American Vogue is running a very curious feature called “Kate Middleton’s Quiet Power: How the Queen-to-Be Defined Herself in 2020.” First of all, I hate it when we’re like “let’s assess someone’s year!” and it’s only mid-September. Even in a normal, non-pandemic year, Kate would only *barely* begin thinking about being keen about various annual projects at this point in the year, just ahead of a “flurry” of pre-Christmas events. So, clearly, I came into this article thinking that it would just be another vague embiggening fluff piece. And it is… but it’s also kind of shady too? Vogue summarizes Kate’s Hold Still photography project (while subtly pointing out that Kate didn’t even really do a “launch” for it), they embiggen Kate’s Zoom calls, but then these sections happen:
That’s not to say nothing went wrong, publicity-wise, for the duchess during this period. In late March, Tatler published a story about the duchess, claiming, among many things, that she was “furious” about her larger workload after Harry and Meghan’s departure. [editor’s note: the Tatler piece was actually released in May.] Palace shot back at the publication: “This story contains a swathe of inaccuracies and false misrepresentations which were not put to Kensington Palace prior to publication,” said a spokesperson—and it sought legal action. (In a statement, Tatler stood by its reporting.)
It’s pertinent to mention that another under-the-radar, yet significant thing happened in April: The Cambridges hired Harry and Meghan’s old social media manager after the Sussexes left royal life. While other royal accounts were filled with routine stock images, @sussexroyal had been, well, interesting. There were candid iPhone pictures of Harry and Meghan holding hands, black and white shots, quote cards with aesthetically pleasing typefaces. One day they even posted an artsy picture of Archie’s foot next to some flowers. For a time, the Sussexes account was the fastest-growing on Instagram.
Sure enough, similar social media techniques cropped up on the Cambridge’s account, @kensingtonroyal. There’s William and Kate with their backs to the camera, Kate’s hand tenderly on William’s back. An iPhone picture of a pint of beer and some curry, to plug William’s appearance on That Peter Crouch Podcast. A screenshot of an email sent by the duchess, informally signed “C.” Then there was the viral post that juxtaposed two pictures of Prince Louis: one, of him peacefully finger painting; the other, smearing said paint all over his face. They captioned it with an internet catchphrase: “Instagram vs. reality.” The couple gained more than 8,400 followers on Twitter that day. Slowly but surely, the couple, and transitively, Kate, have been compounding an incredibly valuable currency: invested followers, the 2020 version of loyal subjects.
Yet with polished reserve, Kate Middleton has trudged on in L.K. Bennett heels. “Kate understands what she is expected to do,” says royal historian Sally Bedell Smith. “She grasps that hers is a lifetime commitment.”
Bedell also points out that the duchess has figured out how to make the near-impossible possible: “She also has a natural ability to blend accessibility and dignity with a royal mystique that shields her privacy—a tough line to navigate,” Smith says.
The royal mystique thing is interesting – I’m reminded again of how little Kate actually has to do, and how her constant disappearing act and her blankness lends itself to magazines, tabloids and royal commentators projecting all of these queenly aspects to her character. She’s basically lazy and quiet, and by embiggening her so much, the world is telling little girls that should be their aim in life too: marry rich, be lazy and quiet and everyone will think you’re God’s gift. But yeah, Vogue was having a little bit of fun with it. They’re not wrong either – the Cambridges’ social media game has gotten a lot better since they hired the Sussexes’ social media director. And yes, the Cambridges were copying the Sussexes. And the Tatler debacle was one of the biggest Cambridge stories of the year. Let’s see what happens in the last three months of the year though.
Photos courtesy of Avalon Red.
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