It’s probably no exaggeration to say that Kate Middleton is absolutely vital to the future success of the royal family. She is, after all, the mother to the future king, Prince George. But despite her more-or-less scandal-free life as Prince William’s spouse, a few years back there was a general feeling among those in the know that she would need to sort out her image before the inevitable happened and her husband took the throne.
Being a member of the British royal family comes with some serious privileges, obviously, but it also presents certain obstacles to be overcome, too. An impeccable image is a big asset if you want to win the hearts and minds of the British public. But luckily, over the past couple of years Kate’s worked very hard to maintain the highest possible standards.
And don’t forget, Kate wasn’t born into royalty or even aristocratic circles. Sure, her father had some rather tenuous links to the British nobility, but they were still very much commoners. They were multi-millionaires thanks mostly to a party supplies company which unexpectedly took off. Kate definitely wasn’t being prepped for future queenhood as she grew up.
So Kate had to learn everything as she went along. And there’s a lot to figure out when you’re suddenly married to a prince. Everything from how you dress to what you eat is governed by strict protocol and tradition. It can be a hard transition for someone who grew up in a normal, if wealthy, family. Still, Kate’s been continually making these adjustments ever since.
After marrying Prince William, Kate became a fashion icon, an ambassador for various good causes, and of course a mother of royal children. But one day she’ll become the highest-ranked woman in the entire royal family of Britain: a daunting prospect for anyone. Slowly but surely she’s changing her life in preparation for this.
Probably one of the major difficulties with being the wife of a prince is that everyone will have an opinion of you, both your peers in the royal family and people you’ve never met. The presence of social media doesn’t exactly help in this regard. Back in 2011 after the engagement was announced, people happily called Kate a gold-digger and worse.
In 2011 prior to the wedding the New Statesman magazine wrote, “Poor Kate. The narrative of her marriage to Prince William has been decided even before she chooses her dress – a grasping, social-climbing, middle-class girl who happens to have snared the heir to the British throne, or ‘Waity Katie,’ as commenters on the [Daily] Mail’s website call her.”
And at that time Kate wasn’t doing too well in opinion polls either. A ComRes survey indicated that two-thirds of British people weren’t actually interested in the upcoming royal wedding. Meanwhile op-ed pieces in newspapers judged the future duchess’s fashion choices and called her all sorts of cruel names.
The feeling seemed to be that Kate was either too normal or too snobby, depending on who you asked. Still, swimming against the tide, there were voices of support: in 2011 a friend of the Middleton family named Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore wrote in The Guardian newspaper, “Kate was ordinary, hard-working, athletic and easy-going. Media depictions swing between a snooty Sloane and a dastardly commoner. Both are wrong.”
But reportedly even the Queen had doubts about her future granddaughter-in-law before the wedding. In 2018 journalist Phil Dampier told the Daily Express newspaper, “There was a phase where [Kate] appeared to be doing very little really. The Queen once remarked, ‘Kate doesn’t do very much,’ so I think she had a fairly long entrance to the royal family.”
This perception, fair or otherwise, did indeed seem to rankle with Her Majesty, if the pundits are to be believed. In 2011 royal expert Katie Nicholl wrote in her book The Making of a Royal Romance, “Privately [the Queen] had grave concerns and believed that Kate needed to have a job and an identity in her own right before an engagement was announced.”
Nicholl added, “[The Queen] is one of the hardest-working royals, despite her age, and that a future member of the royal family was without a full-time job was unacceptable to her.” And a source close to the monarch, she claimed, had said, “Swanning from one five-star holiday resort to another is not the prerequisite for a young woman possibly destined to be Queen.”
But after the wedding things seemed to improve in that department. Kate certainly didn’t appear to be “swanning” any longer. She and William hosted President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle at Buckingham Palace, went on a tour of the USA and Canada, and showed up at a plethora of important events.
Yet while on tour Kate might have learned the hard way that you can’t please everyone. Reportedly Prince Charles disliked that Kate and William stopped for photos so much on their tour and drew such massive attention. For example, Dampier told the Daily Mirror newspaper after the tour, “When Charles and Camilla visited Canada two years ago they were greeted by relatively small crowds.”
Dampier went on, “Charles felt overshadowed by Diana and now it seems he feels overshadowed by their son. Some people may think he is jealous. I have always felt that as soon as William got married, Charles would feel sidelined.” There’s an issue with Camilla there too. When Charles takes the throne Camilla won’t be Queen Consort – but when William does, Kate will.
But of course, that may change in the future. The royal family are no strangers to sudden, unexpected shifts in their roles and lifestyles, after all. Don’t forget everything turned upside-down for them in 2020. It was January that year when Prince Harry and Meghan Markle stepped down from the royal family.
As it happens, Kate and Meghan have long been pitted against each other in the media. That’s another downside of being a royal – you’ll almost inevitably be compared unfavorably to members of your own family. Their separate fashion styles, their backgrounds, and even their personalities were frequently part of a “Who’s better?”-type discourse.
Wisely, perhaps, Kate weathered what the media dubbed “Megxit” by simply not commenting at all. In fact, while it was all going on her birthday took place and she (or her social media team) casually dropped a message and photo on her official Instagram account. Harry and Meghan even wished her happy returns in the comments.
But of course that same year the pandemic and lockdown hit. As such, even the royal family had to make adjustments to their usual habits. Suddenly interviews and appearances had to be done via the internet rather than in person. And this actually gave Kate a chance to really shine.
Kate and William suddenly seemed quite relatable, more so than they’d ever been before, when they were sitting on video calls talking about home-schooling their kids. And Kate was apparently the one taking the lead technology-wise. According to insiders, it was she who taught the Queen to use video calling.
