You are currently browsing the daily archive for January 10, 2022.

On Sunday, January 9, 2022, the Duchess of Cambridge, popularly known as Kate, turned 40:

Paolo Roversi took beautiful photographs of the Duchess to mark the occasion. They will be permanently displayed in London’s National Portrait Gallery. Prior to that, they will be touring in three places that were pivotal to the Duchess’s life: Berkshire, the county where she grew up; St Andrews, where she went to university and Anglesey, where she and Prince William lived when they first married:

Paolo Roversi definitely brought out the best in his subject:

The portrait of the Duchess in her red dress made the cover of half the Sunday papers:

The third portrait can be seen in an article in The Sunday Times: ‘Kate Middleton at 40: how the Duchess of Cambridge is preparing to be Queen’. Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

The paper’s Royal Editor, Roya Nikkhah, points out that Kate’s fit with the Royal Family is excellent:

From Diana to Fergie to Meghan, royal brides’ discontent with the institution is renowned. But more than ten years after marrying in, the Duchess of Cambridge celebrates her 40th birthday with a high level of the personal and professional happiness that has eluded some royal wives.

That is no mean feat for a young woman who has been so exposed for so long.

The past two years have been, to say the least, turbulent for Kate and her family …

How Kate copes

The Duchess has borrowed behaviours from the Queen and the late Queen Mother.

She eschews drama:

Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton, one of the Cambridges’ closest friends and advisers, their former principal private secretary who is godfather to Prince George, assesses Kate’s coping mechanism: “She has that almost old-fashioned, Queen Mother attitude to drama — she just doesn’t do it.”

An image of the duchess arriving at the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral in April last year is telling. Taken a few weeks after Harry and Meghan’s interview with Oprah Winfrey, which included accusations of racism in the royal family, Kate appears composed but defiant.

The Queen must admire her granddaughter-in-law quite a lot, because she promoted her to:

Dame Grand Cross, the highest female rank in the Royal Victorian Order, awarded personally by the monarch for services to the sovereign — a sign of her gratitude to the woman on whose shoulders so much expectation rests. 

One source thinks that the Duchess takes a lot of her cues from the Queen:

A royal source who has known Kate from the start believes she has quietly observed Her Majesty’s game plan and successfully adopted many of her tactics: “She will be queen for a long time, and knowing her, she will have thought, ‘Who is my role model here, who has done this really well? Who do I learn from to lay down and build the foundations for the long game, to stay solid, strong, calm and confident, without giving up too much of myself?’ I think she has taken a lot from the Queen.”

Prince William’s greatest support

Sources interviewed agree that the Duchess is her husband’s greatest source of support:

A close friend says: “Kate has a way of calming William down and knows how to be really affectionate and gentle. But she is 100 per cent loyal to him and has a shaft of steel running up her back when she needs to deal with stuff that’s unpalatable.” One of William’s closest friends puts it bluntly: “He has had a year from hell and she has been fantastic supporting him.”

William is the first to acknowledge his wife’s diplomacy. “Catherine is a peacemaker,” he told a friend. “She’s much better than me, she wants everyone to be aligned.” When the royal party emerged from St George’s Chapel in Windsor after Prince Philip’s funeral, Kate broke the ice chatting to Harry, leading William to follow suit. In July, when the brothers were briefly reunited again at Kensington Palace to unveil a statue of Diana, Kate did not join them publicly but worked her magic out of sight before the brothers emerged into the glare of the world’s media.

“William was still furious,” says a close friend. “He had taken the view that he’d only give so much. He just didn’t want to go there [with Harry].” An aide says: “[Catherine] was amazing behind the scenes when Harry came.” The event went off without a hitch.

’Twas ever thus, says a former courtier, who points to the royal trio’s Heads Together campaign launched in 2016 to raise awareness around mental health: “It was completely her idea. She was very keen for the three of them to do something powerful together equally. She cared a lot about William’s relationship with his brother.”

St Andrews days

Incredibly, Prince William and Kate Middleton managed to keep the early months of their relationship at university out of the eyes of the media. Throughout it all, Kate remained level-headed:

William and Kate met at the University of St Andrews in 2001, where they were initially in the same halls of residence and reading the same degree, although William switched from art history to geography. Kate briefly dated law student Rupert Finch in her first year. She and William became a couple in 2003, managing to stay under the radar until April 2004 when The Sun broke their cover, publishing photographs of them skiing. Kate’s world changed for ever. Yet she did not. “She was always the same, from when she didn’t know she was going to be William’s wife to after the engagement,” says a close friend of the couple. “She never changed her manner with anybody.”

She can credit her parents’ success in their own party-planning business for her composure:

she moved in upper-class circles that made the transition into royal life a relatively smooth one.

Enduring love

Those who know the couple say they are still very much in love and became good friends first:

That ease came from a solid friendship before romance blossomed. As William said in their engagement interview in 2010: “We ended up being friends for a while and that was a good foundation. Because I do generally believe now that being friends with one another is a massive advantage.”

One of their closest friends says a spark was there from the start. “He found her really attractive and they’re the couple that still really fancy each other, there’s still a strong attraction. She finds him hilarious, they’re very into each other.”

Handling the media

During the couple’s courtship, Kate had no police protection until her engagement:

Kate had a rough ride from the start. After their relationship became public she was hounded by the paparazzi, who camped outside her Chelsea home, chasing her down the street. When it emerged she was working as an accessories buyer for the fashion label Jigsaw, photographers followed her as she went to buy her lunch. A friend tells me Kate was even chased late at night by several men in a car, which she found “terrifying”.

