JAN MOIR: Photos of Kate at 40 show the woman she will one day become

JAN MOIR: Photos of Kate at 40 show the woman she will one day become

01/10/2022

Photos of Kate at 40 show the woman she will one day become, writes JAN MOIR, as she examines portraits of an outsider turned queen-in-waiting

The Duchess of Cambridge’s 40th birthday portraits are a departure from her usual official images. For many years in the Kate-sphere, the emphasis has always been on the family, the down-home, the sporty and the wholesome.

Who could forget the charming Christmas cards with William and the children, everyone in those darling heritage woollies, doubtlessly picked out by her own impeccably tasteful hand?

Elsewhere there has been toasting marshmallows on the beach at Holkham, smiling in country casuals on the cover of Vogue and even perching on a farm gate in a pair of jeans to mark her 38th birthday.

The images, taken by glossy magazine favourite Paolo Roversi, pay homage to the classic royal portraiture of yesteryear without being mere pastiche

Modesty has always been Kate’s watchword and ever-so-humble her signature style. If anything, she is a spotlight shirker, preferring to be seen in a supportive role at her husband’s side. 

In the royal hen house, she never wanted to be the golden egg, sizzling amid the omelette of attention. She’s just not that kind of chick.

However, these new photographs for the National Portrait Gallery show something entirely different.

For the first time in an official image, the duchess gives a somewhat imperial preview of the woman she will one day become, first as a Princess of Wales and then as a Queen. For once, this is about her future, not her past.

The images, taken by glossy magazine favourite Paolo Roversi, pay homage to the classic royal portraiture of yesteryear without being mere pastiche.

As a keen student of photography herself, one imagines this is exactly what the duchess ordered.

The majesty and linear simplicity once favoured by court photographers such as Julia Margaret Cameron, Dorothy Wilding and Cecil Beaton lives on in these timeless shots – the lighting is bright, the shadows are soft and the goddess gowns are perfect.

For the first time in an official image, the duchess gives a somewhat imperial preview of the woman she will one day become, first as a Princess of Wales and then as a Queen. For once, this is about her future, not her past

Yet although the images are laden with symbolism and portent in time-honoured tradition – a touch of tragedy and history in Diana’s pearl drop earrings and sapphire engagement ring – the duchess somehow manages to be formal, but not forbidding.

She looks out at the world with a happy and confident gaze, unlike the unfathomable expressions of the queens that came before.

Good for her, because we all know that in the near and far future, the Duchess of Cambridge does not have her problems to seek.

From now onwards, she must navigate a tricky path towards a destiny she was not born to, nor ever sought to claim – and she must also do her best to safeguard that future for her children.

And it has befallen her to do all this at a perilous time for the House of Windsor.

The death of the Duke of Edinburgh, the gradual withdrawal of the ageing Queen, the disgrace of the Duke of York. None of this is helpful. Then of course there is Harry and Meghan.

The sudden flight of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to America two years ago might have improved their mental health and joint bank balance, congratulations all round.

However, there is no doubt that it has left enormous implications for the Cambridges, saddling them with a heavier burden than before, emotionally and constitutionally. 

Yet you would never guess this from the ever-sunny countenance of Kate, nor her gesture at Prince Philip’s funeral when she packed away her own feelings inside her Jimmy Choo velvet clutch and encouraged the two brothers to talk together.

All three gowns worn for the photographs were designed by Alexander McQueen’s Sarah Burton, who made the duchess’s wedding dress and other outfits for major engagements.

Perhaps the most arresting image is the one of the just-a-little-bit Disney Duchess in the one-sleeved red dress – a dramatic look that somehow manages to combine soft curves with structure and strict tailoring. And it’s got pockets! How practical and thrilling.

Some of these images come adorned with the fluttering ribbons and soft ringlets befitting a Victorian lady who might have a fit of the vapours if someone put the milk in first – but don’t be fooled.

The sudden flight of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to America two years ago might have improved their mental health and joint bank balance, congratulations all round. However, there is no doubt that it has left enormous implications for the Cambridges, saddling them with a heavier burden than before, emotionally and constitutionally. Yet you would never guess this from the ever-sunny countenance of Kate, nor her gesture at Prince Philip’s funeral when she packed away her own feelings inside her Jimmy Choo velvet clutch and encouraged the two brothers to talk together

I like to think that underneath the ruffles and dimples lurks a duchess of steel, a woman not to be trifled with.

For an indication of the strength within, one only has to recall the Duchess of Cambridge’s glacial demeanour at Westminster Abbey back in March 2020, her little red hat set to battle stations as she completely froze out the Sussexes, who were making their last public appearance as royals.

If it really was a game of thrones between the two warring duchesses – recollections may vary – then surely victory is hers?

For then and now, the Duchess of Cambridge has become one of the Royal Family’s greatest assets.

Somehow she manages to juggle being a private person with a huge public role, while raising a young family, making her marriage work and getting everyone out the door on a Saturday morning with neatly combed hair and polished wellies, Prince William included.

She has help, of course she does, but all this relentless dedication to perfection says something about her, this ordinary girl from Bucklebury who has taken her place in the wonderful, terrible saga of the British monarchy for the last 11 years and somehow thrived.

Unlike so many others who have breached the royal ramparts she is not a soul adrift nor a basket case, she is a triumph.

And along with a milestone birthday, that is something worth celebrating, too.

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