How Kate Middleton finally found her voice after 15 years in royal life
It's easy to see why Kate Middleton has always been embraced by royal traditionalists: over the last 15 years, she has perfected the of practice of being seen and not heard.
Sure, on occasion we would get a glimpse into her personality - the infamous eye roll at an overzealous department store employee who yelled at her to wrap faster in New York in 2014 which went viral in gif form, the fist bump with a sick child at a children's hospice in 2013 or any of the many moments between her and Prince William captured off guard over the years - but when it came to her official duties, she rarely speaks publicly. Her job as Britain's Duchess of Cambridge is an ambassadorial role which requires she show up to the right events, shake hands, speak to well-wishers and look picture perfect doing so. In theory, it's a cinch, especially with access to unimaginable wealth, a team of experts guiding you and a supportive partner who knows the ropes better than anyone.
In practice, it can be tougher to master the balancing act, especially in a career which requires you to be an adept public speaker while also keeping your political alliances to yourself. And in an industry that will never forgive you for taking a step wrong. Over the years, Kate's work model has been characterised as the supportive wife, she is often pictured beaming as she watches her husband Prince William speak about any of the myriad issues they hold dear to their hearts, but there are only a handful of occasions when she has stood behind the mic herself.
In fact, she has delivered less than 10 public speeches since her 2011 wedding, which makes her newfound desire to express herself all the more notable. In the last two months alone, we have heard more from her than we have in a decade.
There are two reasons for her sudden change of tactic: one being the arrival of her sister-in-law Meghan Markle, an accomplished orator who delivered speeches before the United Nations before she married Prince Harry last year; the other being down to the fact that things are changing briskly behind palace gates.
The second half of 2018 was focused on the reported falling out between Kate and Meghan which makes for juicy headlines, but the real story is the structures being put in place for Charles' eventual ascension to the throne. Queen Elizabeth is 92 and while she's still in good health, she has been giving her responsibilities and patronages to the younger, more energetic royals. All of this means that Kate's preference to sit and observe is becoming an endangered practice and soon, she will be delivering as many speeches as William, who rarely makes an appearance without delivering some sort of dialogue.
The British royals have also been tactfully positioning themselves as a necessity in a post-Brexit United Kingdom, arranged as a symbol of continuity, especially when Charles, whose relationship with the public and press has been tempestuous at best, is about to take the throne. They couldn't have dreamt this opportunity for endurance if they tried. The 'Fab Four' have been rolled out for visits and meet-and-greets with EU allies - Meghan and Harry flew to Dublin, while Kate and William visited Norway and Sweden last year and also met with Spanish and Dutch royals.
Kate's shyness has been well documented over the years, in part, it's why she has proven so compatible with her transition from upper middle class 'normal' girl to queen-in-waiting. It's also this personality trait that is believed to have been the source of a clash with Meghan, an outgoing California native who enjoys the confidence that comes with being a television star. But in the grand scheme of things, her unwillingness to seek out too much attention has allowed her the time to not only observe the experts at work, but also endeared herself to royal watchers - you can't very well annoy people if you barely speak, can you?
Former British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman who profiled the princess for the magazine's centenary issue in 2016 described her as being as down-to-earth as her image projects.
"The Duchess arrived, in jeans and a parka, her hair in big rollers, with a bright, inclusive smile,” she recalled. "Although the Duchess of Cambridge is one of the most photographed women in the world, she is not someone who feels entirely comfortable at the end of the lens, nor as the centre of attention, and throughout the day the whole mood was very low-maintenance."
In recent months however, we've heard more from Kate than we have in 15 years, each at a carefully selected event aligned with children, families or mental health, three of her most passionate causes. Her remarks are often generic but appropriately uplifting and appealing to the intended audience, which is really all that matters.