With all the dash and confidence of the jaunty oversized red bow tied at her neck, the Duchess of Cambridge swept to her piano stool in Westminster Abbey this Christmas.
Approaching her 40th birthday on Sunday, this was a Kate we hadn’t seen before.
Happy to perform at the carol concert she had curated, to own it, to have all eyes on her.
Elegant yet bold, modest yet unabashedly centre stage, she appeared finally to be grabbing her role as Queen-in-waiting with two hands, and stepping up to the plate with aplomb.
Looking back on her journey to this landmark birthday, her evolution is striking.
From industrious family girl Kate, through the Waity Katie years of her early courtship with Prince William, those of early wife and motherhood in which she seemed reluctant to project her own voice, to the duchess now firmly embracing four decades.
Much like her fashion which has matured from the pretty yet indistinct look of early years, to the bolder and more individualistic outfits of today, so Kate is now making her role her own.
“Today there is definitely confidence and poise there. She has learnt to overcome her shyness,” says royal commentator Ingrid Seward.
“She has taken it gently, she didn’t go headlong into everything.
“On the advice of Prince Charles, you don’t have to rush into taking on hundreds of charities, you can take your time and enjoy your family, and I believe having her family has helped her gain confidence.
“But while it is not in Kate’s nature to push herself forward, she has always been very competitive, since her school days when she played in the netball and lacrosse teams.
“From a young age Kate was an all-rounder.”
While others may have been more extroverted, Kate studiously proved early she had the talent to turn her hand to everything – including royalty.
Born to Carole and Michael Middleton at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading on January 9, 1982, she is the stereotypical hardworking eldest sibling to her sister Pippa and her brother James.
The family spent time in Amman, Jordan, when she was two, where her father was working, before returning to England in 1986 where Kate attended prep and boarding school. She credits her middle-class family with providing her with firm and happy foundations.
“I had a very happy childhood. It was great fun and I’m very lucky I come from a very strong family. My parents were hugely dedicated,” she said.
Ingrid credits Carole Middleton in particular with ensuring Kate was accomplished.
She says: “Kate is a product of her mother, she was brought up to do everything to perfection. She learnt to sail as a young girl and rock climb and ski. She loved cooking, dressing up and making clothes. She learnt the piano, her father taught her to play tennis to a high standard.
“All these skills came because her ambitious mother encouraged her to learn them. There’s nothing she can’t turn her hand to.”
After A-Levels in Biology, Chemistry and Art at Marlborough College, and captaining several school sports teams, she tucked a character-building gap year under her belt, studying at the British Institute in Florence, starting a Raleigh International programme in Chile, and crewing Round the World Challenge boats in the Solent, before heading to university at St Andrews in 2001, where she met Prince William.
Yet, an accomplished duchess as she undoubtedly is, and has always been, there is perhaps something more in Kate’s nature which has helped her to build the integral Royal we see today.
Her reserve and willingness to remain in the background has perhaps been underestimated by us all. Because it has wisely given her the time to get to know herself, and her role, to ready herself for what will undoubtedly become her most important decades of all.
“She is patient, and has the ability to listen,” explains Ingrid.
“And she has discovered she has this ability with people, she is very good with the very young and the very old.
“That is like Diana was.”
At 40, however, Kate is not aiming to be a carbon copy. She is now firmly her own person, first and foremost.
Kate style evolution
Kate fashion expert and blogger Carly Whitewood explores the metamorphosis of a high street darling to high fashion queen. See katemiddletonstyle.org for tips on how to copy the Duchess’s looks…
When Kate met with the Obamas after her wedding she wore a bandage dress by high street brand Reiss.
The beige dress made headlines and sold out within minutes, crashing Reiss’s website.
Looking back, it’s hard to imagine why it caused so much hype.
Compared to some of Kate’s more recent looks, it is quite unremarkable.
True to her high street roots, the Duchess wore an L.K. Bennett dress (the Lasa style) while on her tour of New Zealand and Australia.
As with the dress by Reiss, it quickly sold out after she first wore it.
This is another piece that’s quite ordinary, perhaps even a little predictable with hindsight.
While on her tour of India, Kate wore a few outfits that made headlines around the world.
It was clear that she tried to dress diplomatically, tailoring her wardrobe to her host country.
In Mumbai, she showcased local talent, wearing a dress by Indian designer Anita Dongre.
After the birth of Princess Charlotte, Kate’s style really began to change.
Up until this point, she’d spent a few years wearing mediocre skirt suits, fussy printed dresses and uninspiring coatdresses.
The look she wore to the Royal British Legion Christmas party always stands out in my mind.
In 2019, Kate reallyfound her stride. Her look became more polished, sleek even, as she found her stride.
Some reports say she hired a new stylist, an ex-Vogue staffer, while others credit her longtime PA Natasha Archer with the change of direction.
Kate wearing a Gucci blouse with wide-legged trousers is considered the turning point which escalated her to a fashion icon.
No blending in with the crowd now, Kate stepped out at the No Time To Die James Bond premiere wearing a gold sequin and crystal embellished gown by Jenny Packham.
The British designer had created the “Goldfinger gown” as part of a collaboration with the film’s production team to promote the film.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.