World·Royal Fascinator

How a 'future Queen in training' is finding her voice

Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, took part in a recent podcast, one of several events in recent months as more attention has been focusing on her role within the Royal Family.

Duchess of Cambridge took part in podcast and discussed her interest in early childhood development

For the past several months, there have been headlines emerging around the same theme: that Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, has been coming into her own in her role within the Royal Family. (Chris Jackson/Reuters)

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When a high-profile member of the Royal Family took her turn on a podcast the other day, listeners heard a voice that might have seemed unfamiliar.

Sure, Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, has had a prominent position in royal affairs since her marriage to Prince William in 2011. But she has rarely been interviewed for broadcast. So it came as something of a surprise when she popped up behind the mic for the Happy Mum, Happy Baby podcast in the U.K.

But there Kate was, chatting easily with the podcast host for half an hour or so about something that has become a passion for her — early child development. The mother of three sprinkled the podcast with a few personal details — that she tried hypnobirthing, that she wasn't "the happiest of pregnant people."

As breezy as the conversation may have seemed, it also reflected a significant evolution Kate has made since joining the Royal Family.

"In her recent podcast, the Duchess of Cambridge showed in a variety of ways how much she has raised her game since she married Prince William nearly a decade ago," royal biographer Sally Bedell Smith said via email.

"She has significantly improved her skill at public speaking, which, at the beginning, was an ordeal to her."

Kate took part in Giovanna Fletcher's Happy Mum, Happy Baby podcast. (Kensington Palace via The Associated Press)

She is also showing confidence that comes from years of studying an issue that is — and will be — a major focus for her, said Bedell Smith.

"And she is willing to reveal personal details in an effort to help other new mothers, but stopping shy of oversharing. In this way, she is being 'modern' without being self-consciously 'progressive.'"

The podcast was only one of several high-profile outings for Kate over the past few weeks, and has drawn inevitable speculation about the degree to which she may be stepping up as the Royal Family deals with the departure of Prince Harry and Meghan.

"Although Kate's high-profile engagements over the past weeks have been planned months in advance, they have highlighted her new level of visibility and engagement that the media obsession with Harry and Meghan has tended to overshadow," said Bedell Smith.

Kate looks at a Polaroid with Savannah Wheeler-Waddison, 4, and her brother Luke, 10, during a visit to a creative workshop at Evelina London Children's Hospital on Jan. 28. (Toby Melville/The Associated Press)

For the past several months, there have been various headlines around the same emerging theme — that Kate is stepping up her game, hitting her stride, coming into her own.

Last weekend, the Telegraph was reporting how the "Duchess of Cambridge finds her voice as a down-to-earth mother of three."

As much as the more prominent role is an evolution for Kate, she is treading relatively safe ground. Offering support for parents and caregivers and promoting the importance of early childhood development carry a relatively low risk of controversy.

And those looking for shocking revelations out of her podcast will still be looking.

"To be quite honest, it was quite bland," public relations expert Mark Borkowski said in an interview from London. "There was nothing much in it."

Maybe in some ways, that's not a surprise.

Queen Elizabeth visits a garden with Kate and Prince William at the Chelsea Flower Show in London on May 20, 2019. (Geoff Pugh/The Associated Press)

Kate is fully aware she is a "future Queen in training," Bedell Smith said.

"With the guidance of her husband, the Queen, Prince Charles and expert advisers, [Kate] fully understands that hers is a lifetime commitment that calls for restraint and self-discipline."

The Queen, Bedell Smith said, had high hopes for Kate from the moment she entered the scene.

"She clearly is fulfilling those hopes today."

What can they do?

Prince Harry and Meghan visit Canada House in London on Jan. 7, in thanks for the warm Canadian hospitality and support they received during a recent stay in Canada. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/Getty Images)

More than a month after their seismic announcement to go their own way, more details have emerged about how Prince Harry and Meghan will actually leave the upper echelons of the Royal Family.

After returning from Canada to the U.K. for a flurry of engagements over the next couple of weeks, they will officially end their royal duties on March 31. A posting on their website late Friday laid out details for their transition flowing from a meeting at the Queen's Sandringham estate last month.

Less clear, however, is how they will forge their own path as they seek financial independence and work on building their brand.

Speculation has been running rampant, particularly as reports emerge of various meetings, appearances or alliances they may be striking in the U.S.

There was an appearance at an exclusive JP Morgan event in Miami, where there were several other high-profile celebrities in attendance. Harry may also be in discussion with investment bank Goldman Sachs about possibly giving a talk on mental health and the military.

What they're doing isn't really a surprise, suggests Borkowski.

"They're damned if they do, they're damned if they don't. It's a very difficult road they have to navigate now. They do have to achieve some economic independence," he said.

