The Duchess of Cambridge turned 40 on the weekend, and a slew of new interviews have revealed she is not at all who we thought she was.
When Kate Middleton, second-class art history graduate, charity roller-disco organiser and part-time accessories buyer walked down the aisle of Westminster Abbey in 2011, one of the many things she was sacrificing in the name of future Queendom was much of her privacy.
Her life might have been about to become one of unthinkable privilege and sorties to happily raid her grandmother-in-law’s jewellery vault (well, the safe where it is all kept in Her Majesty’s Buckingham Palace apartments) but that all came at a very steep price.
Much of Kate’s life now belonged to the British people who expected, in return for the palaces, the Sovereign Grant largesse and invitations to all the Bond premieres, an intrusive degree of access to her marriage, children and daily life.
But … what if Kate has been living something of a double life?
What if the Kate the world sees – measured, eternally coiffured and smiling, a perpetual exercise in regal perfectionism – is something of a construct and removed from the woman she really is when history is not watching?
That’s the question I have after having spent hour upon hour wading my way through the torrent of profiles of the Duchess of Cambridge which the UK press spewed out over the weekend to mark her 40th birthday.
The level of unprecedented detail about her private life that has come out over the last 24 hours or so is extraordinary and the person who emerges is a serious departure from the Kate we normally see.
And this private Kate? Well she indulges in champers after a day of royal graft, has a cheeky sense of humour and actually goes out of her way to not look fashionable.
But, let’s start with the fact that despite being one of the most famous people in the world, she manages to go on holidays, wander around on the beach in a two-piece cossie and the world is none the wiser.
Writing in the Telegraph, British Vogue contributing editor Vassi Chamberlain revealed that that is exactly what happened.
“Not long ago, I was on holiday in Europe when a tall, slim figure in a bikini brushed past me … It was only when the figure bent down to speak to her husband and son, paddle-boarding and playing around in the water, that I realised with a shock that I was seeing the Duchess of Cambridge in an entirely private, off-guard moment.
“I remember how she spoke to them in a soft voice, smiling tenderly and laughing … Only when an inconspicuous man in shorts and a T-shirt approached my husband, who was lying close by, and asked him to put his phone away (he was reading an online article at the time but his phone looked like it was pointing in their direction), did I notice the discreet security detail around us.”
It’s a remarkable revelation – that the future Queen Consort and two future Kings can while away the down time rubbing SPF 30 into their shoulders and getting sand in their nether regions without even a single, solitary hasilty snapped iPhone shot coming out.
Chamberlain also recounts the story of someone she knows who sat next to Kate’s father Michael Middleton at a dinner party: “When he got up to leave, he turned to my friend and said: ‘I’ve got to go home, Kate is coming to collect us, it’s her turn.’”
It’s a beguiling image: That despite her position, despite her access to an endless supply of drivers to do her bidding, Kate was still willing to do her daughterly bit.
That willingness to cheerfully muck in and literally roll her sleeves up extends to when she is with her friends too.
Per the Telegraph, Kate was at a dinner in the country when she learned that the family’s housekeeper was unwell. “Catherine excused herself from the table and when she didn’t return, the hostess went looking for her. She found her in the kitchen, hands in the sink, scrubbing an oven dish,” Chamberlain writes.
At the heart of things seems to lie one simple fact: Her relationship with Prince William and now royal status has not affected who she is as a person.
“She was always the same, from when she didn’t know she was going to be William’s wife to after the engagement,” a close friend of the couple has told the Times. “She never changed her manner with anybody.”
That’s not to say, mind, that her transition to HRH-dom was a simple and easy one, especially given the very, very large shadow of her mother-in-law.
“She was absolutely daunted by it and it was overwhelming at times,” one of her closest friends has said. “Everyone wanted her to be the next Diana — people had this Diana hole they wanted to put her into.”
Meanwhile, after a public appearance, she will “often” end up fretting, saying “I got that wrong, I need to get that right,” according to the Telegraph.
So, how has Kate managed to cope? Not with only the inconceivable pressures that come with life as the next Princess of Wales but also the incredible turbulence of the last few years and the dramatic exit of Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex?
Kicking corgis? Ploughing her way through Gan-Gan’s cellar full of Chateau Lafite?
Far from it.
In the days after the Sussexes went after the royal family, both barrels blazing, during their interview with Oprah Winfrey last year, the mother-of three resolutely kept her attention on one thing, and one thing only. “She has focused on personal support for William in what has been a really sad time in his life. She never predicted the degree of falling out between [the princes],” a close friend told the Times.