William’s team did all they could to help, but until he put Diana’s ring on her finger Kate was on her own without police protection. “It was constant. She coped with it admirably, given how intrusive it was,” says a former royal aide. The onslaught continued for years. After her job at Jigsaw became too difficult with the paparazzi, she went to work for her parents’ party-planning business and was attacked for being a “Waity Katie” who was biding her time until William made an honest woman of her. Reports that some in William’s circle nicknamed her “Doors to Manual”, in a reference to her mother Carole’s former career as a flight attendant, are said to be an “urban myth” by those close to the prince, but the future queen did not have it easy.

“It was never water off a duck’s back, but she has extraordinary strength of character and resilience,” says the aide. “I’ve never once seen or heard of her losing her temper. She went into it with her eyes wide open and her brain engaged. She is a sound, grounded person who knows herself well.”

Kate displayed the same sang-froid at her wedding. She was composed throughout.

Early married life

The Cambridges spent their first few years of married life in Anglesey. The Prince was an RAF search and rescue pilot.

Kate found adjusting to life as a Royal daunting at times but wanted to do everything properly:

Kate carefully planned her approach to learning how to become a future queen. “She was absolutely daunted by it and it was overwhelming at times,” says one of her closest friends. “Everyone wanted her to be the next Diana — people had this Diana hole they wanted to put her into. There was constant ‘what are her [campaigning] issues going to be?’ William was protective in making sure she had time and space to acclimatise to public life and not feel pressured.”

With charities clamouring for her attention, Rebecca Priestley, a confidante and adviser from 2011 and her private secretary from 2012 to 2017, helped Kate shape her new role. “Catherine knows every decision is for the rest of her life, everything is for the long game,” Priestley says. “She was aware she wasn’t an expert in any one field and she wanted to educate herself first, then shine a spotlight where needed. It was a ‘listen and learn’ approach rather than immediately becoming patron of a charity. We did a lot of under-the-radar visits before the public engagements.”

Some of the media’s obsession with her style over the substance of her work is a source of frustration, one that cut deep when she was starting her public life. A close friend says: “When she goes to the Bond premiere or is at Trooping the Colour, of course she puts on the ‘uniform’ of the role. But what was enormously frustrating and difficult for her, especially in the early days, was she was going out and doing the work she was interested in and was hugely important to her, and people just talked about what she was wearing.”

When Kate made her first public speech in March 2012, at the Treehouse hospice in Suffolk, she wore a high-street dress that her mother, Carole, had previously worn to Royal Ascot. “There she was meeting with hugely vulnerable children and families, and the dress was the story,” says the friend. “She said she found it ‘a bit demoralising’.”

Motherhood

The Duchess does what is best for her family:

Another close adviser says: “How she operates is not reactive. She has stuck to the path that she knows is right for her and her family. It’s not about the quick win.”

She says that she had a happy childhood, which the Prince says has made home life a pleasure:

Family is everything to Kate and she remains close to her parents and siblings. “I had a very happy childhood,” she has said. “It was great fun — I’m very lucky, I’ve come from a very strong family — my parents were hugely dedicated to us.” That stable family unit was a big draw for William when they met, and continues to be his compass. William has told a friend: “Catherine has made me realise the importance of family. As you know, family hasn’t always been an easy thing for me.”

In interviews, the Duchess, mother of three, admits to having the same challenges as any other mum:

Kate has always presented the unflappable demeanour of a mother who seamlessly balances the demands of a very public role with the challenges of raising George, eight, Charlotte, six, and Louis, three. But in February 2020 she let the mask slip a little, in a frank admission of wrestling with “mum guilt” and how parenthood had “pulled” her to the “toughest and most unknown places”. On the Happy Mum Happy Baby podcast she admitted struggling with “the juggle” of being “such a hands-on mum”, being riddled with “doubts and questions about the guilty element of being away for work” and always “questioning your own decisions and judgments”. It took her time to shed the guilt of having a nanny and housekeeper to share the load: “It was a real weight off my shoulders [to realise] that actually it’s not totally my responsibility to do everything because, you know, we all have good days and bad days.”

It was rare to hear Kate nattering away unscripted, and an unusually candid insight into what matters to her: “Is it that I’m sitting down trying to do their maths and spelling homework over the weekend? Or is it the fact we’ve gone out and lit a bonfire and sat around trying to cook sausages that hasn’t worked because it’s too wet?” Kate revealed she adopted hypnobirthing techniques and had “really quite liked labour”, but found the prospect of emerging on to the steps of the Lindo Wing for a photo call hours after giving birth a “slightly terrifying” but necessary part of the job. “We’re hugely grateful for the support the public had shown us, and for us to be able to share that joy and appreciation with the public I felt was really important,” she said.

A close friend gives the unvarnished take on how Kate really feels about sharing the most personal moments of her life with the nation. “She accepts and understands that in their position this stuff needs to happen. But it’s not easy for her, particularly with the babies. Standing there after just having a baby, feeling exhausted, those moments take a huge amount out of her. It’s hard work because she’s a normal woman with all the vulnerabilities and realities all women have. It is part of their life, she doesn’t resent it but it takes a lot of effort.”

What an exceptional woman. I wish there were more women just like her.

Many happy returns to the Duchess of Cambridge!

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