Royal Corner

Kate's A Safe Pair of Hands

As the Duchess of Cambridge turns 39, she has proved she has carved her own path and thus become the Monarchy's safest pair of hands.

JANUARY 9th, 2021

© Getty Images


t’s hard to believe that the Duchess of Cambridge has entered her tenth year as a member of The Royal family, and even more so, to acknowledge her connection to the institution has been much longer than a decade. Throughout her public life she has transitioned from being the rumoured love interest of Prince William, to his official girlfriend, then fiancé, wife and finally the mother of a future king and two heirs. But as we begin 2021, one element which finally seems to have relinquished its hold on the Duchess of Cambridge, is the unobtainable and unfair comparisons with her late mother-in-law, Diana, Princess of Wales.

When Catherine Elizabeth Middleton married Prince William in a lavish wedding in 2011 the public were understandably ecstatic. For them, the joy was in response to a young, modern and happy couple tying the knot for love and not solely duty. For The Royal Family there was delight and relief to have Catherine enter the fold – a future Queen Consort who showcased the skills and quiet ambition to stay the course. That relief revealed itself in the Queen remarking to a Canadian dignitary, “I can now relax, the future is in safe hands.”

The wedding of the Duke and Duchess of cambridge in 2011 - © Getty Images

After the wedding, the popularity and interest in the monarchy surged – a natural result of such a public event – but so did attention in the newly wedded couple, specifically the family’s shiny new Duchess. The attention was not only on Catherine’s fashion or style, nor even her charitable choices, but on a simple question, could the Duchess of Cambridge mirror the level of adoration her late mother-in-law achieved?

On reflection, it was a question which would always befall whichever women either of Diana’s sons married – Prince Harry’s wife Meghan has herself faced similar comparisons – but for the Duchess of Cambridge, through her mirroring the same royal positions as Diana, there would constantly be an attempt to place unfair pressures on her to live up to the People’s Princess. And yet, much to her credit, she has mostly managed to stay clear of Diana’s shadow. Not out of disregard for the Princess’ exemplary humanitarian work or continued presence within The Royal Family’s history books, but to ultimately remind the public that she is her own woman.

Of course, some comparisons will never abate, whether it be through the similarity in certain fashion choices – many of which are clickbait articles (“Diana and Kate both wear a green dress” being translated into “Kate honours her late mother-in-law”) – or some of their patronages, but by-and-large Catherine is a very different woman to Diana, and she has quietly ensured the public know that.

These differences are clear in both women’s entrances into the monarchy. Unlike Diana, who was twenty when she married Prince Charles, Catherine was twenty-nine when she wed William. Furthermore, Charles and Diana had only met thirteen times before their marriage, whereas William and Catherine had built a strong and steady relationship over almost seven years together.

Princess Diana photographed in Spain in 1987 - © Getty Images

The luxury which was afforded to Catherine was to drip-feed the exposure of the pressurised life of royalty. Slowly and tentatively – as the relationship grew more serious – the future Duchess was able to experience the innerworkings of the one-thousand-year-old institution before deciding to take the plunge. Diana, however, was thrown in at the deep end, and more so, at an age where her maturity was still developing, and her naivety was dominant.

But away from the royal life, the two women’s upbringings were also vastly unalike. Mostly evident in their families positions within society. Diana was descended from aristocracy – ironically, due to her lineage, her bloodline is technically more royal than the Royals themselves. Catherine was from a middle-class family, with middle-class values. Diana used to holiday with the royals at Sandringham watching Chitty Chitty Bang Bang every year. Catherine spent time in the Lake District hiking and at home assisting her mother Carole with gift ideas to help build her business Party Pieces.

Though perhaps the greatest divergence of both women’s upbringings was their family life. Diana’s parents bitterly divorced and her mother was ostracised amongst the snobbish upper class. Catherine’s parents are happily married and therefore built a strong and stable foundation for their family. In closer inspection to the early years of both women, it is clear to see how this has impacted their lives within The Royal Family.

Whilst some look at Diana as a solely strong woman – and there were certainly moments where she showed great strength – she was in reality troubled. This isn’t an insult to the late Princess. It is because of her vulnerabilities which made her incredibly accessible to so many and beloved.

But it also meant that Princess Diana, through her vulnerable nature, looked for affection in the wrong places, which resulted in far too many selling her secrets to the highest bidder. This in turn began to form an image of the Princess she didn’t like, which by result led to her trying to control the narrative herself, and ultimately guided journalists to the doors of Kensington Palace by Diana’s own invitation. And once that door opens, its near-impossible to close it again, no matter how much you wish to.

