Flicking through the morning paper, I came across a letters page – a section dedicated to the correspondence of the readers on stories which had previously featured that same week. One such article had been an opinion piece by an American journalist on the Duchess of Cambridge. Titled ‘Catherine the Great’, the piece discussed the Duchess’ growth since her wedding in 2011. It was mostly complimentary until a particular sentence which criticised Kate’s lack of, what was described as ‘headline factor’.
This unbeknown ‘headline factor’, which the Duchess of Cambridge neglected, was the ability to grab headlines through “controversial” behaviour. It was suggested that Kate needed a touch of Hollywood magic – whatever that means?
A reader had read the article and responded with a short but formidable letter. In it, this reader – a woman from Liverpool – had taken issue with how the absence of controversial behaviour was a bad thing. The woman revealed she had met the Duchess of Cambridge through a charity, Action on Addiction – an organisation which helps offer support to those dealing with substance abuse.
Action on Addiction was one of the first charities Kate decided to support after she joined The Royal Family, and this woman had met the Duchess around the same time. Her short, yet passionate letter spoke of the support Kate had offered on a private visit. Whilst this reader remained anonymous, she did speak about how excessive alcohol consumption had left her life in tatters. Action on Addiction had become a safe haven, and according to the woman’s letter, the Duchess had become one too.
As I read this response to the original article, it was remarkable how much it shone on a woman who has spent almost the last ten years at the forefront of the public arena. The reader’s experience was much more than the usual pleasant interaction. It didn’t touch on Kate’s “down to earth” approach or her sense of fashionable style. No, it delved deeper.
This remarkable letter spoke of Kate’s quietness. As this lady discussed her demons, her constant battle with the fiery torment of alcoholism, the Duchess listened, and did so intently. There was the occasional question, but as the letter read: “I talked for what felt like hours and she never wavered or looked disinterested. This wasn’t a show to her, you could tell my reality was projected into hers and she was taking it all in. For the first time in my life it felt as though someone was listening and it just happened to be one of the most famous women on Earth.”
It is an extraordinary thing what happened to Kate Middleton. She became much more than famous when she walked out of Westminster Abbey as the newly crowned Royal. She was a future Queen-in-waiting. Her life was sown into the very fabric of the United Kingdom and the farther Commonwealth. A nation would come to rely on her and she them. Her every move would be recorded, her fashion choices selling out across the globe. Yet set against the white-hot light of the Royal spotlight, this letter proved that ‘Kate’ was never far beneath the royal surface of the Duchess of Cambridge.
Fame is a fickle fanfare that fades. Royalty is forever, undimmed, defined and unmoveable. The Duchess of Cambridge has always seemed to understand that, which is why she navigates her role which such care and consideration. She chooses to refrain from rocking the boat, realising that the Monarchy is instead a Galleon, one which needs fair winds to sail not a hurricane.
The Duchess of Cambridge, just like the Kate Middleton she was before ‘HRH’ was placed before her name, has always been the antithesis of ‘headline factor’, controversy and Hollywood magic. She is royalty – a regal magic that has spellbound for centuries. But she is also much more.
There is a selflessness to the Duchess, an ability to ensure that whilst the cameras may focus on her, the story will be on them – whoever they may be. A child. A nurse or midwife. A mental health advocate, or even a woman struggling with alcohol abuse. Kate’s fanfare isn’t one lonesome trumpeter. It is an orchestra of a community she is happy to let take centre stage. Her fanfare is theirs too.
Since her marriage in 2011, there is no doubt that the Duchess’ confidence has skyrocketed. And why shouldn’t it? She has proved her ability to adapt, to conquer and persevere. Who can forget her stoic reaction to the disgraceful behaviour of the paparazzi who had photographed her topless on a balcony in France? Those pictures were taken by a photographer three miles away in a bush with a long lens. It was an appalling invasion of privacy and a sickening violation of a young woman.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were in the midst of a high-profile Royal Tour of South East Asia at the time. Yet mere hours after those pictures were published in French and Italian magazines, Kate stepped out of car for an engagement and she never faltered. She smiled, laughed and comforted her husband who rightly so, wasn’t as diplomatic in hiding his true feelings.
What this demonstrated, not only to the public, but to the Queen and wider Monarchy, was the Duchess of Cambridge was a stable and safe pair of hands. She kept to her lane, navigated it with a unique flare that was attractive to the public, yet upheld the values which have defined Monarchy since the age of Edward the Confessor.
Those values have continued up until – and most likely beyond – present day. 2020 marks a huge year for the Duchess of Cambridge. There is the launch of her Early Years project, intense rumours of two major Royal Tours in Europe and a potential photography competition created by Kate and William. After the calamitous year the Royal Family stumbled through in 2019, Royal aides are keen to project the Cambridge’s as the ‘future’, and more so, William and Kate as the star attractions of the Monarchy.
The irony is, and it is one which that newspaper letter highlighted so perfectly: the Duchess of Cambridge doesn’t need to be the ‘star attraction’. For Kate, being a mother and wife, friend and confidant, to whoever and however is enough. She doesn’t need the ‘headline factor’ to feel valued, wanted or popular and it’s a badge she wears with pride. It’s why the public admire Kate. It’s why that lady from Liverpool wrote her letter in defence of the Duchess knowing that the woman who sat opposite her quietly listening, will quietly carry on despite what’s thrown her way. She’ll never protest or lash out. She’ll never complain or explain. The Duchess of Cambridge will move forward forging a path that will lead all the way to the top of the Royal pyramid. But even at the summit, when the eyes of the world will be blazing hotter than ever before, Kate will remain quiet, listening, taking it all in.
The lady’s letter ended with a moving final defence: “I don’t care about controversy; I like the fact the Duchess of Cambridge doesn’t cause any. I like the fact that she can sit across from someone like me and laugh at the things I do. Be moved at the things which move me. I like the fact that, like me, a member of the public who fell on hard times, she doesn’t have the ‘headline factor’. Why? Because she proves to us all that they don’t matter. Instead, sitting opposite people like me and engaging with others does.”
As I finished this short letter, I struggled to find the original article – which is worth stating was not horrible. It highlighted much of the Duchess’ great qualities that make Kate ‘Catherine the Great’. But what I realised after reading the article’s response, was that the Duchess of Cambridge is treading a path beyond that article’s title, from ‘Catherine the Great’, to ‘Catherine the Greatest’.