"If you're going to set out on this journey and you're going to change the world, set up a foundation, create a movement … you've got to raise a lot of money. You've also got to start working in rooms of huge influence."

Harry gives a speech as Meghan listens during their visit to the Justice Desk, a non-governmental organization in the township of Nyanga in Cape Town on Sept. 23, 2019. (David Harrison/AFP via Getty Images)

In the U.K., there has been considerable questioning from some media quarters about the alliances they appear to be trying to forge. Some of it has been quite critical.

"As much as the media want to stir up the negativity, what are they meant to do?" Borkowski said. 

And those who hear them speak at engagements might find themselves supporting the causes Harry and Meghan are trying to promote.

"Arguably, they're in rooms where they might change conversations, attitudes," said Borkowski. "They have a vision. They have a brand and they have to work with people who can make that brand work."

But they are changing how that brand will be developed.

Buckingham Palace had been reviewing the use of the label "Sussex Royal," and the statement late Friday on their website said their new non-profit organization will not use that name. That development was a result of "specific U.K. government rules surrounding use of the word "royal."

They also don't intend to use "Sussex Royal" or any iteration of the word "royal" anywhere in the U.K. or elsewhere when their transition takes place.

"In spring 2020, their digital channels will be refreshed as they introduce the next exciting phase to you," the posting said. 

The pain — and tolerance — of royal divorce

Peter Phillips and his wife, Autumn, leave following a service to mark the 90th birthday of Queen Elizabeth at St. Paul's Cathedral in London on June 10, 2016. They recently announced they are divorcing. (The Associated Press)

Royal departures of a rather different nature are also unfolding, with the divorces of two family members announced in short order over the past few days.

The Queen's eldest grandson, Peter Phillips, is splitting from his Canadian wife, Autumn Phillips. Also divorcing are the Queen's nephew, David Armstrong-Jones, Earl of Snowden, and his wife, Serena Armstrong-Jones.

Since the splits became public, there has been much speculation about how Elizabeth feels about it all.

"Just as the Queen was distressed by the divorces of three of her children, it is likely that the latest announcements have pained her equally," said Bedell Smith, author of Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch.

"But her attitude has become more tolerant, recognizing many marriages don't work out for any number of reasons that are impossible for outsiders to fully understand."

Serena Armstrong-Jones, Countess of Snowdon, left, David Armstrong-Jones, Earl of Snowdon, and their daughter Margarita Armstrong-Jones stand with Queen Elizabeth after attending a service of thanksgiving in honour of his late father, Antony Armstrong-Jones, at St. Margaret's Church in London on April 7, 2017. The Earl and Countess of Snowden are divorcing. (Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images)

It wasn't always that way.

Bedell Smith looks back to a speech Elizabeth made in 1949, while still a princess, when she condemned divorce for creating "some of the darkest evils in our society today."

That was a result of a number of factors, including the Church of England rules of divorce, the view of the British establishment of the day and her family's "revulsion over the abdication of her uncle, King Edward VIII, to abandon his sovereign duty to marry a twice-divorced woman — a major crisis that threatened the foundations of the monarchy," said Bedell Smith.

Other divorces rocked the family, including those of the current Earl of Snowden's parents, Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong-Jones, and three of the Queen's four children: Charles, Anne and Andrew.

Princess Anne and husband Mark Phillips were in Montreal for the Summer Olympics in 1976. The couple divorced in 1992. (The Associated Press)

"It was only after the Anglican divorce rules were relaxed that the Queen could accept the remarriage of Prince Charles to divorced Camilla Parker Bowles," said Bedell Smith.

The current divorces appear to be amicable, and Bedell Smith thinks that must have at least offered "some consolation" for Elizabeth.

"In both cases, the negotiations were complete, and the Queen fully informed, before the announcements were made to the public."

Home renovations, palace-style

During a home renovation, saving the wallpaper isn't usually a priority.

But when the home is Buckingham Palace, and the wallpaper is an early 19th-century Chinese version that came from King George IV's Brighton Pavilion, that's exactly what will happen.

A video posted online by the Royal Family takes viewers into the east wing of the palace, revealing some of the painstaking work being done to conserve the wallpaper that will return to the Yellow Drawing Room.

Royally quotable

"With each story that is told, the taboo around domestic abuse weakens and the silence that surrounds it is broken, so other sufferers can know that there is hope for them and they are not alone."

— Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, speaking at a reception marking the 15th anniversary of a domestic abuse charity. 

Royal reads

  1. William and Kate made a rare joint visit with Charles and Camilla to a military rehabilitation centre. [ITV]

  2. Prince Andrew turned 60 on Wednesday with little fanfare and under the shadow of his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. [Daily Mail]

  3. Princess Anne has her own fashion playbook, and attracted lots of attention when she turned up at London Fashion Week. [The Guardian]

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Janet Davison is a CBC senior writer and editor based in Toronto.


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