The Royal We

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Fish Out of Water: On Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan’s ‘The Royal We’


There are two tabs open in my browser at all times — my email inbox and Go Fug Yourself. Go Fug Yourself is a celebrity fashion blog, co-written by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan since July 2004, a year before it became part of my daily life. Cocks and Morgan met when they were both writing TV recaps for Television Without Pity, and have both worked as producers for reality TV shows, but have been working on the site and related writing projects full-time since 2008. They started GFY as a hobby, a way to share all the snarky things you say to the television when you see a celebrity looking terrible, but it has evolved into a widely read, insightful running commentary on the worlds of fashion and celebrity, while still being routinely hilarious.

They believe that anyone, regardless of age, size, or bone structure can look great, and they’re rooting for them to do so. They judge outfits less on whether someone looks awesome and sexy and more on whether they look comfortable, confident, and interesting. It’s a little more complicated than that, and being gorgeous certainly doesn’t hurt, but their core philosophy hasn’t changed — given the resources and genetic blessings of most celebrities, they have no reason not to look good, and if you look crazy, have a reason.

Cocks and Morgan can both critique an outfit on many different levels, and a typical day at GFY toggles between comedy and commentary. A few days ago, Cocks said of a weird dress on Hilary Swank: “I call this dress Introduction to Photoshop. Because I’m pretty sure it was designed by someone who was given twenty minutes, a mouse, and a mandate to figure out what each different tool does.” That’s a classic GFY post — short, funny, and frightfully accurate. A day later, she was comparing Madonna on the cover of the 50th anniversary issue of Cosmopolitan to her appearance on the cover of the magazine’s 25th anniversary issue, and critiquing how the two covers portrayed her differently as a woman and an icon.

GFY has a cavalcade of running jokes, and while people looking crazy is their bread and butter, what I think merits sustained attention, and what has kept me reading for 10 years, is evaluating the decisions female celebrities make within and about their own fame, and how that evolves over time.

When I spoke with Cocks and Morgan over Skype a few weeks ago, we talked about how female celebrities in particular use their fashion choices to shape the narrative about themselves. An example that immediately came to their minds was Abbie Cornish, who allegedly broke up Ryan Phillippe and Reese Witherspoon’s marriage. “For about a year afterwards,” Morgan said, “any time she showed up anywhere she was as covered up as humanly possible. She was obviously trying to de-feminize herself,” and distance herself from her reputation as a vixen. Contrast that with Kristen Stewart, Cocks says, after it was revealed that she’d cheated on Robert Pattinson with Rupert Sanders. Her next public appearance was the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, and she showed up in a sexy dress with a sheer skirt and open back “and was basically like, ‘Take your shots.’”

But it’s not always break-ups. Cocks and Morgan are frequently annoyed with Julianne Moore’s penchant to cover her beautiful self in shapeless, drab things, but she looked banging for a few months leading up to her win at this year’s Oscars. “My whole theory on this awards season was that Julianne, knowing it was one long victory lap, changed up her routine so as not to mess it up,” Cocks wrote in February. Everyone’s trying to send a message with their clothes, and Cocks and Morgan are expert decoders.

I keep up with celebrities and fashion via Go Fug Yourself the way some people get their news from The Daily Show. Cocks and Morgan are wise, and unsparing, and have great taste. Mindy Kaling and Lena Dunham are both readers, which doesn’t spare either of them from getting zinged on the site. It’s the thinking woman’s fashion blog (or I like to think so, to justify refreshing the page every hour on the hour) that espouses a particular brand of celebrity feminism — personified by GFY favorites like Emma Stone, Viola Davis, and Diane Krueger — that balances the constant professional requirement to look beautiful with the ability to make personal choices within those requirements.

In the last several years, no one has had to figure out that balance more publicly and suddenly than Kate Middleton, the inspiration for Cocks and Morgan’s new novel, The Royal We. Loosely based on the love story of Prince William and Kate, the novel tells the story of American college student Rebecca (Bex) Porter, who meets and falls in love with Nick, Prince of Wales, while an exchange student at Oxford. In details readers will find familiar, Nick has a mischievous, redheaded, ladies man of a younger brother, a distant father, the Queen of England as an exacting grandmother, and a tragic childhood, while Bex has a pretty, more outgoing sister who is less discreet with the press.

Nick and Bex’s relationship follows the same basic timeline as Will and Kate’s, and it’s easy to read the novel as a loose sort of fan fiction, extrapolating behind-the-scenes details from what we know about them — maybe they did have that fight, maybe his dad doesn’t like her, maybe she hates the queen. Nick and Bex’s story is engaging and heartwarming and sometimes gasp-out-loud juicy, but, just like on GFY, underneath the frothy exterior is sharp look at the clash between modern women and the ways they are portrayed.

Go Fug Yourself has been covering Kate since her engagement, and the idea for the book came from a conversation with their agent in 2013. “We were talking about all the ways her decision [to marry Will] changed her life, for better or worse.” Her role as his wife dictates where she lives, what she does, and even what she wears. Her relationship with her younger sister, Pippa, has noticeably cooled, at least publicly, as Pippa repeatedly made PR mistakes, and if the rumors are true, the queen dictates the hemline of her skirts. “It’s not an easy life,” Morgan said. “She was with him a very long time before they got married and she knew what she was getting into.” “She loved him enough to put up with it,” Cocks added.

Cocks and Morgan’s first book was a YA novel, Spoiled, in which a 16-year-old girl, after the death of her mother, discovers that her estranged father is a movie star and goes to live with him in Los Angeles. I noted that, much like The Royal We, that book was about the pressures of sudden fame on someone who didn’t set out to be famous. “They’re fish out of water stories,” Morgan said. “As a writer, I don’t find ‘I want to be famous’ a really interesting direction to take your character,” but it is interesting to see how fame, which seems glamorous and desirable to so many, can affect those it is forced upon.

“You can start to lose your identity,” Cocks said. “How do you hold on to you, the ordinary in the middle of the extraordinary? What do you give up and what do you hang on to?” Kate is a fascinating story because she seems to have succeeded on both fronts. As Morgan points out, “she doesn’t really have a choice about the person she presents to the public,” but she fits the role well while maintaining a happy private life (we think). Like the celebrities on GFY, Kate is figuring out how to be herself and how to be famous, and where one stops and the other begins. Bex is a way for Cocks and Morgan, and the reader, to speculate on that tension even more, to imagine how trying it must be at times, and how much fun at others. It’s not a fairy tale, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a great story.

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