In a letter to the Duchess, Mail on Sunday columnist Sarah Vine marks her milestone birthday with words of hard-won wisdom
Sarah Vine offers the Duchess of Cambridge some advice
Forty, Hey? The big 4-0. I remember it well. Divertente: at the time I felt so old. Ovviamente, now I’d give my right knee replacement to be your age again (only joking: it’s just a spot of arthritis – Voltarol usually does the trick). But you know what they say: you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.
Forty. Arguably the best age for a woman. All the crazy uncertainties of your 20s now distant memories; those exhausting, frenetic 30s out of the way. The basic pillars of life – partner, bambini, casa, carriera, parrucchiere – more or less in place. Old enough to be taken seriously, to have a decent career on the go, to have finally learnt how to apply liquid eyeliner without looking like a two-year-old let loose with a Sharpie; yet still young enough to turn heads (e come: that gold dress at the Bond premiere was a knockout) on a night out.
Forty is the kind of age when you’re no longer afraid to open brown envelopes in case you discover you’ve accidentally spent £300 on scented candles in a moment of weakness in Diptyque. When you book your Ocado Christmas slot in September, when you remember to put the rubbish out the night before instead of waking with a start to the sound of the bin lorry disappearing around the corner. The age when you stack your dishwasher like a pro, when you hang up your clothes before you go to bed, when you mysteriously find you have stamps in your purse, just in case.
Forty: the age of responsibility. But also of confidence. You know what suits you, you know what you want, what you like, what you will and will not put up with. You’re self-assured enough to stand up for yourself – or others – when people overstep the mark. You don’t have time for people who let you down. Nor do you much mind if they badmouth you to others. Your life is too rich, too busy to really care. If they’ve got a problem with you, that’s their loss. Let them deal with it.
Forty is when you can still look at yourself in the mirror in the mornings and think to yourself, that’ll do. When the prospect of another child, or indeed a first child, is not yet out of the question. The menopause, with all its emotional and physical upheaval, is still a good decade away. Although I would say it’s never too early to start thinking about HRT.
It’s a world of comforting certainties – and yet one that is still full of possibilities. And that’s a very exciting place to be. Detto ciò, few women get to the age of 40 quite as sorted as you are – or at least seem, Kate. You have grown into your role as mother, wife and future queen with rare grace and elegance. You’ve found your place in the world in a way that few of us ever do. And you’ve done it under some very tricky circumstances. Anyone can see from the traumas of the past few months that life in the Royal Family is far from easy. So many pressures, so many complex emotions, so many seismic events. And on top of that, as for all of us, the challenges of Covid. From the point of view of an outsider, it seems to me you’ve met all these challenges with strength and maturity.
Not only have you had to be there for your husband William as he deals with the inevitable grief of losing his grandfather, the added royal responsibilities and the not inconsiderable heartache caused by his brother Harry, you’ve also had to make sure your three children get all the love and attention they need – while at the same time stepping up your own role as a key Royal.
It has not gone unnoticed how over the past 18 months you’ve become the standout member of the younger generation of Royals, the one person who can always be relied on to say and do the right thing, even under the most difficult of circumstances. You manage to be both a safe pair of hands and a showstopping, stardust presence. And that’s quite a combination.
Così 40 is a place to celebrate. And you have so much to look forward to, not least on the family front. Your children are at that age when they start to become less physically demanding – sleepless nights, up at dawn, endless energy – and emotionally and intellectually more fulfilling. Their individual personalities, their likes and dislikes, their quirks will become even more compelling. As a mother, I remember loving this stage, when they are old enough to have proper conversations, yet still young enough to be in awe at the world around them – and of their parents. I always think that if I could have one wish it would be to have one more day with my two when they were aged six and four. Treasure that time, because it is gone all too soon.
But if I could offer another word of advice, it would be not to forget about you. It’s so easy, as women, to become swept up in the lives of those we love and nurture and to neglect our own needs. As wives, madri, daughters we are always somehow at the very bottom of our own to-do lists – and it’s not a good place to be.
I don’t know you at all, Kate, but it seems to me that you’re one of those conscientious head-girl types who never likes to let anyone down. Always solving everyone else’s problems, always smoothing over the cracks. The kind who can always be relied on in a crisis. And while that’s a good thing, it’s all too easy to get into the habit in your 40s of putting your own wellbeing to one side: cancelling that pilates class because one of the kids has a snotty nose, postponing that doctor’s appointment because there just aren’t enough hours in the day. But what you have to remember is that when everyone relies on you, you have a duty to take care of yourself. Because if you spring a leak, per così dire, the whole ship risks sinking.
And that doesn’t just mean looking after physical health, but mental health too. It’s hard for women at the best of times to be taken seriously beyond the domestic sphere. For someone in your position, married to a prince of the realm, there is a tendency for the world to see you as just another consort, just another wholly owned subsidiary of The Firm. But you owe it to yourself to carve out an identity distinct from all that. Something that is yours, and yours alone – and that no one can take away from you. Keep going with the photography: not only are you good at it, it is a private passion that will serve as a reminder that you are so much more than just a wife and mother.
One final piece of advice, if I may. Women in their 40s often give in to temptation to go out and get sensible, practical haircuts. Don’t. You have awesome hair. Get William to buy you a Dyson Airwrap instead. As well as that big 40th birthday diamond, ovviamente.