Royal Corner

A Defining Moment for Kate

Hold Still reminds us all not only of the power of photography, but how the gallery has come to define the Duchess of Cambridge's commitment to the public.

SEPTEMBER 15th, 2020

© Getty Images


here are moments in a working Royal’s life which can come to define them. Whether it be climate change for Prince Charles, landmines and HIV for Princess Diana, male mental health for Prince William, or domestic violence for the Duchess of Cornwall; subjects arise which drive and determine the consensus around their passions. For the Duchess of Cambridge, there have been many charitable strings to her royal bow – from children’s mental health, to support for nurses across the UK’s health sector, Catherine has been astutely utilising her global influence for the betterment of society. Though one passion has since surged forth as a defining moment in the Duchess’ position as a member of The Royal Family – photography.

Yesterday, after months of teasing, the final 100 portraits were released which will feature in the Hold Still gallery – an exhibition designed to paint a portrait of the nation throughout the pandemic and lockdown. Spearheaded by the Duchess of Cambridge, and alongside the help of the National Portrait Gallery, the images showcased a unique and often moving insight into the UK’s response to the challenging times we currently face.

The announcement video by the National Portrait Gallery - © NPG

Within minutes of the gallery’s release, the emotive stories behind the portraits captured the hearts of the public, and their variety couldn’t have been more striking. Across the one-hundred finalists were all manner of differing sentiments; the hilarious image depicting the comedic struggle with home-schooling, in contrast with the powerful and heart-breaking portrait of a woman suffering with leukaemia and the emotional toll of lockdown. The diversity of the gallery was ultimately its success, and the reason is simple.

A deeply moving portrait titled, 'Without Help, Without Hope' made the final 100 - © Lisa Lawley

Every one of us could see our own experience of the lockdown in, at least, one of the portraits. Our fears, joys, anxieties, desperations and resilience were illuminated through the lens of every camera used to capture the images. One parent struggling with home-schooling was every parent. One nurse battered and scarred by the overbearing PPE worn for protection was every nurse fighting on the front line of the pandemic. And the devastating photographs of the loved ones lost, is every family who have endured the painful grief of knowing not everyone saw the pandemic through to its end.

The Duchess of Cambridge hoped that the gallery would provide an historic and emotional collage of the country at this unique time – she has succeeded in that endeavour.

At a time when the nation can sometimes feel powerless and voiceless, the Duchess has provided an outlet to Hold Still, she has created a safe space for the story of the pandemic to be told by anyone and everyone without division or frustration, but through the paradigm of reminding us what a nation can achieve when we come together. With her commitment throughout this initiative she has highlighted the importance of the Monarchy and where their success lies.

A portrait featuring Amelia called 'Thank Yoy' for staff battling the pandemic - © Wendy Huson

That success is shown through the joy and excitement on Mila, an adorable girl diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, and Amelia’s, a charming little girl with Down Syndrome, faces. These two children are forever connected through Hold Still and the pride that a “real-life princess” has taken the time to choose their portraits – it is a rare gift.

After the release of the gallery, Hold Still trended across social media, but what was noticeable was the absence of the Duchess herself. It is believed that Catherine had purposely decided to “take a back seat” and allow the photographers to shine. It is a move which further highlights how important she feels Hold Still is and how in essence, it belongs to the public. This is their achievement and the Duchess is the co-star watching from the side-lines.

When you look back at Catherine’s work and her approach to many of her initiatives, Hold Still was always a perfect fit. Quietly, confidently and with good humour; mixing her passion for photography with her role as the Duchess of Cambridge was always going to be a winning concoction, and it highlights how she has come to comfortably navigate the tightrope of royalty. Instead of speeches or over promotion, she has allowed the portraits to do the talking, knowing full well that a picture tells a thousand words.

If Hold Still becomes a defining moment of the Duchess of Cambridge’s life as a royal, then it will be a poignant reminder of how committed she is to her patronages, passions and the people she will one day serve as Queen. And due to those final one-hundred portraits, the nation’s Hold Still will forever be an historic reference of a time which has brought fear, humour, joy, strength, sadness and uncertainty. Yet, as you look through the one-hundred portraits featured, two things become clear – one, it reminds us all of the countless inspiring stories which live within our communities, and two, the hope of a better tomorrow is never far from our reach.

You can see all 100 portraits featured in the Hold Still gallery here

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