Duchess Deep Dive: Kate
You know the Duchesses now, but do you know their origin stories? For the next two days we’ll do a “Duchess Deep Dive” into the lives of the Duchesses of Cambridge and Sussex back when they were just Kate and Meghan. First up: Kate.
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge’s life has always revolved around family. In the beginning, it was her tight-knit Middleton brood: Father Michael, mother Carole, sister Pippa, and brother James. Now, of course, it’s the Royal Family, most especially her own family: Husband William and children George, Charlotte, and Louis.
Catherine Elizabeth Middleton was born on January 9, 1982 at Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading, England. I always think life gives us little nudges of our future, even if we can’t comprehend them at the time – in one of those instances, Kate, as she has always been known, was baptized on June 20, 1982; the next day, her future husband, Prince William, was born. (Another nudge having to do with Meghan? She was born on August 4, 1981, in the same week Harry’s parents, Charles and Diana, were married.)
Her parents, Michael Middleton and Carole Goldsmith Middleton, met through British Airways – she was a flight attendant and he a flight dispatcher. Kate is their oldest child; middle child Philippa Charlotte Middleton was born in 1983 and youngest child James William Middleton was born in 1987. The family was upper middle class, and the Middletons founded the company Party Pieces when Kate was five in 1987; the company secured their financial footing (it is worth an estimated 30 million pounds) and is a mail order company that sells party supplies and decorations.
When Kate was two, the family moved to Amman, Jordan, as her father was still employed with British Airways. The family moved back to England in September 1986 (the month I was born!) and Kate was educated in private schools, including eventually going to boarding school at prestigious Marlborough College. She, like bazillions of other young British girls trying to meet Prince William, enrolled at the University of St. Andrews in 2001, at the same time as the young prince, after a gap year in Florence, Italy and Chile (where William also, coincidentally, spent his gap year; this shared experience was one of their first bonding moments). It was there, at St. Andrews, that she and William met; they both lived in the same dorm, St. Salvator’s Hall. He knew of Kate as they had many mutual friends, but she didn’t truly catch his eye until he saw her modeling in a see-through lace dress at a charity fashion show the university held in 2002. From there, they became friends, eventually roommates (it still shocks me how they were able to get away with living together, albeit under the guise of being “platonic roommates,” but come on), and, finally, a couple in 2003. She graduated from St. Andrews in 2005 with a degree in art history; William graduated the same year.
Kate’s first official event as “the girlfriend” was at William’s Passing Out Parade at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst on December 15, 2006. By the time she turned 25 the next month, media attention was rampant, so much so that in April 2007, William and Kate broke up. William, at 24, simply wasn’t ready to get married, and he wanted Kate to be free of the constant press attention that haunted and eventually killed his mother in 1997.
During their breakup, Kate did exactly what a woman in that position should do – she lived her best life, with cameras following, and every bit of it was captured on film. It must have worked, because by July 2007, Kate and her family attended the Concert for Diana at Wembley Stadium to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Princess’ death. It was the sign the public needed that William and Kate were back on. Though they didn’t get engaged for three and a half more years, it was understood, after the reconciliation, that marriage was a sure thing; William just needed more time, he said, but she would be the one in due course.
Around this time Kate started being referred to as “Wait-y Katie,” as the press painted her as a professional girlfriend just biding time until she got married (which, ahem, she kind of was). Kate began working as an accessory buyer for clothing chain Jigsaw in November 2006; this lasted a year, after which she went to work for her family’s business, Party Pieces, in catalog design, marketing, and photography (she is quite a keen photographer and pretty much all official photographs of her kids are taken by her). She made a notable appearance at the May 17, 2008 wedding of Peter Phillips, William’s cousin and the Queen’s eldest grandchild, to Autumn Kelly – without William. This is a sign of things to come in Royal code, that she could handle major events on her own and without her Royal significant other; it was a big deal.
Finally, in October 2010, William proposed in Kenya during a 10-day trip there; it was officially announced on November 16, 2010. The blue Issa dress she wore to her engagement photo call sold out instantly; this is the origin of the so-called “Kate Middleton effect,” where everything she wears sells out instantly. (It’s basically a designer’s dream for Kate to wear one of their creations.) William and Kate married on April 29, 2011 – the date was chosen because April 29 is St. Catherine’s Day. Upon her marriage, Kate became Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge and no one ever called her Kate Middleton again! (I wish.) William married for love; Kate is his best friend. She also just happened to tick every box of a perfect Royal bride. He could not have made a better choice, as Kate has been a driving force in bringing the monarchy back into relevancy again.
Three children have followed – George Alexander Louis on July 22, 2013; Charlotte Elizabeth Diana on May 2, 2015; and Louis Arthur Charles on April 23, 2018. Kate, with each pregnancy, has suffered from a condition called hyperemesis gravidarum, a severe form of morning sickness that has caused her to announce her pregnancies earlier than she would probably like to and to cancel all of her official engagements during her first trimesters.
As a Royal, her work focuses mainly on issues surrounding young children, addiction, and art, all issues that are close to her heart. With her husband William and brother-in-law Harry (whom she is extremely close to, with Harry calling Kate the sister he never had), Kate began the mental health awareness campaign Heads Together in April 2016; mental health has become a cornerstone of her work as a Duchess.
A friend and I were having drinks at a winery this weekend and talking about the Family – as you do – and we both agreed that it feels like Kate has finally come into her own in the Firm. She has done her number one job as the wife of a future king: Produced an heir and produced a spare, and even one to spare. Now she gets to settle into her role as a future queen consort, learn what matters to her, and go do it, all while being a wife, mother, and fashion icon world-over.