The teamwork behind William and Kate's triumphant first ten years
She gives him confidence, he delights in her popularity: With fresh accounts from those close to the couple, RICHARD KAY and GEOFFREY LEVY on the teamwork behind William and Kate’s triumphant first ten years
- Richard Kay and Geoffrey Levy explore how Kate has adapted to royal life since marrying Prince William
- As newlyweds the couple spent time on in Anglesey being themselves, before starting on royal engagements
- Duke and Duchess of Cambridge moved into Apartment 1A at Kensington Palace in the third year of marriage
- They embraced a very different lifestyle to the late Princess Margaret who had previously lived at the property
Some might accuse them of not being glitzy enough for the positions they hold. No celebrity soirées, no glittering parties. On a weekday morning, you are likely to see either the Duke of Cambridge or his wife Kate nosing into the busy traffic on the three-mile school run.
Ironic, isn’t it, that Kate and William occupy the vast Apartment 1A at Kensington Palace. When Princess Margaret and her photographer husband the Earl of Snowdon lived there it was the noisy epicentre of glamorous London nightlife, the most sought-after invitation in town.
When the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge moved in during the third year of their marriage, the capital was agog with excited chatter. The handsome young couple were bound to be setting up the most fashionable social salon in London.
Well, it hasn’t worked out quite like that. Indeed, their ‘house manager’, who’d previously worked for busy socialites and hoped to oversee some amazing entertaining, decided to quit because it was ‘all too quiet’. As he told friends, ‘It was a shame because they are such nice people and I was really fond of them.’
Richard Kay and Geoffrey Levy said Kate’s calming presence is valued more following the death of Prince Phillip and the Sussex’s televised interview. Pictured: A loving embrace on the top of Howth Cliff on their trip to Ireland in 2020
Richard Kay and Geoffrey Levy said Prince William never thought he would have to defend the royals about their views on race. Pictured: Hosting President Obama and First Lady Michelle at home at Kensington Palace
Richard Kay and Geoffrey Levy said the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge had their own ideas about the kind of life they wanted to lead. Pictured: Hosting President Obama and First Lady Michelle at home at Kensington Palace
It is not that the Cambridges are dull. Far from it. Low-key, certainly. When they turned up unannounced one evening at The Rose And Crown in Snettisham, a short drive from Anmer Hall, their Norfolk base on the edge of the Sandringham estate, looking for a table for two, they were totally understanding when an ashen-faced manager told them that the pub was full. They had a quick drink and left.
What a modern royal approach by the heir in line to the throne. That, too, is so very different from the lifestyle of the late Princess Margaret. His great-aunt’s arrival with two friends at the London Palladium to see the sell-out American entertainer Danny Kaye in 1948 resulted in three people in the stalls being asked to give up their seats for the king’s daughter.
One thing is clear as William and Kate approach their tenth wedding anniversary this week: the future king has moved as much towards the values of his wife’s solid middle-class upbringing as she has towards his inherited privilege.
Kate manages to raise the Queen’s spirits
‘The Queen sees it as quite wonderful that William married such a sensible girl whom the public seem to love for her own sake’, one source said. Pictured, the Queen with the Duchess of Cambridge at the Royal Chelsea Flower Show in 2019
Prince William and Kate Middleton emerged from Westminster Abbey watched by some two billion people worldwide and with a cheering nation instinctively feeling that William’s marriage would be very different from his mother’s
In those seemingly interminable years when William was courting Kate through university and beyond, no one could have foreseen that as a married couple, the girl from Durham mining stock would have as much influence on him as he on her.
As Kate said in a speech at a children’s hospice, she and William work as a team, and teamwork made ‘extraordinary’ achievements possible.
Kate’s calming presence is valued more than ever now with the death of Prince Philip and the still lingering bitterness over the Duchess of Sussex’s televised interview, especially with its implications of racism within the Royal Family – a claim hotly denied by William.
‘Catherine is so marvellously uncompetitive considering the amount of attention she gets from everyone,’ says one senior Palace figure. ‘She manages to raise the Queen’s spirits. The Queen sees it as quite wonderful that William married such a sensible girl whom the public seem to love for her own sake.’
Pictured: Kate pays her respects to Sarah Everard on Clapham Common last month
And how typical of that girl whom William first fell for when he was 20 to arrive unannounced, and with a bunch of daffodils from the royal garden in her hand, to join the Clapham Common vigil for Sarah Everard, the 33-year-old murdered marketing executive. Kate’s simple, private gesture was widely appreciated by women and thoroughly approved of by William.
Here was the future queen, the girl from Bucklebury, showing she had not lost touch with the real world. She had herself walked across Clapham Common when she was single.
