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What Kate did next: Despite becoming one of the royal family's most 'relatable' members, 10 years on she remains as much of an enigma as she was on her wedding day

Middle-class, well-educated, resolutely undramatic... Kate Middleton made for a poised yet inscrutable royal bride, the perfect low-key corrective to the angst of the Diana years, writes Meadhbh McGrath


Kate Middleton

Kate Middleton


LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 10:  (L-R) Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge watch the RAF flypast on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, as members of the Royal Family attend events to mark the centenary of the RAF on July 10, 2018 in London, England.  (Photo by Chris Jackson/Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 10: (L-R) Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge watch the RAF flypast on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, as members of the Royal Family attend events to mark the centenary of the RAF on July 10, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

Chris Jackson/Getty Images


Kate Middleton

Ten years ago this week, an estimated audience of two billion tuned in as Prince William wed his college sweetheart in Westminster Abbey. Viewers were enchanted by the horse-drawn carriages, the RAF flypast and the celebrity guests, but at the dazzling centre of it all was the royal bride, Kate Middleton, then 29 years old. She appeared the ultimate fairy-tale princess, effortlessly gliding up the aisle in a glittering tiara and showstopping Alexander McQueen gown.

The ceremony followed eight years of on-and-off dating since meeting at the University of St Andrews, a period that earned Kate the unenviable tabloid moniker "Waity Katie". In the months and years leading up to the wedding, Kate had been hounded by paparazzi, with newspapers gleefully reporting on William's night-time escapades during their brief split and his friends' "doors to manual" jibes about her mother, Carole, a former flight attendant. In their engagement interview, Kate came across distinctly nervous, deferring to William in her responses, her restless hands showcasing his mother's instantly recognisable sapphire ring. Yet on the big day, those nerves were nowhere to be seen.

"There was a lovely feeling of joy and happiness that William had met a gorgeous girl, and there was that optimistic understanding that the future of the monarchy is guaranteed, that this is the right match," says TV commentator and royal watcher Noel Cunningham, who reported on the wedding in 2011. "Everybody we spoke to, people were smiling and laughing. There was an instinctive feeling that Kate will make a wonderful addition to the royal family, that she will do what is required of her and do it marvellously well."

What marked Kate out on her entry into the royal family, says Mary Kenny, author of Crown and Shamrock: Love and Hate Between Ireland and the British Monarchy, was her middle-class upbringing in the village of Bucklebury, and her third-level studies in art history.

"What's commendable about her family is that they seem very stable. Not making any judgements or anything, but there are no divorces in that family, unlike in the queen's family, where everybody is divorced at this stage. The Middletons are very down to earth and stable in that way," she says. "And the Middletons had given their daughters a good education. That was another interesting breakthrough. If you look at the successful European royals, that's really a big trend, that the women are very well educated."

Queen Mathilde of Belgium's master's degree in psychology, she points out, is a far cry from Princess Diana marrying into the British royal family at 19 after failing her O-Level exams twice and dropping out of finishing school. "I think one of the problems with Diana was that she never got a proper education. She had a terrible inferiority complex about that, and said that she was as thick as two planks," Mary says. "But actually, I think that her education wasn't properly attended to. With Kate, that was a new factor, that she was the middle-class girl with a good education.

"And she didn't make waves: she was quite prudent actually. She wasn't a dramatic or glamorous figure like Diana, but probably a corrective in a way to the hullabaloo that surrounded Diana."

A decade on, Kate has had three children, established herself as this generation's foremost royal fashion influencer, and contributed to a variety of projects, including the Heads Together mental health campaign with her husband and Prince Harry; the Hold Still photography exhibition with the National Portrait Gallery, and the Early Years research into childhood development. And although her every appearance makes front-page news, she remains almost as much of an enigma as on her wedding day.

