Playing Kate: Her Royal Pie-ness

3rd November 2018

Playing Kate: Context

In 2013 I created a studio theatre performance titled My Son & Heir (2013). The performance was created with my long-term collaborator and partner Pete Phillips, as Search Party and was made shortly after the birth of our first son, Edward, which coincided with the birth of Prince George, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s first baby. My Son & Heir (2013) is a theatre performance where we consider what sort of man our own baby son (and heir…) will become, in relation to the Royal baby. Whilst making My Son & Heir (2013) I did my mothering as Kate did hers, both attending to our sons, but in very different worlds. I queued up in the pound shop, went to the park, pushed the pram around Cameron’s ‘broken’ Britain (2011), wrestled with the rain cover, did the supermarket shop and posed for family portraits in the garden of our two-bed mid-terrace (rented) palace, all whilst dressed as a costume-party version of the newest royal mother. These performances of my own mothering in the guise of the Duchess became the beginnings of a practice as research project, titled Playing Kate that forms part of my PhD research ‘Mother-trouble-makers: revolting maternal subjects and public performances of the family in austerity Britain.’



Playing Kate has multiple artistic outputs, including performance, video, photography and public appearances as l attempt to disrupt neoliberal performances of the family through the reconfiguration of the relationship between the lived and the staged in the early public appearances of Kate, William and their baby. My research examines the role of Middleton within the context of the family in relation to my own maternal experience, both as mothers of three. In Playing Kate: Outside the hospital I articulate my own messy attempt to transform into the Duchess through my performative restaging of Kate’s first appearance as mother outside the Lindo wing of St Marys hospital. I conflate this moment with the re-staging of my own appearance as new mother outside St Richards NHS hospital, Chichester. In my film Playing Kate: Outside the hospital I explore a series of transformations, Baraitser’s theories on the transformation from womanhood to motherhood, my performative transformation from Jodie to fake-Kate, Kate’s maternal transformation from commoner, to royalty, to producer of an heir, Kate’s transformative echo of Diana, the media’s (non)transformation of Kate as she emerges seamlessly as mother, Kate’s post-birth-trauma feminine-makeover transformation, and the neoliberal aspirational transformation, the inducement to be ‘just like Kate’.


Thrifty Kate at the Supermarket


Click for video

In a more recent home video titled Playing Kate: Her Royal Pie-ness, a title playfully lifted from a Daily Mail article (2011), I reverse roles and contemplate Kate’s performance of me, as opposed to mine of her outside the hospital. After leaving the Lindo wing the Duchess is reportedly ‘spotted in public’ for the first time at her local supermarket, Waitrose. Whilst Middleton and the new Royals attempt to appear just like us, here I am at Tesco performing just like her as she tries to perform just like me.



This article is one of a many dedicated to sightings of Kate at the supermarket. In what feels like a coherent media campaign to ‘normalise’ the new Royals, these articles frame Kate as ‘good mother,’ ‘good cook ’provider of ‘homemade’ food and a ‘savvy shopper’. Through this process of ‘normalisation’ (Clancy, 2015), The Duchess becomes the embodiment of neoliberal aspiration and a living manifestation of austerity rhetoric of equality and togetherness as discussed by Allen et al. in their article’ Celebrity motherhood and the cultural politics of austerity’ (2015). They write;

‘Ordinariness’ has historically played a role in justifying the wealth and privilege of the Royals (Billig, 1992)… Middleton’s positioning as a ‘thrifty Royal’, her ordinariness is symbolised through high-street brands and restrained spending and reinforced by an emphasis on her ‘humble’ roots. (2015: 912)

Despite her highly privileged background, her family are framed as ‘aspirational achievers’, whose wealth is earnt through ‘sheer hard work’ (Thornton, 2013). Allen et al. continue, ‘As a key figure of austerity, Middleton performs a tremendous amount of ideological work in defusing resentment at the growing inequalities unleashed since 2008, as the wealth of the global “1%” has continued to grow under austerity’ (Dorling, 2014). Whilst Kate’s presence at the supermarket reinforces her normality, her choices and habits are shown as something we could and should aspire to. Allen et al note that ‘mediated celebrity motherhood not only registers the maternal transformations taking place under austerity, it also invites consumers of popular culture, particularly young women, to judge themselves and others against these models of successful (and abject) femininity and maternity’ (2015: 920).

