Days later, the golden dress still shimmers. Kate Middleton’s gown, worn to the London premiere of the new James Bond movie, No Time to Die, was a custom Jenny Packham design—and a rare high-voltage shot of showy glamour from Kate.
If you believe the Daily Mail, the commanding presence and voice of Meghan Markle has led to Kate Middleton becoming more of a royal power player in her own right. The golden Bond premiere dress is a sartorial symbol of a growingly confident duchess, and queen-in-waiting.
“She knew she was going to have to up her game—and she did. Now she’s a royal rock star—everything Meghan should have been,” a senior royal insider told the Mail.
That source added: “There was a clear moment where an active decision was made to change her look—be more confident in her style, her approach, her projects, the events she would say yes to. This was nothing about changing stylists or staff, either. It was about Kate acknowledging the Duchess of Sussex had changed the game and it was necessary for her to compete.
“That had already been going on between the Prince of Wales and his two sons for some time, but Catherine had never felt the need to get involved. She is the ultimate team player. But she soon became aware of how Meghan was trying to use the monarchy for her own personal gain and it helped Catherine understand the importance of the role she could play.”
That role, even between brothers William and Harry, is a key one—Kate is widely seen as a bridge builder and peace-maker between them. Whatever did or did not happen between Kate and Meghan—whether there were tears over bridesmaid dresses and alleged anger over how Meghan addressed palace staff—the real beef seems to be between Harry and William.
The influence that Kate has accrued backstage at the palace is most visible in the determinedly middle-class way—at least in terms of image—that she and husband Prince William are parenting their kids. For example, for their summer holiday this year, Kate and William could have taken the kids anywhere.
So where did they go?
The Bahamas, the Maldives, the Caribbean?
Try Tresco, a windswept, rugged island off the south-west coast of England which is owned in its entirety by royal family friends Robert and Lucy Dorrien-Smith.
It is run as a barefoot, back-to-nature, car-free holiday resort, sometimes nicknamed “Posh Butlins” by its habitués.
“It was miserable weather but George was running up and down the pier crabbing with all the other kids,” says a source who was on the island at the same time. “Kate was there watching him and chatting away to the other mums. They really were remarkably normal and non-weird. Although I did think a few times, ‘What are you doing here? You could be in Mustique!’”
Tresco is no doubt a delightful holiday destination. But the decision to holiday at home in the year of COVID also, perhaps, reflects a shrewd sense of the political wisdom for Kate—who turns 40 in January and has now been married to William for 10 years—to cleave towards the middle-class values she was brought up with.
In what has been an otherwise tumultuous decade for the royal family, she (together with William) has quietly and without fanfare built herself an enviable and stable power base that is very different to what has gone before.
There is no doubt that under Kate’s people, the tone of the one-but-next generation of monarchy will shift from elite and aristocratic to accessible and decidedly middle-class: Expect less Mustique and more Tresco.
This is not to say that Charles’ reign will not feel quite different to his mother’s. It will, and he is at heart a modernizer, but the overall shape of the monarchy won’t change.
It will still, under Charles, likely continue to operate along the lines of a private, aristocratic, unaccountable, land-owning family. Charles is all in favor of a slimmed-down monarchy where other members of his family are concerned, but for himself he demands the extravagances of a dauphin. Charles admits, for example, that he has a staff of 116 people. They include a court harpist and an official sketch artist.
Charles runs an utterly top-down organization completely based on the hierarchical military structures that have traditionally governed the royal family; his staff call him “the boss” and he brooks no criticism.
Unquestioning fealty is an unspoken condition of employment. No-one was surprised, for example, when his key aide, Michael Fawcett, hastened to throw himself under the bus in the cash-for-honors scandal, effectively yelling, “It’s all my fault,” rather than expose “the boss” to awkward questions.
Compare that with the deliberately professional and more informal atmosphere at Kensington Palace, where Kate can regularly be heard talking in person or on the phone to “Willie” (as she calls William) even in front of their “team.”
Visitors are introduced to the couple as William and Catherine and positively encouraged to use their first names. The staff have the option of addressing them however they feel most comfortable, and most prefer “William” or “Catherine” or at a push “Sir” or Ma’am,” or “Your Highness.”
The couple are famous for occasionally doing the coffee run themselves, regularly popping over to the Pret a Manger on nearby Kensington High Street to get a round of lattes.
All of this is thanks to the influence of Kate, whose management style owes a great deal to the no-nonsense mother she grew up watching manage a party supplies business which has grown from a kitchen table enterprise to a thriving concern that has made the family millions.
