She has to do something.”

Ms. Seward added that Ms. Bonas was finding the media attention “very difficult indeed. She does not like it as she wants to go out and about without makeup, et cetera. It is very constraining. But Harry is being very protective indeed.”

Mr. Perkins, the royal spokesman, would not say if Ms. Bonas was receiving support or advice, though, Ms. Seward noted, since the days of Diana, there is “more media, mobile phones and instant information.”

“You have to be much more secretive,” she said. “It’s not much fun. She is perfect for Harry, but giving up her freedom would be difficult. Having said that, Harry’s charm is like a flame thrower, and he is the most eligible bachelor in the world, so it’s hard to resist.”