“Tabloid Culture” – A True Oxymoron
For a few decades before and one decade after the Millennium, there was a well-known restaurant in New York named Elaine’s, known as the “it” celebrity hang-out and “the private place where public people go to be private in public.” There was a rigorous selection process to get in (which was conducted by Elaine herself). Paparazzi and limousines were lined up outside. There were bouncers. Velvet ropes. The whole shebang. Montecito, in contrast, has always been known as the place where the well-heeled, the open-toed and the barefoot, the well known and unknown alike, can go to chillax and actually be private. The place where public (and private) people can go to be private in private. Montecito is not gussied up. If anything, it’s gussied down. There are large gated and ungated estates, but also modest homes and rundown cottages. And the people who live in all of these surf right next to each other and often send their kids to the same excellent public schools.
Will the Royals Bring Tabloid Culture With Them to Our Quiet Little Hamlet?
If you’ve not yet heard the news you’ve certainly heard the helicopters. Harry and Meghan of Sussex and their young son Archie have moved to town. Google Earth may have redacted the location of their home, but if you really care to know where they live, just drop a plumb line off one of the endlessly circling paparazzi choppers. So will the Piccadilly Circus bring with it a ripple effect other than the addition of bangers and mash to the Lucky’s menu? And what does it all mean… if anything? Might Montecito be in danger of becoming some sort of satellite… dare I say it… Hampton?
Certainly Montecito is no stranger to celebrity arrivals, though not, I don’t think, on the tabloid-fodder level of this family. But even before the royals Harriered in, I had already noticed a bit of a cultural shift with the opening of the Rosewood Miramar, a wholly owned subsidiary of GOOP (kidding). And with folks from nearby metropolises seeking both peace and plenty during the pandemic, Montecito was already topping the list of preferred havens. Suddenly it seemed like Lambos were becoming as common as Land Rovers. On the other hand, I enjoy the added venues the Miramar has brought. Not to mention the much-needed commerce, jobs, and contributions to our tax base that the Miramar provides.
Anyway, in the battle for Montecito’s soul, who am I to say what stays in and what remains behind the velvet rope? We’ve only owned our home here for 15 years, but I can tell you that while I cherish old Montecito, I also appreciate the new. And of course, we all appreciate when people who could live anywhere choose to make this their home. So welcome, Archie and Meghan and Harry.
What Will Life Be Like for the Royals Here… And What Will Life Be Like for Us With Them Here?
My husband, Les, had some insight into this because he went to prep school with John-John Kennedy, who also grew up in a travelling fishbowl. It’s fair to say John-John was the stateside equivalent of Princes Harry and William.
Les recalls life was fairly normal for the President’s son at the Collegiate School for Boys in New York City – or as normal as it could be for someone who was followed by a coterie of Secret Service everywhere he went. As with Montecito and the royals, JFK Jr., whose stepdad at the time was Aristotle Onassis, didn’t necessarily stick out at Collegiate, surrounded by Gettys, Rockefellers, Newhouses, and even a bespectacled pimply-faced kid named Firestein.
As I suspect will hold true for Archie Mountbatten-Windsor, as was true for his dad, Kennedy still got in trouble, forgot his homework, got in fights, and his folks would be called in to meet with the teacher and sometimes even the headmaster. Apparently John-John was as normal a kid as the son of the slain U.S. President could be.
Of course, there are going to be oddities that are part and parcel of royal life, just as there were with John-John’s royal American life. While John Jr. attended Collegiate, the curriculum was altered so that US history was taught only up to but not including the Kennedy administration. And of course, there was the Secret Service following John-John onto the public bus and even into the school bathrooms. Still, Collegiate offered our young American Prince the best chance he had of a normal school experience. A simulacrum, as it were, of normal life.
My hunch is that much of what attracted the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to Montecito is not so different. In my experience, Montecito is actually not a great town for “Hey, look at me!” And I suspect that the oddities in the Windsors’ lives won’t be much more exceptional than, say, wearing a surgical mask and rubber gloves out in public.
As for my future personal interactions with the Duke and Duchess, if I ever back into them, I’m going to remind myself that President Kennedy sought fame and renown, but his offspring John-John and Caroline most assuredly did not. Just as Harry and William did not. Just as Baron Trump does not. Nor Chelsea Clinton. Nor Malia and Sasha Obama. The royals have chosen not to be in the thick of it on Fleet Street or in any major metropolis for a reason and they are certainly entitled to as normal a life as they can find, and the same easy, respectful anonymity that Montecito so generously affords all who come here.
As for the tabloid culture, the helicopters, and the paparazzi which the royals may have inadvertently packed with them, I do not believe they are merely harmless and frivolous. In addition to having no nutritional value, the tabloids actually harm people, damaging their targets, their readers, and our general culture alike. And, in the case of Archie’s Grandmum, they had a seriously deleterious effect not just on how her life ended, but on how it was lived, as well.
I hope but also feel confident that our new neighbors find the supportive community and fun and solitude we all so cherish here in the 93108. Now, as they say, go get yourself in some trouble, Little Archie. Good trouble.