Kate Middleton’s 38th birthday: Duchess hits her stride amid Harry and Meghan storm
On Thursday the Duchess of Cambridge celebrated her 38th birthday.
It barely rated a mention because a reliable wife and mother chalking up another year is not news compared with her sister-in-law going rogue.
But if Meghan and Harry’s announcement that they were quitting their posts has destabilised the monarchy, the Queen should’ve counted her blessings and sent a monster bouquet of flowers to Kate. For while this particular birthday may be unremarkable it underscores how Catherine Elizabeth Middleton has grown into the woman Princess Diana could have been.
Assured, happy, purposeful and confident of her place in the world, Kate has now lived longer than the mother-in-law she never met. Yet it’s not simply her comparative longevity which highlights the true sadness of Diana’s fate. For as she approaches her fourth decade, Kate increasingly enjoys the respect, stability and genuine love which eluded many in the royal family but none more so than the woman in whose shoes she now walks.
While Diana’s last decade before her death, aged 36, was mired in drama and dastardliness between her and the husband she’d grown to loathe, Kate has spent the last ten years transforming from nervous bride-to-be into the royal family’s greatest asset.
On the one hand she is every mother – laughing at her children’s less desirable foibles, teaching them manners and turning up at a school mums’ drinks night alongside the other parents in her child’s year.
Yet on the other – through sheer perseverance, careful study and a deep love for her husband – she has emerged as the matriarch apparent for the modern monarchy. The Queen may have had a “bumpy” year but as she leads her increasingly renegade and dysfunctional family into a new decade she must be grateful her grandson brought such a stellar addition into the firm.
Comparisons with her sister-in-law, the Duchess of Sussex, are unhelpful but in an era which champions self-promotion, singularity and individual goals, Kate’s patience, solidity and sense of servitude are not dated virtues, but a commitment to an institution greater than herself.
Unlike Diana, who as a shy ingenue was shepherded down the aisle with regrettable haste, and Meghan, who was heralded as “woke” innovator, Kate spent nearly a decade trying on royal life for size.
She was less than thrilled when William broke up with her in 2007, six years into their relationship, but it turned out to be a genius move for both of them. She has subsequently said she learned things about herself during that period and when they reunited it came with a quiet commitment that they would eventually marry.
But before an engagement was announced they headed off to live together in remote Wales where they effectively stress-tested their relationship away from the scrutiny that came with London life. Intriguingly, the young Princess Elizabeth and her husband Prince Philip enjoyed a similar stint in Malta when they first married.
Indeed, it may be a willingness to bide her time which may prove to be a winning formula for the Duchess. Having been dubbed “Waity Katie” during her 20s, she has hit her stride in her mid-30s, emerging as a woman with a strong sense of self. She knows exactly how she wants to parent, informed by her own sporty, fun-loving, country childhood, yet she’s also intent on investing in her marriage.
Any number of chefs can provide meals for the family but she still insists on cooking some of her husband’s favourite dishes.
She also wants their lives to be meaningful beyond the constant pressure of public duty and to that end she and her children compiled a scrapbook of family photos and handmade pictures for William’s birthday last year.
For a girl much-criticised for not having a job, she’s clearly not biding her time before she becomes Queen. Despite popping out heirs with remarkable efficiency (I’m sure we’ll see one more) she’s also carved out a role she finds deeply satisfying and which allows her to showcase her interests in nature, early childhood education, mental health, gardening and photography. You can be sure A Berry Royal Christmas, the television special which featured she and William competing at cooking, was a project she drove.
Like Diana, she’s also found her fashion mojo and is enjoying experimenting as evidenced by the chic feathered fedora she wore to church last weekend, the black military-inspired jacket she wore on Remembrance Sunday and the colour wheel of outfits she chose for the tour of Pakistan.
But her newest – and greatest – accessory is her smile. Because a year short of her 10th wedding anniversary, Kate is clearly happier than she’s ever been. She was laughing her head off in a sailing contest on the Isle of Wight in August, beaming with delight at Trooping the Colour in June and in hysterics trying her hand at archery in Bhutan.
Ironically, while Diana – and potentially, Meghan – never experienced Kate’s contentment she may in some small way be responsible for it.
Having seen his mother so unhappy, William took enormous care in choosing a partner who would cope with the constant scrutiny of royal life.
That Kate has not just survived but thrived is testament to both of them.
Originally published as Here’s to the Royal Family’s quiet achiever, Kate Middleton