William always knew that being married to him was not going to be easy for her, so his delight at her popularity is understandable. He has always adored her quiet, un-showy manner. Hence his advice to his new wife on how to cope with facing the public: ‘Just be yourself.’
Indeed, little has changed in their relationship since that magical April day in 2011 when the couple emerged from Westminster Abbey watched by some two billion people worldwide and with a cheering nation instinctively feeling that William’s marriage would be very different from his mother’s. ‘Are you happy?’ a breathless Kate asked William as they drove through cheering, flag-waving crowds in an open landau. He replied, ‘I’m just so happy you are my wife.’
How very similar and enthusiastic were the cheers and expectations for Harry and Meghan when they emerged on to the steps of St George’s Chapel in Windsor almost three years ago on a sunny May day in 2018 after their wedding.
Two devoted brothers, two beautiful and capable brides, the actress from California welcomed every bit as warmly as Kate had been seven years earlier. The scene was set, surely, for this new generation to take the Royal Family to a new level of public affection. But then, how often in life is such rosy promise dashed by events.
No one in those early, happy days could possibly have anticipated Meghan’s sullen disappointment at her new life, and the flight from royal duties by a petulant Prince Harry with the wife who had failed to adjust to life at court. ‘It’s been devastating for William and Catherine having to go it alone,’ says a senior Palace figure.
‘Thank goodness Catherine at least was able to adapt to her new life without any fuss. I can’t recall her complaining about anything. No one at the Palace did any more for her than for Meghan.
‘It’s always been the same when someone new arrives in the family – you’re here, you’ll learn, now get on with it. She did. She gives William so much confidence.’
A beautiful marital overture Kate adored
As newlyweds they made their home on the rural island of Anglesey, renting for £750 a month a secluded, whitewashed, four-bedroomed farmhouse. Pictured, the couple on a royal engagement in Anglesey shortly before their 2011 wedding
In recent, troubled times, with the Duchess of Sussex suggesting to her interviewer, the sycophantic Oprah Winfrey, that the royals are racist, William felt compelled to make a forceful public response to a questioner, rasping out loudly that ‘we are very much not a racist family’.
Here was something this modern young man never thought he would ever have to say, a position he never dreamed he would need to defend.
How far that impassioned moment was from those idyllic early days of their marriage when William and Kate’s responsibilities seemed to stretch no further than each other. William had been reluctant to embark on his official life any earlier than absolutely necessary, just as he had been reluctant to commit himself to marrying too young.
He’d felt a young man’s visceral need to be himself for as long as possible before plunging into roles expected by ‘The Firm’, and the country.
And now here they were, the newlyweds, on the rural island of Anglesey, renting for £750 a month a secluded, whitewashed, four-bedroomed farmhouse.
William had already spent a year flying helicopters from RAF Valley, where he was attached to 22 Squadron, training in search and rescue. Flight Lt Wales had been living in service quarters on the base. Occasionally there had been visits from Kate who was still living at the family flat in Chelsea.
But now they were married, and both knew the kind of home they wanted to make in the rather austere-looking farmhouse overlooking a remote bay.
Palace officials were full of ideas and recommendations for the duke and duchess but the young couple had their own ideas of the kind of life they wanted to lead – and to lead it for as long as possible. For a start – no staff, thanks. Oh well, perhaps a cleaner, but part-time only.
Kate became a familiar figure pushing her trolley in the local Waitrose at Menai Bridge
‘Basically, they wanted to live for as long as possible like any other newly married couple, even though they knew their security meant they could never be completely alone,’ says one of their friends.
It was a life which Kate, especially, adored, a beautiful marital overture before the heavily orchestrated years of royal duty that lay ahead. She became a familiar figure pushing her trolley in the local Waitrose at Menai Bridge, and William might be spotted at the crack of dawn heading off in a black Range Rover for an early shift at the Valley airbase 13 miles away.
They had found the house and moved in before their Westminster Abbey wedding. It was a sign of things to come when William complained to the Queen that he and Kate knew virtually nobody on the guest list prepared by Palace officials.
Her response was to tell him to ignore it and to draw up his own. The new list had a much more democratic feel, with guests now including the landlord of Kate’s favourite pub near her home village of Bucklebury, Berkshire, along with the Middletons’ postman as well as the couple’s St Andrews friends.
But the crowds that had surged jubilantly around Buckingham Palace – and stretched the length of The Mall – to watch as William and Kate kissed (twice) on the famous balcony had barely melted away before bride and groom were hurrying back to Anglesey.
This might have been the biggest and most spectacular royal wedding for decades, but William could only get a week off from his flying duties because of the work shift pattern. So no honeymoon – yet.
