Kate at 39: a royal to be reckoned with

As she turns 39 today, and the Cambridges prepare to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary in April, the Duchess of Cambridge has become a formidable royal force to be reckoned with.

Far from the shy girl from Bucklebury, introduced to the public nearly 20 years ago, Kate has become one of the most pivotal players in the House of Windsor. The mother-of-three has quietly gone about fulfilling her duties without her ever-increasing status going to her head – a characteristic that has only further endeared her to the public.

Indeed, it is telling that despite almost two decades on the royal scene, she has only recently reached the pinnacle of her potential powers by delivering a career-defining speech before Christmas.

And lastly, the fifth and final Insight from our #5BigInsights: During the COVID pandemic, support from local communities has substantially increased for many – but not for all. pic.twitter.com/uvTsbpR8nA

— The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (@KensingtonRoyal) November 28, 2020

Kate had never looked more self-assured as she outlined why she cares so deeply about childhood development.

“Many mistakenly believe that my interest stems from having children of my own,” she said as she recorded the message in a pink Marks and Spencer trouser suit.

“If we only expect people to take an interest in the early years when they have children, we are not only too late for them, we are underestimating the huge role others can play in shaping our most formative years, too.”

The landmark speech marked a true coming-of-age for the Duchess, as she continues to carve her own path as a senior Royal.

Once cruelly dubbed “Waity Katie” for spending almost a decade as William’s girlfriend before he popped the question in 2010, it seems that the history of art graduate’s softly, softly approach has been her making.

The Duchess during a visit to the University of Derby to hear how the pandemic affected students’ lives

Credit: Arthur Edwards/The Sun

Unlike Diana, Princess of Wales, who was thrown in at the deep end, or the Duchess of Sussex, who seemed in a rush to make a difference, Kate has bided her time.

As Katie Nicholl, author of Kate: The Future Queen, puts it: “The Waity Katie tag has actually stood her in good stead as a future queen. Kate has always been a slow-burner. The palace allowing her to take her time over the causes she’s chosen to champion means she’s doing something she’s absolutely passionate about. Nothing has been done in a hurry, which has allowed her to find her comfort zone.”

Hence her new found confidence in her solo work, which aides have described as “a legacy project”. According to one source, Kate has “found her voice” because she “actually has something she wants to say”.

The insider added: “It is not an exaggeration to say she has become an expert in the field of early years learning.”

It comes after a team of academics were drafted in to help the Duchess shape her future – with input from the highest echelons of government and the security services.

Kate at her Back to Nature garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2019

Credit: Kensington Palace

Likened to a modern-day version of the Way Ahead Group, set up to rebuild the monarchy in the aftermath of the Queen’s 1992 ‘annus horribilis’, Kate’s steering party of experts has helped her to grow in stature.

Nicholl recalls how, in the early days, Kate was so “tongue-tied by nerves” that she would physically shake before taking to the stage.

In the vein of speech therapist Lionel Logue’s work with King George VI, she was given coaching by the late Anthony Gordon Lennox, who had also worked with the likes of Lord Coe, former United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon and the Camerons.

An old Etonian, Gordon Lennox helped to coax out the Duchess’s hitherto hidden sense of fun and gave her the encouragement she needed to actually start enjoying public oratory as opposed to dreading it.

It also helps, of course, that Kate is in a good place in her personal life. Although William, 38, was initially reluctant to extend the Cambridge brood, she got the third child she always wanted when Prince Louis was born in April 2018. Parenthood appears to have been the making of the couple, and the pair, who have let the public into their personal lives much more in recent years.

As well as sharing pictures from the family album, Kate has surprised many with her candidness, memorably during a podcast last February, when she confessed to “mum guilt”.

Kate and William with Nadiya Hussain and Mary Berry during the filming of A Berry Royal Christmas in 2019

Credit: BBC/Shine TV/Kensington Palace

The Duchess was similarly self-effacing during a 2019 Christmas documentary with baking queen Mary Berry, when she admitted that she had endured kitchen nightmares including leaving the lid of the blender off when making a smoothie.

It came after she had designed a Back To Nature Garden for the 2019 Chelsea Flower Show, which saw her appear on the BBC.

An insider revealed at the time: “She was visibly nervous before the interview. It was quite charming, really. She was only speaking to Monty Don but you would have thought she was going before Jeremy Paxman. You could tell she felt under enormous pressure not to slip up.”

There is no doubt the pressure is piling on Kate as she and William prepare to become the next Prince and Princess of Wales. The spotlight will inevitably shine more brightly on Kate as she adopts the mantle of a future queen – and all the public scrutiny that goes with it.

Yet, as Nicholl sees it, the sudden departure of Harry and Meghan from the royal scene has helped the Cambridges to position themselves front and centre – particularly in recent months.

“The Queen asked them to step up as front-line royals during the pandemic, and Kate has done that with grace and humility. This is a girl who has a sense of duty as a natural asset to her personality. I think they have both realised, with the Sussexes out of the picture, what an important role they have to play in shaping the future of ‘The Firm’.”

Which perhaps explains why the couple decided to embark on a last-minute whistlestop tour of the UK before Christmas. Although the move was criticised by some for taking unnecessary risks, the general consensus is that the Cambridges have led the way in trying to connect with the public during the biggest national emergency in peacetime.

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As well as spreading serious messages about the importance of mental health and support for the emergency services during the ongoing outbreak, they have also brought much-needed cheer; calling the bingo numbers during a virtual visit to a care home, and with William sending himself up in a Blackadder sketch.

And we can expect more of the same as the UK endures a third lockdown, as the Cambridges hunker down at Anmer Hall, their Norfolk bolthole, balancing home schooling with work Zoom calls like the rest of us.

As Kate enters her 40th year and a decade of marriage, there is still much more work to do. As the Duchess herself put it in that seminal speech, she isn’t in this for the “quick win”, but the long haul.

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