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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Melanie McDonagh

OPINION - Lots of families have a black sheep like Kate Middleton's Uncle Gary — embrace it

The approved response to the Princess of Wales’s bad Uncle Gary is that of “royal expert” Rupert Bell, who has surfaced to say that it would be better if the wretched man had not appeared on Celebrity Big Brother on account of it putting Kate even more in the spotlight.

And that’s the view all round from the pundits: “insensitive bordering on treason” was the verdict of one voice of Middle England.

The rest of us may take an altogether different approach. Granted, Gary Goldsmith, 58, isn’t simply a bit of a rogue, but someone who assaulted one of his wives (he’s had four). Despite this, he’s also recognisably human. More precisely, he represents the reality that lots of families have an Uncle Gary: a relation who reminds those who have made good of what they’ve come from.

Uncle Gary is a particularly choice specimen of those parts of the Princess of Wales’s background she would probably most like to stay out of view. He’s cheerful, brash, ebullient. He’s made a fortune from the sale of his recruitment business (plainly having the same entrepreneurial skill as his sister Carole, with her Party Pieces business) and has homes in London and a villa in Ibiza called Maison de Bang Bang. Nuff said.

He is, in short, Carole Middleton’s nemesis. The little brother who just will not stay out of view. Poor Carole. There she is, the Mrs Bennet of our time, whose years-long planning to get her daughter where she is have been so wildly successful, now being embarrassed by her wretched sibling. When Uncle Gary confided that he really couldn’t say anything about his “amazing” niece because there’s a “code” about these things, you could hear the voice of incandescent Carole.

The upwardly mobile, of all people, are keen to put their own Uncle Gary somewhere safe, preferably abroad

Well, Kate and Carole, welcome to the human condition. Because it is given to really very few people to have a perfect, presentable family. And the problem is especially acute for the upwardly mobile, who have spent time and effort putting as much space as possible between the rackety or just respectable family they came from, and the persona they now embrace. They, of all people, are keen to put their own Uncle Gary somewhere safe, preferably abroad.

There are two places where this mismatch between your curated persona and your actual background comes to the fore: one is at university, the other is London. These are the places where you make your own fortune, no matter where you come from. No one knows you when you arrive from wherever; it’s for you to make your mark in the big city. London is the place for the aspirational; it’s one reason it’s so successful.

But the problem comes when your two worlds collide: when your family arrives for your graduation, when you get married. And it’s there that character shows. Are you going to be the decent person who sticks Uncle Gary in the photographs and introduces him to (a carefully selected group of) your friends. Or will you drop him?

The great thing about the Middletons is that they did not in fact drop the designated black sheep of the family. Perhaps he wasn’t the person first in line to meet the late Queen, but he was at the wedding, no doubt the life and soul of the dance floor.

Compare and contrast with the Duchess of Sussex. Meghan, according to Tom Bower’s biography, made quite a habit of discarding individuals in her upward trajectory to her present condition. But the most damnable aspect of that ruthlessness was discarding her dad.

Thomas Markle was not, perhaps, terribly classy, not perhaps the kind of man to be entirely at ease on the aisle in St George’s Chapel, Windsor. He is still her father. And her baseness in discarding this discordant element of her story says lots about her. It’s a bit like Père Goriot, Balzac’s terrible account of a man who gives everything to make his daughters rich and successful only for them to drop him when they arrive.

This story is nothing new. The most poignant bit of Great Expectations, the most telling account of how character is corrupted by upward mobility, is when Pip is in his chambers in the Temple and learns that his homely brother-in-law, Joe Gargery, (“what larks, Pip, what larks”) is coming to see him. If I could have paid him to stay away, Pip thinks, I would have. The meeting is awful, an embarrassment. But that it is, is a sign of Pip’s moral decline.

It’s not quite the case in Jane Austen’s most perfect novel, Pride and Prejudice, where poor Elizabeth is made acutely uncomfortable by her family. Yet she never tries to discard them; they’re part of who she is. She’d have recognised Uncle Gary.

We should be less mean about him. Having said which, when he emerges from CBB, Carole will be waiting.

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