The nightclub Mahiki sees itself as a Polynesian haven for these posh young people who can’t bear too much reality. The bar staff wear necklaces made of shells. The D.J.’s box is clad in a thick layer of faux bamboo. The young Windsors and their coterie are always knocking about in here, photographed spluttering and vomitous on the sidewalk after many a crazy night, and the Middletons have been regular patrons—Kate, famously, with another man during her breakup with William. If you could hand out T-shirts to this crowd, they would say LIFE’S A BEACH AND THEN YOU DIE. Favorite drinks include the Coconut Grenade and the Armada Treasure Chest, a hamper of piratical grog that can be topped with Cristal (£650). Prince Harry is reported to have run up a £13,000 bar tab in Mahiki in one night, a detail the customers intone with the deepest respect.
“Perfect Pippa” they called her here. She always turned up and was always well turned-out. Her boyfriends included the banker Jonathan Jardine Paterson and Billy More Nisbett, whose mother was a lady-in-waiting to Princess Anne. Other liaisons included one with Simon Youngman, a diamond heir, Alexander Spencer-Churchill, the scion of several posh houses, and her latest, Alex Loudon, 30, a cricketer and financier.
It’s funny how these girls—sudden fashion icons, sudden moralists, sudden “It” girls—are all university educated but on a perpetual gap year. None of them seems to have a sustaining job. They do bits of charity, they do bits of party planning, or, like Princess Diana, they look after children now and again. The first royal spat Pippa was involved in, it is said, also featured the ever-present misfit children of Sarah Ferguson: Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie denied Pippa a seat in the front row of a fashion show they had organized because Pippa had failed to invite Beatrice to her roller-skating charity disco. You couldn’t make it up.
But the whole thing took a bit of work for Perfect Pippa. Known as Panface at school (for being flat-featured), she was one of three children born to Michael and Carole Middleton of Bucklebury near Newbury. Before becoming party-product millionaires, the Middletons had worked for British Airways. In the cruel, heightened snobbery known only to the British upper class, Kate Middleton was known to Prince William’s friends, during their courtship, as “Doors to Manual”—as in, “Flight crew, doors to manual and cross-check.” Accusations of middle-classness dogged the Middleton-family ambitions for a while, and Carole Middleton made some upper-crust enemies by allegedly chewing nicotine gum during William’s passing-out parade at the officer-training college at Sandhurst.
One of the signature ironies of the British upper class is their obsession with school: They go on about school all their lives, they meet each other there or at university, yet education for them represents the victory of the social over the mental processes. Pippa studied English literature at Edinburgh University, where her friends and flatmates included Earl Percy, heir to the Duke of Northumberland and Alnwick Castle (which doubles for Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films), and Lord Edward Innes-Ker, son of the Duke of Roxburghe, the owner of Floors Castle. The life of a posh student at Edinburgh is a well-worn track, but Pippa managed, by all accounts, to top up the fun. “It was all port and cheese,” revealed one reveler to the Daily Mail, “and no heating, because warmth was seen as vulgar. In fact, what was vulgar was always a topic of conversation: I remember someone saying chicken breasts were beyond the pale.”
Britain-watchers will find this obsession with commonness unsurprising. It has long been a hallmark of the English notion of style: To be common is to be vulgar, to be tasteless, to be without breeding. Pippa Middleton seems scarcely to know one person who is not a member of the landed gentry, but she might, with her background and her instincts, turn out to be a modern-day warrior queen for the virtues of commonness. The old notion of what is common won’t exactly fit with these girls, who seem to understand how life can no longer be all tantrums and tiaras, even for public figures. There has also to be a degree of street and tweet. Some like it posh, as Pippa does, but they also know that tradition won’t answer the call of the new social habits. Pippa may have been born common, but she knows enough to know that fashion and commerce will be her friends as she sets out to mix her worlds. Never in a million years—or in the half-century since she was Pippa’s age—would the queen have worn a pair of white jeans available from a shopping-mall store. Now you can click directly from Pippa’s fansites and Get the Look.