Kate, it seemed, was working hard to seem more relatable as the country faced a crisis. And just her being seen to be working hard was a big deal. Royals tend to be judged on how many official engagements they do. In 2016 Kate and William were criticized for not taking on as many as the older Princess Anne.
And the Queen, too, is reportedly very keen that her family works to earn their keep. In fact, in 2017 it was reported that she was angry with Kate for wanting to scale down her public appearances while she was pregnant. Even though Kate gets severe morning sickness, the Crown apparently comes before all.
Luckily, things are different between Kate and the Queen these days. There’s been no more talk of the duchess disappointing her grandmother-in-law: quite the opposite, in fact. In 2019 an anonymous insider told Vanity Fair magazine that when it came to Kate, “The Queen is a fan. Kate is unflappable.”
The source went on, “[Kate’s] mantra is very like the Queen’s keep-calm-and-carry-on approach in life, and she has the added benefit of making the royal family seem almost normal and in touch.” And that’s something very much needed considering the power and privilege which the family wields.
Kate’s efforts to be more relatable have very much worked, it seems. It helps that in some respects she really is quite an ordinary mother. Even though Prince George will be king one day, his parents have tried to shield him from the enormity of that fact. And all three Cambridge kids are kept away from the paparazzi.
And also Kate’s been honest about her parenting not being perfect all the time. In February 2020 she appeared on the podcast Happy Mum, Happy Baby and discussed “mom guilt.” She said, “Even mums who aren’t necessarily working, aren’t pulled in the directions of having to juggle work life and family life – there’s always something.”
Kate also made it clear she wasn’t actually the world’s best parent 100 percent of the time, an admission with which undoubtedly many people would feel some empathy. She told podcast host Giovanna Fletcher, “And you know, even this morning, coming to the nursery visit here, George and Charlotte were like, ‘Mummy how could you possibly not be dropping us off at school this morning?’”
Friends of Kate and her family have also offered up stories about how down-to-earth she is behind closed doors. In December 2020 an unnamed acquaintance told People magazine that the Cambridge residence was “a normal, busy family home with kids running around and knocking things over. There’s no airs and graces.”
The source said that Kate was “very chilled at home” but added, “When you see her behind closed doors with the children, she’s a very confident mom, and she’s no pushover. The children get told off if they act up.” Indeed, there are even photographs of Kate telling her kids off in public.
And the Kate who drops her kids off at school is very different to the Kate who appears at events. The friend said, “There are no blow-dries – it’s always hair up in a ponytail. She’s either in her gym clothes, or a dress and sneakers, very little makeup, apologizing as she’s late for the school run before dashing off. It’s the life of a working mom with three young children – just a different sort of day job to most.”
A person who lived near to the royal’s day-to-day Norfolk residence of Anmer Hall also told People about spotting Kate and William out and about. They said of the pair, “They were talking about home life and the children – just like any other parents on a night out. You were just struck by what a normal lovely couple they are.”
Another person told the magazine, “Even if [Kate] were married to a banker, I don’t think she would be much different. She would have wanted to be a country mom and be in town occasionally. I don’t think she would have been living a very different life.” Well, maybe not in private, anyway.
The message from the article was clear: Kate was just a normal person underneath it all. Another source told People, “At the end of the day, she’s in training to be a future Queen, but honestly you would never know it. If you go round to her house, you get a cup of tea, and it’s often William who makes it! It’s a lovely, welcoming house, not a fancy, stuffy palace in any way.”
Kate’s popularity just keeps on increasing. In 2019 the results of a YouGov poll to find the most popular royal were published. The Queen took the top spot – maybe that’s not much of a surprise – but Kate came in fourth, behind William and Harry. She actually beat Meghan Markle, who was ranked sixth.
And in 2020 Kate was declared “coolest female of the moment” in a Perspectus Global poll. That time, she polled higher than the Queen – and Michelle Obama, Billie Eilish and Katy Perry. A Perspectus Global spokeswoman said in a statement, “From her Hold Still photography project to a video call with a new mum and virtual bingo session with care home residents, Kate has shown just how cool and inspiring she is.”
Indeed, Kate’s philanthropy has definitely helped win people over to her side. The Queen could never complain that she “doesn’t do much” any more. The duchess supports many non-profit organizations, a lot of which are to do with children and mental health. Kate even spent her ninth wedding anniversary doing charity work.
In May 2020 royal expert Sarah Gristwood talked to Vanity Fair about Kate’s transformation. She said, “There is a repositioning going on within the royal family and we are clearly seeing this. I think this is one of the most important stages in Kate’s life as a royal. As a young mother Kate was allowed to raise her children away from the media spotlight, but now we are seeing a shift.”
Gristwood continued, “[Kate is] working harder, being more visible and we are also seeing more of the Cambridge children. Kate has been given a platform to take on a more prominent role. She’s not just accompanying William to engagements, she is doing things independently and voicing new ideas.” And that can only be a good thing.
Since Harry and Meghan made their departure, Gristwood said, “…the royal family were at risk of looking out-of-touch and dowdy without them.” She went on, “With Charles and Camilla over 70, and Anne about to get there, and the Queen scaling back, there is a serious vacuum when it comes to star appeal at the heart of the royal family. This is Kate’s moment to shine.”
And Kate most definitely is shining right now. It was reported in January 2021 that the Queen is planning a special honor for her in April to mark ten years since the wedding and her ascension into royalty. Kate’s already had the highest award the Queen can bestow, being made a Dame Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order. All the same, it seems that for the duchess at the moment, whether it’s in the eyes of fellow royals or the world at large, the only way is up.