In my home video Playing Kate: Her Royal Pie-ness I think through another lens that crystallises the relationship between austerity and food – the foodbank. Loopstra et al. identify the relationship between foodbanks and austerity describing ‘the steady increase in the use of Foodbanks, with the highest level of use taking place in locations that have had the highest rates of sanctioning, unemployment, and cuts in central welfare spending’ (Loopstra et al. 2015). Austerity, as a political choice, is connected to the neoliberal desire for a small state and increased individual responsibility. Imogen Tyler in her book Revolting Subjects (2013), describes Neoliberalism as a class project and introduces the relationship between neoliberalism and waste, she writes:

What characterizes neoliberal states is the creation of ‘wasted humans’ within and at the borders of sovereign territories (Bauman 2004: 5). Within his studies of the new forms of poverty effected by neoliberalism, Loic Wacquant (2008) details the three major forms of symbolic and material violence that characterize these processes of human waste production: labour precariousness, which produces ‘material deprivation, family hardship, temporal uncertainty and personal anxiety’ (ibid.:25-5)’ (2013: 7)

In my home video Playing Kate: Her Royal Pie-ness, I clashes two neoliberal performances of the maternal. Firstly, Kate’s supermarket performances as the neoliberal ideal of the working mother, the thrifty mother, the homemade, handmade, still look great with your pre-baby body mother, the aspirational ‘common’ girl done good. Secondly, the foodbank mother, as an example of what Tyler might call a ‘revolting subject’, the foodbank mother as the ‘revolting mother’. Tyler describes being revolted is an expression of disgust and asserts ‘while it is experienced physically, in the gut, disgust is saturated with socially stigmatising meanings and values (Ngai 2005:11)’ (2013: 21). Whilst simultaneously revolt holds a different meaning within a political register, in which it ‘describes acts of protest and rebellion against authority…’ (Tyler, 2013: 3) In Revolting Subjects Tyler ‘proceeds from the intersections of these different meanings of revolt(ing) in order to offer an account of ‘social abjection’ and revolt in contemporary Britain’ (2013: 3). In considering the figure of the revolting mother in this way, I position Kate as the ‘normal’ that defines the abject. There is nothing ‘revolting’ about the performance of the Duchess of Cambridge, at least not in Tyler’s terms – in fact the performance of Kate as normal is an example of the position from which we define the revolting, and the figure against which we should revolt.

Her Royal Pie-ness: The Pie


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In my home video Playing Kate: Her Royal Pie-ness I re-create a pie that Kate, according to a Daily Mail article, lovingly and dutifully makes for William, playfully blurring poverty food (something donated at the foodbank to the revolting mother to use, be grateful for), poverty porn (the way the revolting mother is made to perform) and food porn (the out of reach aspiration that the revolting mother could and should aspire to.) Blurring these three positions I attempt to re-create Kate’s pie through a combination of three recipes’; Kate’s pie, the pie my own (revolting) mother teaches me (raised for her children in her first council house), and Jamie Oliver’s Kate and Wills Royal Wedding Pie, from his book Jamie’s Great Britain (2011).

The notion of Kate eating a pie (an everyday dish) echoes the way in which other high profile figures have attempted to perform the ‘ordinary’. Although the Daily Mail article is careful to place Kate as maker of good quality, fresh, homemade pies, ‘bubbling with her own home-made gravy’. Reiterating the fresh, locally sourced mantra of Jamie Oliver, who acts as another key figure in performances of the family that reinforce austerity ideology. In Jamie’s Family Food Tube, Oliver and his family give us recipes, gardening tips and food-related lifestyle advice through a youtube-style food porn vlog in the hope of transforming our unsatisfactory lives/bodies/budgets.