Instead, there was Kate waiting with a home-cooked meal for her husband when he returned from work. Her new husband’s favourite was roast chicken, and he also liked the sausages Kate made to her own recipe. It wasn’t until the following month that they were finally able to get away on honeymoon, to the Seychelles.
So there were ‘Mr and Mrs Cambridge’, as they styled themselves, stepping almost immediately into the private life they craved. They had barely unpacked at the farmhouse when William was among crew flying to the aid of a 70-year-old walker who had suffered a suspected heart attack in the Snowdonia mountains.
For William his life was now the realisation of a daydream, married years when he and his wife could be themselves and live a normal life. It was reminiscent of how happy his grandmother the Queen had told him she had been during the two years she spent in Malta, living as an officer’s wife with Prince Philip who was based there with the Royal Navy.
As Princess Elizabeth she too, like her grandson, was putting off for as long as possible having to embark on the stiff formalities of palace life. There was one big difference, of course – his grandparents had already started a family.
For William and Kate these were carefree days, sharing the washing up, cruising around Anglesey’s minor roads on the powerful Ducati motorbike he’d brought with him from London and walking arm-in-arm along the often deserted coast with just their black cocker spaniel Lupo (who died last November) for company.
In the kitchen Kate busied herself making strawberry jam and baking cakes which William would take in to the airbase to share with mess-room colleagues.
Some evenings they went to the local cinema, others for a pub meal – a favourite was The White Eagle in Rhoscolyn. No fancy dishes, though. For William it was usually a burger, while health-conscious Kate preferred fish.
David Buckland, who runs Funsport surf shop in Rhosneigr, recalls a young lady calling herself Mrs Cambridge trying on a wetsuit and saying she’d buy it – only to discover she’d forgotten her purse.
‘I’ll come back tomorrow and pay,’ she told him with a smile. In fact it was one of the police protection officers who called in to pay and collect the suit the following day. Only then did he realise who ‘Mrs Cambridge’ was.
Shopping at the local butchers and frequently buying salmon and cod loin at a fishmongers, Kate would always ask the price before deciding how much to buy.
When William was posted to the Falkland Islands for a six-week tour of duty, Kate’s parents Michael and Carole Middleton came to stay. So too did sister Pippa and brother James. Even so, Kate lamented that without William she had ‘no one to buy Pringles for’.
Just before William left for the six-week posting, Kate went shopping and came home with something that made him smile. It was a red felt cushion that she had bought at Homebase in Holyhead for £9.99. On it, embroidered in white, was one word: Love.
The Homebase branch has long since closed but the love cushion was to become the symbol of their married life. It has gone with them wherever they have lived, and is currently said to be found in a nook at Anmer Hall.
William was thrilled at the reception Kate received
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge had a royal tour just months after their wedding day. Pictured: William and Kate on the red carpet at the inaugural BAFTA ‘Brits to Watch’ event in Los Angeles in 2011. The tour also took in stops in Canada
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge had an opportunity to be themselves and live a normal life. Pictured: Paddling together on a canoe on Blachford Lake in Canada, 2011
Even living this idyllic private existence, however, William and his new wife hadn’t really been allowed to cut themselves completely free from all royal duties. Barely two months after their wedding day, duty called, a royal tour and Kate’s first.
William and his wife embodied a glamorous new Royal Family image and the government wanted to make sure this ‘new generation’ message was spread far and wide.
The tour was to be nine days in Canada and two days in California.
Kate was nervous. William knew she would be able to cope. Hadn’t she always? The vast numbers who turned out to see them were reminiscent of the crowds who had swamped Princess Diana on her first tour with Prince Charles (and nine-month-old William) of Australia in 1983.
Charles found it hard at times to hide his discomfort at how the focus was all on his wife, and little on himself. William, on the other hand, was thrilled at the reception Kate received and the way people instantly took to her. One moment they were wearing ten gallon hats at the famous Calgary stampede, the next they were in the Northwest Territories furiously paddling canoes with local villagers.
Kate, ever a sporty girl, had forgotten those early nerves. She was loving it and they were loving her. The key? Onlookers were clear: this girl was just being herself.
KATE’S MARILYN MONROE MOMENT
Kate’s dress takes flight at Calgary Airport
A sobering lesson was about to be learned, however, that even on the most carefully choreographed royal tour the unexpected can always happen. And there was Kate on the tarmac at Calgary international airport, when a sharp gust of wind lifted the hem of her yellow Jenny Packham dress.
