As the Duchess of Cambridge celebrates her 40th birthday, Laura Hampson says she’s the monarchy’s safest bet
The last few years have been nothing short of chaotic for the British royal family. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle stepped down as senior royals, then spilled the beans on life inside the institution; Prince Andrew was accused of sexual abuse (the Duke of York has consistently denied all allegations against him) and the Queen’s suffered some setbacks the same year she lost her husband, Prince Philip. It’s been quite a ride.
Yet, there’s been one person who’s remained as stalwart and steadfast as the sun: Kate Middleton.
Today, as the Duchess of Cambridge celebrates her 40th birthday, she’s also celebrating just over 11 years since she first entered the red velvet fold. And during that time she hasn’t put a foot wrong. For the royal family, Kate is a safe bet, their secret weapon. But Kate’s power lies not in her being a radical departure from tradition or espousing any sort of progressive views. It is in what so many criticise her for: being just a little bit, well, boring.
Boring does not mean bad in royal circles. Just think of the Queen’s now famous “annus horribilis” during which three of her children separated from their partners, gossip around the Princess of Wales dominated tabloid front pages, a fire broke out at Windsor Castle and of course, there were those pictures of Sarah “Fergie” Ferguson having her toes sucked.
Unlike Fergie, or Princess Diana or even Meghan who said, while she was a working royal, that “it’s not enough to just survive”, as far as the firm is concerned, Kate has hardly put a toe out of line, playing the role of Queen Consort-in-waiting to perfection, which has subsequently made her the firm’s greatest asset.
The Duchess’ popularity with the public has remained as buoyant as her curls throughout her royal tenure. A YouGov poll released upon her and William’s tenth wedding anniversary last year, revealed that 43 per cent of respondents think Kate would make a good Queen when the time comes. A separate rolling YouGov poll places Kate in the top three most popular active royals, with just the Queen and William ranking above her — her husband only just.
Kate has a particularly strong group of fans too, a group which grew exponentially with the advent of social media. There are blogs and websites that detail everything she wears, dedicated forums see people discuss every element of her royal existence; a myriad of books have charted her life, work and dress sense; and the #KateMiddleton tag has over 811 million views on TikTok alone.
Yet, becoming the wife of a Windsor is no easy feat. It only takes one look at Meghan, Princess Diana and Fergie — the latter who recently claimed to be “the most persecuted woman in royal history” — to see this. The role of a working royal isn’t an easy one to grasp, even Meghan said in her and Harry’s interview with Oprah Winfrey last year that she didn’t “fully understand” what the job was. For Kate, she seems to have taken the role in her stride — but it hasn’t been without its own setbacks. She was called “Waity Katie” in the 2000s, had her privacy invaded when a French magazine published topless pictures of her in 2012 and had to reveal each of her pregnancies early due to her suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum.
How Kate came to be in the royal family is well-documented, and since the moment she met William at the University of St Andrews almost two decades ago she’s proven to be perfectly vanilla, even during the months the pair briefly split in 2007. The past decade has seen Kate follow the Queen’s lead, carrying out each of her royal visits and events dutifully, poised and smiling with not a lock of hair out of place.
She’s also been a champion of mental health, starting the Heads Together campaign with her husband and she’s been a long-time champion of sustainability through re-wearing her outfits to high profile events. If we look at her role more traditionally, she also did what any royal wife is meant to do: she bore royal offspring. In 2013 Prince George was born and bumped Harry off his place in line to the throne. Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis followed in 2015 and 2018 respectively.
If we have to pinpoint a particular moment when Kate’s popularity boomed, it would be the day she stepped out of that car in front of Westminster Abbey, wearing custom Alexander McQueen, and walked down the long aisle to marry Prince William. It hailed a new, exciting era for the monarchy — one that was meant to continue with the addition of Meghan and Harry after the pair married in 2018. For a moment in time, they were even called the “Fab Four” and we were excited to see what the future of the foursome would bring.
But these hopes that the couples would pave a new direction for the monarchy quickly evaporated once Harry and Meghan decided to leave. While William and Kate made the monarchy popular again, it was Meghan and Harry who were going to modernise it — with the Sussexes gone, the Windsors tick on as normal. But that’s exactly the way the Queen likes it. After all, Her Majesty values tradition, poise and charity above all else, and Kate has all that in spades.