Diana to son, an 'India' link - Mountbatten kin's wedding roles
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- Published 4.04.11
|Prince William and Kate Middleton|
April 3: “It is dreadful,” declared India Hicks, the model and former Top Design host, in a supremely proper English accent that made the phrase a symphony of syllables. She was sitting in a room at the Mark hotel on the Upper East Side, gazing out of her window at rain squalls so thick they disguised the adjacent maze of apartment buildings.
True to her origins, Hicks was not about to let the rainy bluster slow her down. Just back from a weekend jaunt to London and en route to her home in the Bahamas, she was in New York to work on a jewellery line, promote Crabtree & Evelyn’s latest fragrance collection and film a segment for Barbara Walters’s royal wedding special on ABC.
Hicks, one of Diana’s five bridesmaids and a goddaughter to Prince Charles, has gradually emerged, with no apologies, in the role of a royal-wedding expert. At Diana’s 1981 wedding, Hicks was a 13-year-old tomboy, reluctantly decked in petticoats and puffed sleeves. Now 43 and the mother of three sons and a daughter (she describes herself as “ferociously organised”), she will clip on a microphone and play commentator for the much-anticipated April 29 nuptials of Diana’s firstborn, Prince William, and Kate Middleton.
It’s a role that Hicks’s mother, Pamela Hicks, a daughter of Countess Mountbatten of Burma and the last Viceroy of India and herself a bridesmaid to Queen Elizabeth, has perhaps surprisingly encouraged.
“My mother reminds me, ‘You are a part of history,’” said Hicks, taking a seat in the Mark’s dining room and ordering a cup of English Breakfast tea and a bowl of oatmeal. “It’s only 30 years later that you think, I rode in a gilt carriage drawn by horses.”
Though royal commentary is a field more often left to commoners, including the former Fleet Street journalist and Diana biographer Andrew Morton, in Hicks’s view, it’s something of a feminist act to offer her input on an event she described as more typically covered by authoritative “men in grey suits”.
This is far from her own style. Hicks was wearing knee-high black leather boots, skinny jeans, a leopard-print blouse from Zara and a cascade of gold bangles. She was self-deprecating and humorous, encouraging a photographer not to take shots too close to her and casually joking about how she does not know the boldface names often spotted in the Mark’s dining room, let alone the minutiae of celebrity spectacle.
“There are people who are well-read and well-versed in royal weddings,” she said. “I wanted to get back to the fun of it.”
For many years, Hicks distanced herself from the royal circles that surrounded her childhood, focusing on developing her profession. As a model she was best known for her Ralph Lauren ads, and she most recently appeared in a campaign for Tod’s.
She lived and worked in the US before teaming up with David Flint Wood, a onetime ad man and childhood friend (“he would come and rescue me from boarding school,” she said). The couple and their children live in the Bahamas. Following in the steps of her father, the influential interior designer David Hicks, she restored four homes and the Landing on Harbour Island, a hotel in the Bahamas, and published two books on island design.
Margaret Russell, editor in chief of Architectural Digest who was on Top Design on Bravo with Hicks, described her friend in a phone interview as “very focused and sort of relentless when it comes to her business”.
Hicks said it was not just her mother, but Wood who encouraged her to speak more about her family and how well she knew Diana. On anniversaries of Diana’s death, she became the melodic and photogenic royal relation with warm memories.
There was an uptick in media requests, she said, when Prince William and Kate Middleton announced their engagement. Hicks wrote an essay for Harper’s Bazaar describing memories of being part of Charles and Diana’s wedding.
Hours before the ceremony, she wrote, Diana was dressed in jeans and a tiara and sang along to a Cornetto ice cream commercial. She also remembered the princess encouraging young India to “do your best” when handling her 25-foot-long train.
After that piece was published, Hicks’s phone started to ring endlessly, she said, with pleas from television networks to help in their royal wedding coverage. With what she called “an unofficial nod” from the palace, she worked on two specials for TLC and agreed to be interviewed, along with her mother, by Barbara Walters.
The week of the wedding, she will appear as a commentator for the British network ITV in the mornings and do several reports on ABC, commitments that have kept her off official guest lists. It may also limit how much time she has to catch up with extended family in London for the festivities.
The companies Hicks works with are benefiting from her royal-wedding work. She was hired by Crabtree & Evelyn six years ago as a creative partner; during a recent media event at the Gramercy Park Hotel for Crabtree’s new fragrance collection, she discussed Diana and the princess’s love of rose scents, remarks eagerly seized upon by the blog Styleist. Hicks said she also spoke extensively about her father and his love for gardening.
Hicks laughed at the suggestion that the royal wedding could help her new jewellery brand, the India Hicks Collection (which has lines called Initials, Hicks on Hicks and Island Life). In fact, after she discussed her jewellery with Women’s Wear Daily, the subsequent article focused largely on her ties to the royal family.
The British fashion house Viyella has anointed her its spokeswoman, and The Daily Telegraph has reported that she will be wearing Viyella designs during her royal wedding commentary.
But Hicks resisted any suggestion that she is capitalising on the proceedings.
“It’s the way you handle yourself,” she said. “If I had a collection that said ‘Royal Bridesmaid Fragrances’ you would say ‘Hmm’.” But “at the end of the day, it’s light and fluffy. We are talking about a royal wedding.”
When asked what her family thinks about how she and the businesses she is associated with are benefiting from this event, Hicks’s voice grew tighter. She stressed that she talks only about positive royal wedding memories and would not answer questions about Middleton, whom she has only met once, briefly, at Prince Charles’s 60th birthday party.
“Your reader can draw every conclusion they would like to draw from it,” she said. “I think I would have learned pretty quickly if I should not be talking.”
Russell said that behind Hicks’s humour and self-deprecation is a strong reverence for her position.
“She would joke about being 68th in the line to the crown,” she said. “But she also knows how important that is, and I don’t think she would ever take advantage of that.”