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Kate's Professional Shift Has Changed the Cambridges' Public Persona

Saturday, January 25, 2020

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge kicked off their 2020 calendar last Wednesday with an afternoon in Yorkshire. The day took on an unexpected gravitas thanks to Harry and Meghan Sussex's surprise announcement that is currently sending shock waves through the Palace, the press, and the public. Meghan and Harry's soft-abdication ratcheted up the heat on the Cambridges to present a stable, calm, and positive face to the public that afternoon. As luck would have it, the Cambridges were already positioned very well to handle this crisis.

Although Sussexes seemed to dominate the 2019 royal news cycle—from the drama of the Cambridges and the Sussexes’ deteriorating relationship, see here (explaining the household split), here (discussing the Foundation split), and here (explaining tense background to the Foundation split); and the series of PR blunders the Sussexes made, which ultimately culminated in their six-week break, see here—peppered in among those blockbuster stories, was another development, and that was a growing discussion about the stability and star power of the Cambridges. 

For years, these two have been our modern fairy-tale—the prince and the commoner he made his princess. It was a natural story, and it was true. Whatever good things Kate might have accomplished had she taken a different path, she wouldn’t be a super-star had she not married a famous man. Of all women, William picked Kate, plucked her up out of obscurity, and made her his princess. That is the true fairy-tale love story we all fell for. There was a corresponding balance of power where William was the full royal, and Kate, royal by marriage, let him take the lead in royal duties. Interestingly, the couple’s strengthening image has developed, in my opinion, because Kate has been growing her own profile. As the seasons of life change, and these two have solidly shifted from newlyweds and new parents, to seasoned parents with growing responsibilities within the royal family, their public dynamic has been naturally shifting, too. Kate has been earning her royal-status and her equity in the firm. 

It began discreetly some time ago, now. At the close of the Heads Together campaign, the Palace began to push to give Kate more public credit for her private work on behalf of the royal family. Since the birth of Louis, the Duchess has been quietly working behind the scenes even more to develop her own path—to better define the focus of her work within the royal family for the next few decades, and indeed, for the rest of her life. We started to see the visible fruits of that work this year, in the beautiful gardens she designed in the spring, and then in the fall as she started to talk more and more about her forthcoming Early Years project. 

Although William has certainly been the principal in public, as is the case with many relationships, the couple’s personal dynamic is different in private. It has long been reported that Kate is quite assertive in the couple’s home life. In their engagement interview, William talked about how funny Kate is (so we know she is smart), and you can see from their banter they have a very balanced relationship. Royal reporters with their ears to the ground have often relayed reports from reputable sources that Kate “wears the pants” at home. It was this private balance that led me to believe and predict the Cambridges would have a third child—because Kate wanted a third!—and, indeed, they did have that third. 

I think we saw their private dynamic on display most obviously during the South East Asia tour. The two were in the middle of a successful tour when they were told by staffers one morning at breakfast that a photographer using a long lens had photographed Kate sunbathing naked during a recent trip the couple had taken to the Luberon in France. Worse, the Palace attorneys were not able to block the French papers, and the pictures would be published soon. It is hard to imagine a more horrifying headline or violating content than they were about to face. William was beside himself with rage. The two had a busy day planned, though, and they had to get out the door to their first engagement. William struggled throughout the day, but Kate was cool as a cucumber, and even more interestingly, you could see she was helping to temper his emotions and public response, keeping him calm, and providing the positive forward momentum that got them through that day. It was not just a tribute to her personality, it was a window into who they are as a couple and as team in private. Kate was able to take the lead that day, because she shares leadership in their private life. 

There has long been a very disparaging sub-narrative about Kate that she is uninspired, bland, and submissive. There is a flavor of disdain for her more subtle and deferential approach to her role. I think that stems from our culture of celebrity which says you don’t matter if you aren’t making noise—if you aren’t asserting yourself, you are being walked all over. But, Kate’s approach has been the more natural one, the more diplomatic and strategically smart one (and her patience and resolve to stick to her course is now paying massive dividends). 

So, we can see that privately, there is a different balance between the two than the balance in their public professional roles, where William has unquestionably been the dominate royal. Now, in developing solo projects and building her identity as a royal, Kate has stepped out and quietly, but confidently, taken ownership of her royal status in her own right. Her work (which has been very diplomatic, very role-appropriate (future Queen), and very steady and focused) has evened up her professional position. In doing so, she has made the Cambridges—together—a stronger force within the family. Before, they were superstars for their Cinderella story. But as Kate has stepped forward and joined William at a commensurate level professionally, she has shifted their energy. As wonderful as that season was, these two don’t feel like Prince Charming and Princess Cinderella anymore; they radiate more mature royalty—they feel like a future king and a future queen. Before they were our favorite fairytale; now they are a power couple. 

I started this post planning to do a quick post catching us up on Kate’s fashion from the Cambridges’ Wednesday event, but as is my wont when I write, I started thinking out loud, which resulted in an op-ed rather than a fashion update. So, fashion update is here.