The cult of Pippa Middleton’s bum

Don’t get angry at magazines for writing about Philippa’s bottom – we’re the ones who read the stuff

"So bot's happened to perky Pippa?" chortled the Daily Star this morning, next to a photo of the most famous bottom in the world. Just the bottom. On its own. We don't need a face, or eyes, or a person attached to it. This is the arse that rules the world – or our popular culture, anyway.

It seems that P-Middy's derrière has achieved iconic status after appearing at the royal wedding – so much so, that the lady, the human being with a soul, to whom it belongs is becoming somewhat dehumanised. Pippa Middleton, a person most of us hadn't heard of before 29 April, has skyrocketed into the celebrity stratosphere – then nosedived into obscurity, with only her rear end remaining visible. It's strange how the cult of the Middleton rump has come about, but there it is; we don't get to choose these things.

"Fans fear Her Royal Hotness Pippa Middleton is in danger of losing her biggest ass-et," burbles Nigel Pauley in the Star, accompanied by two enormous photos of the buttocks belonging to the sister of the Duchess of Cambridge. Apparently, "the posh totty is losing her famous botty", much to the chagrin of her (or its) fans. Horrors!

I know, I know. This is just the Daily Star. Why am I bothering? It's like fisking the Beano. Except I think it would be wrong to think this iconification of an arse is confined to the "male gaze" of tabloid papers.

"It's all about PIPPA," gurgles Heat magazine. "She's naughty, she's a man magnet and she's got THAT bum! DRESSES IN LOO ROLL! BOOZY PARTIES! CLOSET CHAV!" Inside, we learn that "P-Middy" loves her VODKA and she dances in her BRA. Breathless stuff. And then there's what seems to me a slightly stalkery turn at the end of the four-page article: "We think we're in love with you. Welcome to Heat." Oh. Welcome to the Hotel California, P-Middy.

Grazia has also developed a bit of a girl-crush on Pippa M, it would seem. "May we just take the opportunity to congratulate you on your unparalleled hotness," it warbles this week, accompanied by 20 (twenty) pictures of Prince William's sister-in-law. It's like looking at a teenager's bedroom. By the time I'd wearily trawled through Now magazine, it was becoming a fairly familiar tale.

In whispers, "a close pal" was conveniently sharing secrets about her private life, and there were pictures of people called Jecca and Kitty, about whom we are supposed to care. Look magazine splutters on about how she is "torn between two men", according to a "source", and gives tips on how to "get Pippa's buns". Good God. Is this what it's come to? A whole person's life boiled down to their bum?

But they're doing this for a reason. As I've said before, it's easy and wrong to dismiss this kind of celebrity candyfloss as being worthless, or somehow deserving of scorn or contempt, as being beneath us. It isn't – because it's what we want to read about. Time was when you had to guess what your readers wanted: now web searches will tell you what they want, and what you've got to give them. The SEO expert Malcolm Coles shows how the Daily Mail, inter alia, has hoovered up web searches for the phrase "Pippa Middleton's arse" without telling their readers their naughty little secret.**

I don't know whether to laugh or cry sometimes. I think let's laugh. Laugh at the madness. Laugh at the way in which a bum at a wedding has turned us all into drooling Neanderthals. Laugh at the scampering among the newspapers and celebrity mags to capture this interest while it's still fresh.

And laugh, too, at how soon it will all fade away, I suppose. In the meantime, just marvel at the madness.

** Needless to say, I know my readers, you bright things. You're one step ahead of me already and have worked out that I am a disgusting hypocrite. I can sense the fingers shuffling over the keyboards already. "Aha!" you type, with an assiduous flourish. "You're just doing the same yourself, Baxter, you knavish cueball. The only reason you've written this piece yourself is to get a bit of the Middleton bum love, hoping to attract frenzied onanists to your outpourings."

** May I defend myself? I am aware that this may potentially be an unfortunate and unwelcome side effect of this discussion, but I can hardly talk about the Cult of Pippa's Arse without, well, talking about what it is I'm talking about, can I? I anticipate your valid criticism and take it very much on board, but it really does give me no pleasure to be the beneficiary of such searches. If anything, it makes my already heavy heart just a little heavier.

** And there: with one bound, I am free.

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
Photo: Getty
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It's a stab in the dark: the myth of predicting your student loan repayments

Even the company responsible for collecting repayments admits that it can't tell students what they'll be.

In response to renewed calls to overhaul the student finance system, the universities minister Jo Johnson insisted last week that the "current system works". He pointed out that a university degree boosts "lifetime income by between £170,000 and £250,000".

What he failed to mention is that not even the people administering the loan system can tell students what they will be expected to pay back each month, because they can't work out what they'll earn. 

When asked by the New Statesman why it had pulled an online calculator designed to tell students what their repayments would be, the Student Loans Company (SLC) said it wasn't "possible to answer customers' questions about how long it will take to repay their loan or how much they will owe at a point in the future because there is no accurate way of predicting their future earning".

The confusion around student loans stems from the fact that, unlike loans from banks, their repayment is income contingent.

Until May last year, the SLC had a calculator on its website which students and parents could use to predict how much they may have to repay in the future. But after Andrew McGettigan, a higher education journalist, emailed the SLC noting that the calculator did not take into account gender inequality in future salaries, it was swiftly taken down. 

It was in response to queries about this calculator from the New Statesman that the SLC admitted that there was no accurate way to predict future repayments. The organisation added that it was "exploring new and better ways to present information" to its customers. 

This admission appears to undermine Johnson’s “fair and equitable” description of the student finance system. If even SLC can't say what repayments could look like, how do we know? 

Further controversy around student loan repayments is expected when a report is published later this year by the Department for Education on student finance and expenditure. This is expected to highlight the discrepancy between the maintenance loans students receive and rising rent costs. 

There are still a range of unofficial student loan calculators on the internet, but many use overly optimistic projections for future earnings. McGettigan says this is because they are based on salary trends from the 1980s to the 2010s. He also adds that these unofficial calculators are all based on the official one that was removed – and that they also do not take into account the impact of Brexit. It's a stab in the dark.

The SLC notes that "every student who applies for their student finance online must navigate a page of key repayment information that outlines six points". Student loans are inherently complicated by design, but as Amatey Doku, NUS vice president (higher education), makes clear, this has consequences for fair access to higher education. “We know that BME and poorer students are more worried about high levels of debt than any other group, but the current system does not provide adequate support for those about to enter it.”

Students seeking advice from an independent body will be hard-pressed to find one. The independent Student Finance Taskforce set up by the coalition government in 2011, which sought “to reassure potential students about what they can expect when applying for university and beyond”, was quietly discontinued and never replaced. 

Read more: Jeremy Corbyn's opponents are going down a blind alley on tuition fees

Further confusion surrounds the government’s framing of student finance to sixth formers. Beyond the debate surrounding tuition fees, there is the assumption that has never been made explicit by either political party, which is that students who have a household income of more than £25,000 are expected to have some form of financial support from their families for living costs.

Are parents made aware of this before their children apply to university? Unlike in America, where parents are encouraged to put money away into a “college fund”, the British government never openly encourages parents to save specifically to send their children to university. 

Although there is “no specific date” for its publishing, the Department for Education's report is is believed to argue that, much like the NUS’s debt report did in 2015, that the current system results in poorer students having to take excessive part-time work during the university term. Some also have to take on commercial loans. The stress of both can have an adverse effect on students' mental health.

All this, and not even the organisation responsible for collecting repayments can tell students how much they will be paying back.