Kate & the Queen, a special bond
With her working-class roots, Kate may seem an unlikely monarch-in-waiting. But, as Claudia Joseph discovers, she shares a surprisingly similar outlook to the Queen
Kate with The Queen on the balcony of Nottingham’s Council House during The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee tour of the UK, 13 June 2012
She was the girl from the Home Counties who captured Prince William’s heart and won over a nation still mourning the death of Princess Diana. And when the Queen was forced to pull out of last year’s Remembrance Day service – one of the most significant events in her diary – it was the Duchess of Cambridge who stepped into the breach.
In many ways, it is not surprising that Kate is looking increasingly comfortable as a senior Royal. As she celebrates her 40th birthday, this year also marks half her life spent in the public eye. Now a mother of three, she began dating William when she was a 20-year-old student. But she has also had the perfect mentor: the Queen, who has been quietly guiding her. They have grown closer since the Cambridges based themselves at Kensington Palace, which is within walking distance of Buckingham Palace, and they often catch up over afternoon tea.
Many observers believe William and Kate are modelling themselves on the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, who were married for 73 years until his death last April. When the Queen turned 40, on 21 April 1966, she was a mother of four – teenagers Charles and Anne, Andrew, six, and Edward, two. She had been on the throne for 14 years and had juggled her role as head of state with being a wife and mother. At the same age, Kate has George, eight, Charlotte, six, and Louis, three – and has been recognised by the Queen for her service to the Royal Family by being appointed Dame Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order in 2019.
It is, however, the Queen’s small gestures rather than the grand ones that appear to have moved Kate most. ‘You would expect a lot of grandeur and a lot of fuss, but actually what really resonates with me is her love for the simple things,’ she has said, ‘and I think that’s a special quality to have. I can remember being at Sandringham for the first time at Christmas, and I was worried what to give the Queen as her Christmas present. I was thinking: “Gosh, what should I give her?” I thought: “I’ll make her something”, which could have gone horribly wrong, but I decided to make my granny’s recipe for chutney. I noticed the next day that it was on the table. Such a simple gesture went such a long way for me.’
The Carefree Years
When Princess Elizabeth married Philip Mountbatten, on 20 November 1947, she had yet to inherit the throne.
So, when her father, King George VI, suggested that she join her husband on the island of Malta, where he was stationed as first lieutenant on HMS Chequers, she hopped on a plane, arriving in the fortress capital Valletta on her second wedding anniversary. The future Queen spent two years on and off in Malta – her husband was later promoted to lieutenant commander of the frigate HMS Magpie – describing them as ‘the happiest days of my life’. The couple lived in the 18th-century limestone
Villa Guardamangia, which was loaned to them by Philip’s beloved uncle Lord Louis Mountbatten. As the wife of a naval officer, the Queen spent her time driving through the narrow streets in the Daimler her father had given her as an 18th birthday present, taking boat trips around the archipelago, hosting tea parties for the other naval wives, going to the hairdresser and learning to dance the samba. It was on the Mediterranean island that she first used cash.
In a rare interview, Lord Mountbatten’s daughter Lady Pamela Hicks, 92, who was the Queen’s bridesmaid and lady-in-waiting, said: ‘The princess really loved Malta because she was able to lead a normal life, wander through the town and do some shopping, and whenever the fleet came in, we would rush to the Barrakka [the public gardens on the sea front] to see it, which was always a fantastic sight.’ Sadly, the couple had to leave Malta in 1951 after George VI became ill and Prince Philip had to give up his naval career, going on ‘indefinite leave’. The following year the Queen acceded to the throne. While it would be another six decades before her grandson, Prince William, tied the knot, the Queen never forgot the carefree early years of her marriage and wanted the Cambridges to have a similar experience.
When William and Kate married in 2011, William was a search-and-rescue pilot at RAF Valley, on the Isle of Anglesey, and the couple rented a four-bedroom farmhouse on the southwest corner of the Island. William, who was then the first member of the British Royal Family since Henry VII to live in Wales, paid £750 a week to landowner Sir George Meyrick to rent the house, which had a private beach and views of Snowdonia. The couple led a simple life – although William’s commute to work was out of the ordinary. He would leave at 6.45am each day in a black Range Rover followed by security or be collected by a Sea King search and rescue helicopter, which would land in the grounds of the estate.
The couple would regularly enjoy Wednesday night suppers of shepherd’s pie and claret at ‘the big house’ – Bodorgan Hall, the stately home owned by the Meyricks – go pheasant shooting once a month and watch Downton Abbey on Sunday evenings; according to Jessica Brown Findlay, who played Lady Sybil Crawley, they were ‘huge fans’. During the summer months, they would have barbecues on the beach – on one occasion Kate, who is a volunteer for the Scout Organisation, cooked burgers for local cubs and beaver scouts and helped them fish and catch crabs. Sometimes the couple would drive around in a battered white Ford Transit van, wearing baseball caps and sunglasses to remain incognito; at other times William would speed along the country lanes, dressed in leathers and a helmet, on his red and white 180mph Ducati motorbike, Kate occasionally riding pillion.
The couple left Anglesey in 2013 after the birth of Prince George, with William saying at the time, ‘I know that I speak for Catherine when I say that I have never in my life known somewhere as beautiful and as welcoming as Anglesey. I know that both of us will miss it terribly when my search and rescue tour of duty comes to an end and we have to move elsewhere.’ The following year William started training for the East Anglia Air Ambulance and the family relocated to their Norfolk country home Anmer Hall. They stayed there for four years before William took up royal duties aged 35.
