It was the perfect conflation of two iconic British brands.
So top hats off to the courtiers who calculated that a group photo of the cast of ‘Downton Abbey’ with Kate Middleton in their midst would be guaranteed to make the papers in all the territories—over 200 at the last count—in which the British period drama is shown.
There could have been no clearer refutation of the ‘lazy Kate’ narrative—a subplot which has bubbled along as an undercurrent in the recent years of the long running soap opera known as the British Royal Family—than the message of the Downton photo which is that, at eight months pregnant, Kate is still putting in her public appearances, day after day.
Footsore as she no doubt is, Kate smiled, made nice with the cast and generally did her duty.
The day before she had been at an engagement in the British seaside town of Margate, which boasts a remarkable modern art gallery, and today (Friday) will see Kate joining members of the royal family at a service to mark the end of combat operations in Afghanistan.
On Tuesday next week she will be handing out shamrocks to the armed forces as part of St Patrick’s Day celebrations, and on Wednesday the palace has announced that Kate will visit Brookhill Children’s Centre in Woolwich.
And this is not it, either. Well-placed sources say that Kate will carry out a number of further engagements towards the end of the month as well.
But as she made her visit to the set of Downton Abbey in London yesterday, Kate Middleton—35 weeks pregnant by most calculations—might have been forgiven for issuing a sigh. As a princess of the realm, surely she should be entitled to spend the last few weeks of her pregnancy with her feet up, being waited on hand and foot?
And even for the most die-hard fan of the celebrated British TV series—Kate never misses an episode—is a set visit in front of the world’s media in the tricky third trimester really ever going to be anything other than a slog?
Kate, however, was all smiles as she arrived at the Ealing Studios in West London yesterday (Thursday), which was effectively day two of a three day mini-tour of the UK.
No-one could accuse the girl of not working hard in the final furlong.
There seems little doubt that with this flurry of activity so late in her pregnancy—at eight months pregnant to show no sign of slowing down is admirable—is a carefully thought-out strategy. Kate is seeking to put an end to the ‘lazy Kate’ story that threatened to become a theme when, towards the end of last year, it was revealed that Kate had, as well as taking numerous foreign holidays—attended just 76 official engagements in 2014 while Philip, 93, showed up at over 200 and the Queen attended 375. Indeed, Kate had the lowest official appearance rate of all the senior members of the Royal Family in 2014.
While sources are cagey about appearing to endorse the ‘lazy Kate’ narrative even by refuting the allegations, one source says, “The fact is that Kate’s feeling great and determined to pack in as much as possible before the birth.”
Kate said as much herself at her engagement in Margate when she declared she “kept forgetting” she was even pregnant.
There may also be an unwillingness to tempt fate by pushing the “hard-working Kate” angle as there is no doubt that after the birth, Kate will once again recede from public life for several months, as she did after the birth of George. If the baby is born on May 4, Kate will miss almost all the principal engagements of the busy royal summer season, including the Trooping of the Color which takes place on the Queen’s official birthday, Saturday 13 June.
The truth of the matter is that Kate does do less than any other member of the royal family at her level of seniority has ever done. But this is because, in accordance with her solid middle-class values she sees her duty to William and her son as being an integral part of her duty to the nation.
She sees no conflict in taking on less official duties if that means she can partner one contented future king and raise another. It’s a commonsense position when you really consider it, but, for the royal family, it is nonetheless a radical stance.
And while some carp, she has the support of the person who really counts, the Queen. Her Majesty has given Kate (and to a lesser extent, William) her blessing to ease more slowly into the lifetime of ceremonial duty than any royal bride has been given before.
So, world, enjoy this Downton snap and the pictures that appear before the end of the month. Because come April 1st, the chances are the next time you will see a picture of Kate is when she leaves the hospital with baby number two in her arms.