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Kate Middleton: How the Duchess of Cambridge became the future of The Firm

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There was a moment on the Cambridges’ recent tour to the Caribbean that perfectly encapsulated the bolder, more confident Kate of 2022.

Dressed in a pink Rixo dress with her hair in beachy waves, the Duchess and William were visiting a Bahamian fish fry to try the local delicacy “conch pistol” — said to have the same effect as Viagra. While William looked a little squeamish, Kate gamely held up the strip of flesh and popped it into her mouth. “I’m a little bit more adventurous than William is,” said the Duchess, with a mischievous twinkle in her eye.

Eleven years into her marriage and a few months after her milestone 40th birthday in January, Kate is relishing her new role as the face of the Firm. Gone is the shy young woman who mimicked her husband’s poses and struggled with public speaking, replaced by a formidable queen-in-waiting.

While the couples’ tour might have been blighted by PR blunders, with images of the Duke and Duchess shaking hands with impoverished children through a fence and appearing in the same open-topped Land Rover used by the Queen in 1953 — criticised for being “tone deaf” and harking back to British colonialism, there was no hint of that across Kate’s perennially unruffled features.

PA

The events in the Caribbean have ushered in a major shake-up of royal tours, but then the Cambridges have long been planning a shake-up of their own, in particular for Kate, who is now ready to shed her Norfolk country mum persona to claim her spot as a polished frontline royal.

The timing is both fortuitous — with senior figures saying she has grown increasingly confident — and necessary. The tectonic plates within the royal family have shifted and with Harry, Meghan and Prince Andrew firmly out of the picture, it falls to Charles, Camilla, Kate and William to pick up the slack. “There’s no one else to take on the royal workload — and Kate has very willingly stepped into that role,” says royal expert Ingrid Seward, editor-in-chief of Majesty magazine.

Kate is forging a path of her own with projects that really matter to her, such as The Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood that she launched last June. “Kate won’t just take on anything — it has to be something that really interests her, where she feels she can make a difference,” says Seward.

This is all part of the Duke and Duchess’s plan to “rip up the rulebook” and do things “the Cambridge way”. She completed her first solo trip, to Denmark at the end of February — the first time she had taken her new foundation to the international stage — where she whizzed down a huge slide. Insiders noted that she was, in many ways, more herself on the trip. “Kate seemed more relaxed without William, who can be a bit fussy when he’s on royal jobs,” the Evening Standard’s royal editor Robert Jobson told TV’s The Royal Beat. More overseas visits without William are planned. Set to be shorter than londonbusinessblog trips, they will focus on issues that really matter to her, such as early childhood development and learning.

REUTERS

She’s also had a bit of a rebrand. Gone are the safe shift dresses, replaced by braver looks by cool contemporary designers, from The Vampire’s Wife and Alessandra Rich to Roksanda and Self Portrait. Her Caribbean tour wardrobe got everyone talking for all the right reasons. “She just kept pulling out look after look, and every one had something about it, whether it was a nod to the current vintage trend or a completely different colour on her,” says one fashion insider who’s worked with the Duchess for over ten years. “Her look is much fresher and more modern now, with bold choices that show her growing confidence.”

Her marriage to William is as ironclad as ever – indeed, those close to the couple say that the turbulent last two years have only served to bring them closer, with Kate acting as William’s rock during his upsetting rift with his brother and the Prince Andrew scandal, and following Philip’s death. There is a sense that Kate is finally taking this opportunity to seize her role.

Her approach to establishing herself as the nation’s future Queen has been strategic, methodical and meticulously planned out. “Everything is all part of a long-term plan that she and William have worked out together,” says a source close to the royal household. Her clear-headed tactics are said to stem from her stable middle-class upbringing. Attending Marlborough College – whose ranks are packed with bona fide Sloanes, aristocrats and alumni including Samantha Cameron and Ghislaine Maxwell – she moved in the sort of upper-class circles that made her transition into royal life relatively smooth.

She met William at St Andrews in 2001 and they became a couple in 2003, keeping their relationship under wraps until the tabloids spotted them skiing in April 2004. Her world changed forever, but she stayed level-headed, in part thanks to her tight-knit friends from school, and the close bond with her family. Carole Middleton is such a regular fixture at Kensington Palace that she bypasses security when she whizzes through the gates in her Land Rover.

KENSINGTON PALACE/AFP via Getty

Kate’s parenting is hands-on – she does the school run regularly, turning up in leggings and a no-nonsense ponytail and queuing with the other mothers to get a coffee after drop off. “Her royal career has been built in an unprecedented way, upon the need to have space for parenting,” says one royal insider. “There was criticism in the early days of their marriage when they were said not to be doing enough, whereas in fact they were pursuing a different strategy, with the entire agreement of the Queen and Prince Charles. The priority was for the two to spend time together as a young married couple, and for their early married life not to be put in the straitjacket of royal service.”

Her demeanour is admirably unflappable and uncomplaining, facing any public intrusion with the kind of stoicism that has seen her compared to the Queen Mother (whom Cecil Beaton once famously described as ‘a marshmallow made on a welding machine’). It is said Kate has a spine of steel and this is one of the reasons why in 2019 the Queen 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 sure-fire sign that her loyalty has been noted and duly rewarded. Kate has been quietly observing Her Majesty’s game plan from the start and has adopted many of her tactics, with a cool, calm head being one of them.

Getty Images

So what can we expect from Queen Catherine? “I would compare her to a young Princess Elizabeth,” says Seward. “Kate has always known her destiny and is ready for it now – unlike Diana, who shied away from it and never wanted it. She has understood her role from the beginning and made it her ambition to do it properly.”

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