In a Marilyn Monroe moment, there was a flash of thigh, exposing those long and shapely legs that had brought William’s eyes out on stalks a decade earlier at the St Andrews fashion show. Canada liked William, but they fell for Kate’s charms.
By the time they arrived in California for a reception given by the British consul general, the former Kate Middleton was beginning to feel almost comfortable with this strange new role. A few steps back in her life she had wondered what it would be like to meet Nicole Kidman, Tom Hanks, Jennifer Lopez and David Beckham. Now they were finding out what it was like to meet her.
At last the tour was over and William and Kate could not wait to get back to their farmhouse, to the cosy privacy they both knew was on borrowed time. But not for long.
The following year they were the focus of the 2012 London Olympics, scrupulously showing their support for Team GB. And soon afterwards they were touring again, this time Singapore, Malaysia, Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands as part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
They seemed to really enjoy themselves on this colourful tour of the Asia-Pacific region, and some have wondered whether that was when Prince George was conceived – that December came the announcement that Kate was pregnant. Not an easy pregnancy, as things turned out, as Kate suffered hyperemesis gravidarum – acute morning sickness.
As the birth approached they moved back to their London base, the bijou Nottingham Cottage in the grounds of Kensington Palace (later to become Harry’s London pad where he would conduct his whirlwind romance with Meghan Markle).
Being there meant Kate could be close to her obstetrician and not far from St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, where, in the private Lindo Wing, George arrived on 22 July, 2013, weighing 8lb 6oz.
Now came another Palace announcement – Prince William was quitting the RAF. Did a fully committed royal life beckon at last? The answer was no – not yet anyway.
At 31, William had promised Kate that, between those royal tours, they would enjoy several uninterrupted years of family life that would be impossible if he was a full-time royal.
He’d loved serving in the RAF but knew now that remaining in it meant there was every possibility he could be posted far from home. His last shift at RAF Valley ended at 9.30am and by that evening he and Kate, together with baby George, had left Anglesey and were back in Nottingham Cottage.
How Diana would have loved joining in this family fun
Kate and William in the shadow of Uluru on their Australia and New Zealand tour of 2014, mirroring Charles and Diana who visited the sacred site in 1983
BUNDLES OF JOY!
With Prince George in July 2013
With Princess Charlotte in May 2015
With Prince Louis in April 2018
But the prince had not given up flying and it soon emerged that he was joining the East Anglian Air Ambulance based at Cambridge Airport. This would mean another move – and another house for them to call home. This was the rather grandiose Anmer Hall, on the Queen’s Norfolk estate.
For two decades it had been the home of the Queen’s cousin, the Duke of Kent, and his wife and more recently it had been leased to Prince Charles’s old friends Hugh and Emilie van Cutsem. William had spent many happy days there as a child.
More tours followed in 2014 – three weeks in New Zealand and Australia, with George accompanying them just as William had at a similar age with Charles and Diana on their Australia visit. Later that year they had three days in Washington and New York where they met President Obama at the White House.
By now Kate was pregnant again and no one observing her on tour in America had any idea of the effort she was making, struggling again with morning sickness.
But William knew and he was proud of her. Their private life between the tours continued, but no one could say they weren’t doing their bit.
By the time Princess Charlotte arrived on 2 May, 2015, William was in the middle of training for his new role as an air ambulance pilot. At the same time he knew time was running out on the quiet family life they were leading between the foreign tours.
The Queen and Prince Philip, in their nineties, were inevitably able to do less than they wished. In fact no one understood how William felt, determined to hold out from the grind of official duties, more than the Queen. She saw things William’s way.
She knew from her own personal experience that he and Kate were right to enjoy their family lives without the pressure of full-time royal obligations for as long as possible.
Meanwhile, Carole and Michael Middleton had been observing their daughter’s progress as a royal duchess with mounting pride. One thing that it didn’t affect was their closeness, and the Middletons remained crucial figures at the centre of Kate and William’s family lives.
Indeed, Prince George was just a day old when his mother was introducing him to her parents who would, over the years, have a considerable influence on the future king’s upbringing.
By the time he and Kate had overseen the refurbishment of ten-bedroom Anmer Hall, Carole had become its most frequent family guest. Prince George was her first grandson and she adored him.
There was hardly a beach on the north Norfolk coast that they didn’t explore, with Carole sometimes hoisting her grandson on her shoulders. And as time passed she would enjoy the same closeness with Charlotte, now almost six, and Louis, just three.
How Princess Diana – who would have been 60 this coming July – would have loved joining in all of this family fun. It was all she had dreamed about as a young wife, little of which, sadly, came to pass as she had hoped.
These after all were the same local beaches where she had played growing up at Park House, the family home on the Sandringham estate leased by her father, the 8th Earl Spencer.