In his earlier television programmes Oliver is seen as an inspirational figure, coming to the rescue of largely working class families and according to Hollows and Jones, is a major contributor to ‘recent discourses that represent Britain as a broken society in need of political and social ‘healing’ (2010). Oliver shifts throughout his reality programmes from what could be described as poverty tourist to self-appointed poverty tour guide as he attempts to save these wasted humans. According to Hollows and Jones, Oliver hopes to;

…reintroduce a lost maternal tradition of passing recipes down, to the modern world: ‘This pass it on movement’, he writes, ‘is essentially a modern-day version of the way people used to pass recipes down through generations when they weren’t all at work’, implicitly gendering the problem (Oliver, 2008: 12; emphasis added). By passing recipes on to each other…, Oliver suggests that culinary skills could be passed on ‘like spreading gossip’, reproducing an idealized notion of a feminine, national domestic tradition that lies outside modernity (Felski, 2000: 83). This emphasis on women’s maternal responsibility for feeding work (DeVault, 1991) and their symbolic role ‘as markers of the nation’s moral values’ (Skeggs, 2005: 968) (2010)

Following Oliver’s injunction, in my home video I return home (as Kate), for my mother to ‘pass on’ a pie recipe. A home that moved my revolting mother, a then single mother with three children, off the council estate. Whilst my mother tells me how much money she puts on her electricity key and gas meters to cook for the week, I listen intently as Kate might to her own mother passing down a recipe in her parents’ (humble) 7 bedroom, £4.7 million Berkshire property. My mother attempts to pass it on too, although her passing it on context is filled with a weight and discomfort that Oliver’s scheme seems oblivious too.

Whilst Oliver, another commoner done good (and his performing family), performs his ambition of collapsing class boundaries by bringing good food to all, for the revolting mother faced with a donated parcel of long-life ingredients, Jamie’s royal wedding pie is unattainable. I shop for my own pie ingredients using the urgent list of foods requested by the foodbank, handed out by my local Tesco, a supermarket that is part of a culture that is normalising foodbank use. The emphasis being placed on shoppers, through this neoliberal injunction, is to add an item to their trolleys, in such a way that alleviates blame and diverts attention away from the political causes of food poverty. In my recreation of Kate at the supermarket I perform Kate charitably throwing in a tin of spam, as detailed on the list of urgent desirable items for my local foodbank.

Spam a ‘wartime delicacy’ as described by Thatcher contains a high content of fat, sodium and preservatives and is the only ingredient I fill my pie with. A low cost meat used heavily during World War 2 gained a reputation as a ‘poverty food’, a term used to describe a food that is inexpensive or readily available to nourish people in times of hunger. Poverty foods are strongly associated with the hardship under which they are eaten, and are socially downplayed or rejected as a food source in times of relative plenty. The prevalence of spam emerges through the fight against twentieth century fascism, to alleviate poverty caused, in the main, by the war effort. As we observe the ‘urgent need’ for spam in the foodbank list, Playing Kate questions the causes behind the re-emergence of this poverty food. In my home video I plant the left over tin of spam in the garden, in the dirt and filth (terms we use to describe the abject) in the same way Jamie instructs me to bury potatoes to grow my own on his family food tube. You can’t really grow any of these processed foods. Here Kate is sowing the seeds of austerity, doing her bit to keep it watered.

The final clips of the Playing Kate: Her Royal Pie-ness see me set down the finished, gazed, spam-stuffed pie in front of my baby. In his high chair, he delights at the spectacle, Kate’s name spelt out in pastry on the top. The ‘good’ mother has made the homemade pie for her family from scratch, the undesirable foodbank ingredients have been fashioned into something that looks fairly impressive (there’s no excuse to not to eat like Royalty even if you are on a budget). The pie is set down in front of the baby and left. He has no way to access the pie, he can’t use a cutlery, I haven’t even provided any, and the pie is too big, too cumbersome for his little hands. The food is wasted. I invite the viewer to worry about my (not their) baby. From their passive position behind the screen, this worry re-enacts the passive concern we perform when we throw the tin of spam in the foodbank basket at the end of the till. The foodbank donor is positioned in a similar frame to the audience of one of Oliver’s programmes in which he attempts to rescue us, ‘the largely middle-class viewer is increasingly positioned as a citizen who ‘worries responsibly’ about the food practices of ‘others (Brunsdon, 2000)’, (Hollows and Jones, 2010). Through the process of making the pie, I am unmaking Kate. A ‘revolting’ pie, for ‘revolting’ mothers in ‘revolting’ times.