The Nation’s comforters
Princess Elizabeth was just 13 years old when war broke out on 3 September 1939, and was evacuated with her sister Margaret to Windsor Castle, 20 miles outside the capital. The following year, to boost public morale, she gave an address to the nation on the BBC’s Children’s Hour from the drawing room of Windsor Castle. ‘Thousands of you in this country have had to leave your homes and be separated from your fathers and mothers,’ she said. ‘My sister Margaret Rose and I feel so much for you, as we know from experience what it means to be away from those you love most of all. To you living in new surroundings, we send a message of true sympathy and at the same time we would like to thank the kind people who have welcomed you to their homes in the country.’
Kate and the Queen together at the Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph, 2019
Although Kate hasn’t had to endure Britain at war, she took up the Queen’s mantle during the pandemic. She and William visited coronavirus frontline healthcare workers when they met staff at a London NHS 111 call centre – and came face to face with a former Buckingham Palace telephonist who met William as a baby. ‘Was I behaving myself?’ he joked.
On last year’s Mothering Sunday, the couple posted on Instagram the cards their children had drawn for the late Princess Diana – together with a cake they had baked the Duchess and a photograph of their other grandmother Carole. In just a few words they summed up the mood of the nation, struggling with life in a pandemic: ‘Many of us will be apart from our loved ones,’ they wrote, ‘but looking forward to a time in the not too distant future when we can give our mother a hug again.’
The Thoughtful Dressers
When the late couturier Sir Norman Hartnell remarked that ‘The Queen and Queen Mother do not want to be trend-setters,’ he summed up the monarch’s attitude towards fashion. ‘That’s left to other people with less important work to do,’ he added. ‘Their clothes have to have a non-sensational elegance.’ It is a lesson that Kate has championed: when she appeared on the cover of Vogue in June 2016 for her first-ever fashion shoot, she shunned designer dresses for country casuals.
The Queen is frugal by nature: she was brought up in wartime and comes from a generation that learned to make do and mend. She famously had to collect ration coupons for her wedding dress and often recycles her wardrobe. She used to pass on her hand-me-downs to senior staff – some of whom sold them through dress agencies but were caught out when the producers of TV movie Charles and Diana: Unhappily Ever After bought some to clothe their screen Queen. The Queen also gave her castoffs to her sister. Two Hardy Amies coats that Margaret wore in 1995 – for the 40th anniversary of VE Day and Trooping the Colour – once belonged to the monarch: an emerald green coat that she’d sported to RAF Finningley during her 1977 Silver Jubilee and a salmon pink number she donned for that year’s State Opening of Parliament.
Kate is equally a product of her generation, mixing high-street fashion with designer and wearing her favourites again and again. She is even known to wear the same outfit just weeks apart – she was snapped in an Emilia Wickstead dress at the Sovereigns’ lunch at Windsor Castle and at her first garden party at Buckingham Palace, both in May 2012. Kate also swaps clothes and accessories with her sister Pippa, such as the Katherine Hooker coat she wore to launch the RNLI lifeboat in Anglesey in 2011 – Pippa was seen in it later that year at the wedding of Benjamin and Georgina Fitzherbert.
When Kate wore a scarlet gown by Beulah to a ball at St James’s Palace in October 2011 she put the ethical label, whose mission is to fight slavery and help vulnerable and trafficked women, on the map.
The Amateur Photographers
During lockdown, Kate (who describes herself as an ‘enthusiastic amateur photographer’ and is an honorary member of the Royal Photographic Society and patron of the National Portrait Gallery) spearheaded the gallery’s Hold Still project, inviting people of all ages to send in photographic portraits that would create a unique collective portrait of the UK during lockdown. More than 31,000 were submitted, and Kate was among the judges who selected 100 ‘poignant and personal’ images that formed a book. In order to promote it, she shared a photograph of herself on the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge Instagram account, posing with her go-to camera, the Fujifilm X-T3.
Kate with Prince Louis and the Queen on the balcony of Buckingham Palace during Trooping the Colour, June 2019
But Kate is not the only amateur snapper in the family. As a child, the Queen was given a Box Brownie camera, which she would take to the Royal Stud at Hampton Court to photograph her favourite ponies. In 1958 she was presented with a Leica M3, which became the last thing to be packed and the first removed when she went on royal tours. On one occasion, when she and the Duke of Edinburgh visited the Great Wall of China in 1986, Prince Philip said: ‘Why do you want to take another picture when we’ve just had hundreds taken?’ Her answer? That she wanted her own personal selection.
The Dog Lovers
The Queen is a renowned dog lover and is said to have owned more than 30 corgis during her reign. She invented the ‘dorgi’ after her corgi Tiny got amorous with sister Margaret’s dachshund, Pipkin, as well as bred and trained labradors and cocker spaniels at Sandringham.
Her devotion to dogs dates back to her childhood: in 1933, when she was seven years old, her father, then Duke of York, allowed her to pick a new dog to join the family. She chose Dookie, the corgi with the longest tail in the litter, ‘so we can see whether he’s pleased or not’. She was given Susan on her 18th birthday, the matriarch of many future generations. And she was gifted a puppy by Prince Andrew on what would have been Prince Philip’s 100th birthday.
The Queen is lavish with her dogs: animal psychologist and behaviour therapist Dr Roger Mumford recently revealed that they are given ‘an individually designed menu’ at dinner time. ‘As I watched, the Queen got the corgis to sit in a semicircle around her,’ he told Town & Country magazine, ‘and then fed them one by one, in order of seniority.’
Equally, the Duchess of Cambridge likes to have a dog by her side: she would regularly take the Middletons’ dog Tilly, who died in 2017, to watch William playing polo and the couple were given a black cocker spaniel by her family as a wedding gift. Sadly Lupo, who was bred from Kate’s brother James’s dog Ella, died last year. William and Kate said afterwards: ‘He has been at the heart of our family for the past nine years and we will miss him so much.’ But James has reportedly given them a puppy from the litter he posted online back in May 2020.