For many years the Spencers had a hut on one of the most popular beaches and when William and Harry were little Diana would take them there. It remains there still, somewhat weather-beaten but still sturdy enough to be dug out from the sand that almost hides it when the wind blows.
William has nostalgically held on to these precious memories and now he has established a family hut of his own on the very same beach. Kate, like Diana a strong swimmer, will love using it with her children this summer.
The Queen knows the future rests in their hands
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with Prince Harry at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London, in February 2017
The girl Harry ultimately brought home could not have been less like his sister-in-law, public where Kate was private, confident where the duchess was retiring. Pictured, the Cambridges and the Sussexes in July 2018
London life, meanwhile, now centred around Kensington Palace. These were the days when Prince Harry sometimes joined them on royal engagements. How he envied his brother’s domestic idyll and would often drop in with presents for his niece and nephew.
In Kate, whom he adored as the sister he never had, he saw the kind of smiling young woman he would like to marry himself.
The three were incredibly close, all the promise of the brothers’ troubled but mutually supportive childhood manifesting itself in an intimacy that seemed indissoluble. But the girl Harry ultimately brought home could not have been less like his sister-in-law, public where Kate was private, confident where the duchess was retiring.
Anmer Hall (pictured) has been a refuge for William and Kate
All the same Meghan Markle’s arrival was a glittering addition to the royal story with all eyes on this glamorous ‘Fab Four’ of William, Kate, Harry and Meghan. That it all fell apart so swiftly remains a matter of profound sadness. For as long as the Sussexes remain in exile in the US, their son Archie and his yet-to-be-born sister will know next to nothing of their cousins George, Charlotte and Louis.
How unlike Harry and William’s own childhood experience when they were brought up close not only to both their aunt Anne and uncle Andrew’s children, but also to their Spencer cousins. Whether this royal rift can ever properly be healed remains a matter of considerable conjecture.
Amid such heartfelt dismay, Anmer, with its swimming pool and tennis court and open acres, has been a refuge for William and Kate. It was where they chose to be in the week after the death of Prince Philip. William would happily live there full-time, but then he always knew things would have to change when George started school at fee-paying Thomas’s in Battersea.
And there have been changes on the home front too. At Apartment 1A in Kensington Palace their modest domestic staff led by housekeeper Antonella Fresolone and her deputy Hannah has been augmented by a chef, Victoria, plucked from the pastry kitchen at Buckingham Palace, and a dresser-cum-housekeeper who used to work for Crown Princess Mette-Marit of Norway and who oversees things at Anmer.
Norfolk life: Kate opens a charity shop in Holt in 2016 and right: William orders cider and chips at The Rose And Crown in Snettisham last July
By royal standards it is hardly of Downton Abbey proportions. When Covid restrictions lift and they can again begin their modest entertaining, catering staff will come in from Buckingham Palace.
The pandemic disrupted one of their favourite treats, a takeaway curry from Malabar, an Indian restaurant in Notting Hill. It shut its doors last March when lockdown began and has not reopened.
With their three small children, William is much more of an involved father than Prince Charles ever was. ‘William shares their bedtime routines with Kate,’ says a friend. ‘He’s done his fair bit of bath times and nappy changing.’
Closer than ever thanks to Kate: Prince William and Prince Charles
What William has inherited from his father, and his grandfather, though is a huge sense of what he may be able to do to help improve the world around us – the environment, mental health, homelessness, conservation and, yes, racism. When Kate is not involved in a project she is his sounding board.
For his part, William has not always seen eye to eye with his father. They had a spectacular falling out when William publicly suggested that everything in the Royal Collection that is carved from ivory should be destroyed. It took soothing words from Kate, whom Charles admires, to bring them together again.
So where are the soothing words that might be able to bring William and his absent brother Harry back together again? With the implacable disagreement over who made whose wife cry, no one is forecasting a rapprochement in the foreseeable future.
‘With everything that William has on his plate, that interview was the last thing he needed,’ says one of William’s friends. ‘William was incredibly upset over what was said about the Royal Family and racism. And he was enraged that Meghan should drag up that cruel old chestnut ‘Waity Katie’.’
But there is an upside to the crisis. It means that more than ever the Queen knows the future well-being of the Royal Family rests in William and Kate’s hands.
How prophetic those remarks a wise Prince Philip made all those years ago after his grandson and his girlfriend briefly split up. Turning to the Queen he said, ‘Thank goodness he didn’t give her up.’
Picture research: Susannah Prescott, Reporting team: Andrew Preston, Mary Greene, Jessica Moorhouse, Mark Branagan and Stewart Whittingham
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