Click for video


The leaky mother and food waste

My Playing Kate project is part of an established tradition of maternal artists who respond to slippages in their identities through the perceived primacy of their motherhood. Mothers, as maternal subjects, are often described as ‘leaky’, both in terms of their shifting bodies but also in terms of their subjectivities. I am interested in what happens when we consider these ‘leaks’ as ‘waste’. In Playing Kate, I follow in a tradition of ‘leaky’ mother/artists, who expose the slippage between public and private manifestations of the maternal. Artists’ like Rippel and Garton foreground the let-down reflex during breast feeding as a moment of ‘brute physicality’ of the maternal body. These unintentional bodily ‘leaks’ that occur in their performance Under the Covers, according to Rippel and Garton ‘rip a temporary wound into performativity and representation’ (2017), and are an encounter with the Lacanian ‘Real’.

The spectacle of Kate’s maternal performance conceals any notion of the ‘leaky’ mother, any excess or waste is swept under the (ornate) carpet. In fact the notion of waste, associated with the ‘leaky’ mother, is in some contexts deliberately addressed, as we have seen in Kate the thrifty mother or the staged managed performances of public mothering that hide any encounters with the real. In fact, if we are to consider Kate as a ‘leaky’ mother, we perhaps have to shift our understanding of the word ‘leak’ to a more political understanding of the deliberate and anonymous ‘leak’ of ‘private’ information into the public sphere. Waste and wastefulness are both the enemy of the ‘good’ mother, and also provide rationale for austerity cuts in the streamlining of wasteful bureaucracy. And since austerity adversely impacts the poorest in society, it is clear to see how advocates of this policy apportion blame. The injunction to be savvy, thrifty shoppers, to buy the cheap cuts, to make the most of the leftovers, is part of a culture that seeks to ascribe the causes of poverty to individual failings.

The use of food as material within maternal performance is abundant and we could in simplest terms consider many of these as a revolt from the domestic, particularly Bobby Baker’s seminal performance, Drawing on a Mothers Experience (1988). The performance, as Barisiter notes ‘took the form of a series of anecdotes about mothering, each featuring one of her chosen food products, punctuated by moments in which she spit, threw, poured, splashed, squashed and ground ingredients into the sheet’ (2009). Baldwyn notes ‘Her taboos collect around the visceral qualities of food: its proximity to the body, and to emotions and its ability to represent what we would rather forget.’ (1996) In Baker’s work the (food) waste is justified through performance making as a playful, violent, rupture to the prescribed, messy, difficult nature of the maternal and the feminine. Baker and these maternal artists in their performances celebrate and foreground, their leakiness, in a way that revolts and makes present an alternative maternal, opposed to the often shameful embarrassment that new mothers feel (Barisiter, 2009).

However, unlike the intentionally ‘leaky’ mother-artist, for Tyler’s revolting mothers, this leakiness is not something they have the luxury of disrupting. Albeit an important and visceral rejection of gendered, cultural assumptions, it is worth considering whether these artworks by mothers revolting still exclude Tyler’s ‘revolting’ (poor) mothers – mothers who can’t afford or culturally access the means to revolt or in their act of revolting they are classed again as ‘revolting’ mothers. Put simply in terms of food, food waste by these mothers reinforces the justification of austerity cuts, as they are framed as underserving of state support and wasteful, lazy, bad citizens. And all of this is underlined by a torrent of news stories of the Duchess ‘popping to the shops’ to grab something she has run out of – whereas actually running out of food is a ‘Real’ that Kate will never encounter. I question whether in these maternal performances where the mother-artist could be seen as revolting their maternal position, if class is the thing that is left over? Are the mother’s determined by the state and media as ‘revolting mothers’ ‘laid to waste’? If the only spaces given to the ‘Real’ of these ‘revolting’ mothers is through the lens of poverty porn or poverty tourism, or completely ignored (leftover), maybe the revolting mother, like the mystery meat used in my pie, can only ever remain a mystery that we continue to associate with disgust and pity.


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