Kate’s attitude to business, learnt at her mother’s knee, has created an astonishingly loyal cadre of employees, says a source: “People would walk over hot coals for her. Kate and William do not make the mistake of trying to be friends with their staff, but they are certainly nice and considerate: if it’s your birthday you get a card; if your dad dies, you can take a month off.”
The source adds that the loyalty extends to ex-staff.
William, for example, is said to particularly value the input of former staffers such as Miguel Head, Paddy Harverson (who managed global media operations for their wedding), and Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton, a former Irish Guards officer and SAS member who was Principal Private Secretary (PPS) to William, Kate, and Harry when they were a single royal household from 2005 to 2014.
Simon Case, who was William’s PPS from 2018 to 2020 before leaving for a job as Britain’s most senior civil servant at the tender age of 42, is another informal sounding board, helping William wrestle with the big strategic decisions about the future direction of the monarchy.
Kate’s key staffer is Natasha “Tash” Archer. Archer, as The Daily Beast has previously noted, is married to Getty Images chief royal photographer, Chris Jackson, who has close working relationships with almost every major British newspaper. Edwina Iddles, their chief communications officer, is a political veteran, having previously worked for the Conservative government and rising to chief press officer at the Home Office.
Kate was described by one source to The Daily Beast as occupying a COO role in the office, attending to the execution of daily operations. Of course, she is far from absent in the construction of the big picture, but it is William who sits down with his father and grandmother for the big royal think-ins. It is notable, for example, that during the big showdowns with Harry such as the “Sandringham Summit” where the terms of Harry and Meghan’s departure were thrashed out, Kate was not present.
Another source who knows the family personally said, “What’s quite remarkable is the loyalty of their staff and friends, especially when compared to Harry and Meghan. Harry and Meghan got through staff at a quite incredible rate, which really raised eyebrows because it was so different. Many of Harry’s friends literally haven’t heard a word from him since the wedding, but Kate and William’s inner circle remains very tight.”
William is close with a very small band of close friends, mainly dating back from his childhood, and Kate’s friendship group includes several of the children’s godparents, most of whom are low-profile private citizens she went to school with.
In their private lives, William and Kate don’t exactly shun the perks of their aristocratic status. Shooting parties are still a huge part of their social life: friends are often invited to Balmoral for grouse shooting and William and Kate are prized guests at England’s smarter shoots over the winter months.
However, the debacle of Harry and Meghan’s exit appears to have reinforced Kate’s desire to normalize the lifestyles of the newest generation of royals. If the Mail is right, and Kate felt somehow spurred into more high-profile action by Meghan, she has also seen the damaging effects of the royal family fallout, and will want to protect her own family from them—while also building a more down-to-earth royal court.
So while Kate can sparkle regally at the James Bond premiere, she can also do the school run and be as unmistakable in her Range Rover as any other pony-tailed London mum with a well-dressed trophy child or three.
Her middle class credentials even extend to going out for lunch at a country pub: Kate and the family were photographed sitting on a slightly rickety wooden bench table in the garden of a Norfolk pub this weekend. Cynics might suspect it was a staged picture designed to show the family in an accessible light, but The Daily Beast understands the Cambridges were actually extremely irritated when the photograph of them enjoying this relaxed afternoon was printed in national tabloid the Sun.
They regard their time in Norfolk as particularly sacrosanct from press intrusion. It was soon taken down following angry representations from the palace, a source says, and has now disappeared from the internet.
The year will end with another notable Cambridge flight from royal exceptionalism: Christmas at Sandringham. Kate has slowly made a determined effort to create a more “normal” middle-class routine for her kids than has traditionally prevailed at Sandringham.
Fundamentally, Christmas at Sandringham is about duty. There are, for example, no presents on Christmas Day. They are exchanged the night before. Senior family would sometimes be expected to attend two church services. Lunch is a brief affair as it has to be wrapped up for the broadcast of Queen Elizabeth’s (pre-recorded) speech at 3 p.m.
William and Kate do it all much more informally at Anmer Hall: loads of presents on Christmas Day, stockings, and plenty of TV. They nip down to the big house for church and lunch, then go back to Anmer and carry on.
In her private and professional life, Kate is fundamentally a middle-class person. When her time comes as queen, she will recast the royal family in her image, and her slowly solidifying power base will be crucial in delivering that outcome.
The palace did not respond to queries from The Daily Beast about William and Kate’s opinion of being photographed in a local pub, their choice of holiday destination, their preferred mode of address from their staff, or other issues raised in this article.