While her peers Diana, Sarah Ferguson and Meghan Markle have bared their souls in intimate interviews, we rarely hear from Kate, and when we do, it is in service of her work. The most recent example was last year's appearance on the Happy Mum, Happy Baby podcast, in which she spoke about motherhood and "mummy guilt" in a manner that gave the impression she was being candid without actually revealing anything personal. That approach - treading the line between being "one of us" and "one of them" - is essential to maintaining her everywoman image while living in a palace with the royal jewellery box at her fingertips.

Dr Jorie Lagerwey, head of film studies at University College Dublin and author of Postfeminist Celebrity and Motherhood: Brand Mom, describes Kate as "the anti-professional", having forfeited her career aspirations for a subservient royal role that demands she walk a pace behind her husband in public.

"When Kate and Will got married, there was much in the press about her having this great university degree and having had all these plans, and then leaving them to the side to have this amazing wedding. And, really quite quickly, they had their oldest [child], and then in the culture of the time - which is still going on - becoming supermom," she says.

"Because her pregnancy was so difficult [Kate suffered with hyperemesis gravidarum], she became this heroic mother figure and remade herself in the image of 'everymom', the sort of heroic mom who always hides the nannies and makes it seem as though she's doing all the work herself. That 'anti-professional', I think, was part of mommy culture, and the valorisation of motherhood."

In lockdown, "Brand Mom" has become even more integral to Kate's public image, and her team frequently uses social media to share pictures of her children's arts and crafts, including an "Instagram vs reality" meme showing the aftermath of youngest son Prince Louis's finger painting.

"That [post] is completely harmless - a kid got a bit messy, nothing is serious about that. And so that particular choice is like, 'OK, I'm authentic, my kids are messy too.' But they're messy in the zero-consequences way, that is trying to access that kind of authenticity that her PR people know makes a good connection, but still doing it in an intensely controlled [way]. It's the most polished version of the unpolished thing," Jorie explains.

Without as many royal engagements, she describes Kate today as akin to a world-famous mommy blogger.

"All mommy blogging is about that - you're paying people to create professional photography and content for the successful blog, managing corporate partnerships, and everything that goes with being an influencer."

She suggests that the fallout from Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's interview with Oprah Winfrey may have put a dent in Kate's everywoman image, specifically the allegations that Kate made Meghan cry before her 2018 wedding. .

"I think that painted Kate as very cold, and not welcoming and not supportive to another woman, and maybe reduced her appeal," she says.

To make matters worse, lockdown has stopped Kate from making public appearances, which Jorie observes are crucial to her "cultivated averageness".

Over the last decade, she was frequently photographed smiling, playing sports or caring for children, often while wearing affordable fashion. Even on her wedding day, she was said to have done her own make-up, which Jorie described as "a gesture at middle-class normalcy rendered somewhat meaningless by her custom couture Alexander McQueen gown, Westminster Abbey setting and royal groom".

Looking ahead, there are likely to be another couple of decades before William ascends the throne and Kate becomes queen consort. At this stage in her royal career, Diana was already established as the "people's princess", though the term wouldn't be used until after her death. And while there is broad approval for Kate, royal watchers are more tentative about what her legacy might be.

The most striking legacies are seldom made by meticulously observing the rules. Where Diana's memory is shaped by her work with what were considered controversial humanitarian causes, including breaking the stigma around Aids and advocating against landmines, Kate tends to choose more palatable projects.

Mary describes the Heads Together campaign as "taking up the accessible side of depression".

"Professional mental health people were saying, 'They know absolutely nothing about it; why are they doing this?' They stayed terribly clean, and away from the really dark end of mental illness," she says. What has been more effective, she suggests, was Kate's appearance at the memorial for Sarah Everard last month, defying a police ban.

"She didn't say anything, but she appeared, which was quite an interesting gesture, really - that she's able to communicate by gesture, rather than by making speeches," Mary says.

Might this be a sign that Kate is ready to venture into more uncharted territory in her second decade as a duchess?

"Kate may be assessing this. She may have chosen to tread prudently until now, but watch that space. As time goes by, she may."

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