The Duchess of Cambridge pictured phonecalling her patronages in 2020 - © KensingtonRoyal/Instagram

With Catherine, the same vulnerability is there, as is the strength, but neither emotion governs nor outweighs the other. There is a balance which Diana never could find, mainly because she hadn’t lived a childhood where it was ever on show. For the Duchess of Cambridge, emotionally she is stimulated by her parents, siblings, husband and children, and this stimulation has been evident throughout every facet of her life. It is no secret that Diana had deep-seated feelings of neglect and loneliness, only quenched by the presence of her loving and loyal sons.

The result of Catherine’s upbringing has meant that she has learned the robust attitudes needed to withstand the pressures of royalty. When scandal and fallouts erupt or when rumours circle, she has remained tight-lipped knowing they come and go as easy as the wind. Diana could never. And whilst there is some acceptance for advocating for standing up for yourself against what is mostly nonsense, in the grand scheme of things, it rarely pays off. The Duchess of Cambridge understands this.

Last year, both William and Catherine could’ve have easily taken a page out of Diana’s book, after a controversial biography looked to pull back the curtain on the fallout between William and his younger brother Harry. And yet, besides one press report where friends of the couple claimed many details in the biography were untrue, they have remained universally tight-lipped.

Throughout Catherine’s time in the monarchy, she has upheld the “never complain, never explain” mantra. It has, and will continue to, stand her in good stead. Why? Because it is clear that the Duchess of Cambridge understands that, now more than ever, the nation needs support from their public figures, not public responses to their own family dramas. This approach, however, has led a minority to claim that Catherine is “boring”. That in many ways she follows the protocols, where instead they believe she should be breaking them.

The Duchess of Cambridge was joined by her husband Prince William and brother-in-law Prince Harry to launch Heads Together in 2016 - © Getty Images

Once again, these comments are made in comparison to Diana, who is long believed to have shaken up the stringent and stagnated royal rulebook. To an extent, the late Princess of Wales did, certainly when it came to removing her sons from living behind palace walls constantly. Yet, in reality, Diana did follow most of the royal rules to the tee. In fact, Arthur Edwards, royal photographer for The Sun Newspaper, once claimed that if she so wished, “Diana could be the most royal in the room.”

What some critics fail to grasp is that Catherine is also changing the monarchy. The difference is she’s achieving it without declaring war on the institution whilst doing so. Throughout her ten years she has respected the historic significance of the rules, why they are there in the first place, and ultimately how to adapt them into a 21st century monarchy she will one day help lead. But sometimes to accomplish change, you have to embrace tradition first; to understand where the change is needed and in turn how drastic it must be. Sometimes you have to hit the ground walking before running

One example is the work in which Catherine has campaigned for since becoming the Duchess of Cambridge since 2011 – mental health. Throughout history, members of The Royal Family have spoken about the subject, including Diana, but it was through the Duchess that the active campaign to remove the stigma surrounding mental health came to the forefront and made its biggest breakthroughs.

Heads Together – Catherine’s brainchild – since its inception, has become a leading body in the support network for those suffering with their mental health. The initiative showcased how a modern monarchy can affect real change in the world today, by tacking a subject which affects every level of society and the public.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge alongside the children in their most recent Christmas card - © KensingtonRoyal/Instagram

As the Duchess of Cambridge turns 39-years-old and we begin a new year, Catherine is well on her way to defining her position within the monarchy. It is one which aesthetically shares similarities with Princess Diana but strikes a different tone. The Duchess is not at war with the institution, and although amongst some, there is a false belief that to show you are enacting change within The Royal Family you must reject its traditions, Catherine has proved this isn’t true.

Both the Duchess of Cambridge and Princess Diana share admirable qualities, but they are not the same, and neither should we want them to be. Each has brought their own magic to the monarchy; their own beliefs, ideas and sense of duty, but neither is defined by each other.

The Duchess of Cambridge always hoped to carve her own path. After a decade serving The Royal Family, she has done just that. It is because of her individualism, the embracing of her own personality – “boring” or not – and her refusal to mimic an unobtainable royal icon that has set her apart, and ultimately led her to become the most popular member of the Royal Family. She may not be the “People’s Princess”, and it’s doubtful she would she want to be. But we can trust she will continue to grow into a Queen Consort content in her own abilities to serve her public and do her duty. And in that knowledge, it is perfectly understandable why The Queen would feel her beloved monarchy’s future “is in safe hands.”

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