When Kate Middleton was first pictured in the national media, kissing Prince William on the ski slopes, my alarm antennae went off. It seemed to me that William’s new girlfriend was more interested in checking whether the journalist was getting the photograph than her prince. My opinion didn’t change throughout the courtship of the prince and Kate (sorry… Catherine) – so many breakups; so many reports of Kate glaring at any other woman who went near William; so many falling-out-of clubs-and-not-working photographs.
On the 16th November 2010, my heart sank even further. The news came that William and Kate were engaged, and even worse, that he had given her his mother’s hugely recognisable sapphire engagement ring. Sitting in front of the TV, I felt he had made a huge mistake. As someone who had seen the engagement of Charles and Diana – a young woman who had already made a living caring for children and cleaning when she didn’t have to – I felt that Kate was not likely to pull her weight and was more interested in status than the man sitting next to her on the plump sofa.
Friends told me I was unfair, and I really wanted to believe that to be true. I suspended my sense of disbelief and embraced royal wedding fever as best I could. I wanted to give them my blessing, I really wanted to. The wedding day loomed large. I admit to shedding a small tear watching Diana’s boy get married without his mother to support him. I also admit to wondering why the TV correspondent got so excited about a wedding dress that looked to me exactly like Grace Kelly’s but with Madonna-esque cone boobs.
As the years have gone by, I have willed Kate to find the sort of work ethic her mother in law had. Instead, I feel I have seen a regurgitation of many of Diana’s styles and mannerisms, without any of the genuine warmth or sense of noblesse oblige. It feels like we are expected to be grateful for Kate to turn up to two engagements a month (if we’re lucky), most lasting less than an hour, wearing hugely expensive designer clothes. The over-long, over-big, over-blown hair; the huge grin even in the most inappropriate circumstances; the bizarre public statements (“Can you test the smell by smelling it?”) and her newly-adopted uber-posh accent combine to give rise to alarm. I feel like she is trying too hard to be royal while missing the crucial elements. Adopting causes that mean something to her and that she would be prepared to spend some time on; understanding how to talk to people without making overt hand gestures or being constantly aware of where the camera is; making speeches without pushing her hair around, staring at the paper or sounding completely unconvincing – all of these would be welcome advancements.
Six years after their wedding, I am still eager for Kate to properly fulfil her position as royal duchess and future queen. As a monarchist, I want the Cambridges to succeed. But I am also much aware that for this to happen, the couple must adapt to become what the people need. The Queen has walked a very fine line between private and public, between mystique and the maternal. William and Kate must find some similar balance. Too often they are shut away, with very few pictures emerging of their growing family. They are becoming unknown to us as three dimensional characters, and in that breeds the fear of disinterest from the very country whom they need to support them. Kate’s morph in to a cartoon-esque character of hair, teeth and L.K.Bennetts does neither her, them nor us any good.
The sad part of all this is that Kate apparently waited a long time for William to commit to her officially. She, it seems, put up with a lot of shenanigans, to win what she had set her heart on. Now she is there, complete with Diana’s tiara and goodness know how many ballgowns, she doesn’t seem able to live up to the hype. Ever-shrinking in weight, nervous, skittish – it sometimes seems that Kate liked the idea more than the reality.
Regardless of my own personal feelings about whether William chose the right person (and after all, that is up to him not us) – we now have a woman in a very senior role within the royal family who seems to need guidance and direction in order to meet her potential. Whether that means new advisers are required, or merely a more experienced member of the family to take her under their wing (Sophie Wessex springs to mind) or maybe Kate herself needs to go back to the drawing board and try to remember who she was before she tried to become something else.
I will be watching the next couple of years with interest, and yes – with a little bit of secret encouragement – because after all surely, we all want Kate to succeed in the role she waited so long to step in to.
For us, for the royal family and most of all, for Kate herself.