That’s a position she maintained, even after coming under attack herself during the prime time outpouring, with Meghan having accused her of making her cry in the run up to the Sussexes’ 2018 wedding,
“I’ve had hundreds of hours of conversations with her [Kate] and it never came up,” a palace source recounted to the Times. “I only ever heard from Meghan about that — a very different story from what she said to Oprah.”
Kate’s true feelings about Megxit and her brother and sister-in-law is something she keeps particularly close to her chest, with a friend having revealed that the most she has ever given away on that front is her “jokingly” rolling her eyes when Suits, the legal drama which Meghan previously starred on, is mentioned.
Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton, who was the Camrbidges’ former principal private secretary and is a godfather to Prince George, has said of her: “She has that almost old-fashioned, Queen Mother attitude to drama — she just doesn’t do it.”
“She has a great sense of humour,” Rebecca Priestly, who was the couple’s private secretary for five years, has told the Times. “On a trip back from an engagement, she will giggle if something went wrong and sees the funny side of things and will often take the mick out of herself and William. People mainly see her professional side, but it doesn’t mean the fun’s not there.”
One of the most extraordinary revelations that has emerged in this deluge of profiles is that Kate goes out of her way to not win in the fashion stakes. (And here I was thinking she just had sublimely extraordinary taste …)
“I sometimes think she chooses things deliberately not to look good in public,” an insider told Chamberlain. “Her personal style is much younger and more fashionable in private.”
Part of the reason for that counterintuitive approach is that she understands that her clothing choices can prove to be a serious distraction.
Take the events of March 2012. It was her first speech since her marriage and she was to speak at a children’s hospice. For the occasion she chose to re-wear a $263 Reiss frock she had purchased years before.
“There she was meeting with hugely vulnerable children and families, and the dress was the story,” a friend revealed to the Times. “She said she found it ‘a bit demoralising’.”
Which is to not say that the Duchess doesn’t have a clear view when it comes to her style and it would seem she has no problem pushing back against other opinions. In 2016, she appeared on the cover of Vogue to mark the fashion bible’s 100th anniversary. The shoot was to take place in Norfolk, where the Cambridges then lived, and at the time she and William were still only on part-time official duties.
Given she was “not doing the princess thing” at that point in time, a source close to her has said, “it didn’t feel natural for her to go for ballgowns and tiaras. Alexandra [Shulman, then Vogue editor] was very understanding, but they did have a few gowns on the day ready to go in case they could convince her. [Kate] looked at them with a smile and said, ‘No, we’re going with plan A.’”
The designer gowns stayed firmly packed away and instead she was photographed wearing a double-breasted suede Burberry coat.
The through-line in all of these new accounts is her content, settled and still, dare I say it, sexy, relationship with her husband, even after a decade of marriage, three kids and being forced to spend her summer holidays in rural Scotland.
Despite the fact that she and William will mark 20-years since they first started dating next year, there is still reportedly quite the frisson and spark between the pair, with one of their closest friends admitting to the Telegraph: “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.”
(This tallies with the Christmas card she and William put out last month showing them indulging in a hitherto unprecedented level of PDA with them photographed with their hands on one another’s thighs. Ooh errrrr….)
The Duke of Cambridge, who will turn 40 in June, gets points for not only doing the school run but proving to be an exemplar of the attentive partner.
Chamberlain writes: “Someone who has visited them tells me how when she is working he’ll swoop in and ask: ‘Darling, can I get you a drink … a glass of champagne?’”
(That said, “she is not going to be the one who lets loose, and won’t pull the pin and get lashed,” a friend has revealed in a disappointment to those of everywhere hoping that Bouji’s Kate circa 2006 still lived on behind closed doors.)
Theirs, royal biographer Katie Nicholl reports in Vanity Fair, is a marriage built on not just regular tipples but an egalitarian foundation.
“They are very much on an equal footing and Kate wears the trousers just as much as Wills,” a family friend told Nicholl. “They are a partnership and have found a way to be a high profile family carrying out a very important role whilst being very, very close.”
Later this year, the couple will reportedly celebrate their milestone birthdays in style with a joint soiree planned for in the northern summer and to be held at their country home, Anmer Hall.
In Tatler’s highly controversial profile of Kate, biographer Anna Pasternak quoted one member of the young royal set as saying of her: “I’ve spent quite a lot of time around Kate and she is impenetrable. There is nothing to like or dislike.”
That she has kept herself a cipher, a figure of studied moderation, makes sense. As it is, she has come in for nearly two decades of scrutiny and censure which was, and will always be, a facet of her life. But here’s what I hope: That having passed the 10-year mark of royal life with flying colours that that mask of contrived inoffensiveness slips.
Show us who you are, Kate. We’re ready. And like William, we have the champagne ready.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and a writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.