Since becoming the Duchess of Cambridge in 2011, Kate Middleton’s entire life has largely remained in the spotlight, an opportunity that has enabled her to showcase the wide range of skills as she discharges her royal duties. As it is the case with other members of the royal family, the Duchess is an integral element of the United Kingdom’s national image, both locally and globally. She is also solemnly responsible for representing this national image into the country and the world as a philanthropist, social diplomat, and symbol of unity and stability. The monarchy has been an important part of British existence and democratic revolutions; notwithstanding, it is clear that the country is not yet prepared to dismiss the idea of royalty. Consequently, since the role and influence of the monarchy has diminished and greatly transformed, it is indisputable that the Duchess of Cambridge has in her own right been a profound impact on contemporary culture not only in the U.K. but also around the globe in highly diverse areas, such as fashion and style, language, deportment, ceremony, philanthropic aspirations, dating, married life, and parenting among other areas.
A Symbol of National Unity And Stability
The main reason Duchess has succeeded in becoming such a global influence is by cultivating an inspiring and endearing image. As a result, she is not only viewed as the ideal representation of motherhood, partner, and womanhood but has also shown a rare capacity to inspire action, especially towards meaningful causes, such as charity and.mental health. Her dedication to mental health issues has given prominence to this much-overlooked reality that nevertheless profoundly impacts the lives of the affected, their families, and communities.
The stigma usually attached to mental health challenges is on a steady decline as more people begin to be open about their mental health issues. Importantly, the fact that the Duchess has mainly focused on the mental health of young and vulnerable children from disadvantaged backgrounds has not prevented adults from recognizing the importance of psychological well-being in creating healthy societies. As much as Kate Middleton is by far not the only influential personality promoting mental health, her involvement has been a significant factor in embedding mental health into the collective consciousness of the U.K. and the world as a whole. Indeed, healthy and thriving communities reflect the national image that the U.K. aspires to espouse.
As much as royalty has historically demanded display, the modern aristocrat must enhance this image if the institution is to remain sustainable in future. This task is often a tough balancing act, a challenge that Kete Middleton has met with skill and enthusiasm. The image that she cultivates in public is fundamental to her ability to fulfill these roles, and despite not being a royal by birth, she has demonstrated a remarkable aptitude in her office as Duchess of Cambridge (CNN Library). Kate Middleton is usually under constant and relentless scrutiny by the public, primarily through the media, which makes her image more critical to the execution of her private and official responsibilities. She bares upon her shoulders the duty to represent the royal family in the most respectable, moral, and spiritual manner, a task that is fulfilled through her deportment, communication skills, and style. This representation translates to a national image based on the values of unity and stability.
The Duchess of Cambridge was born in 1982 in Reading, Berkshire, England, to Michael Middleton, a former pilot and current mail order enterprise owner, and Carole Goldsmith Middleton (CNN Library). She married Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, in 2011 and has had three children in 2012, 2015, and 2018. She attended the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and graduated with a master’s in Art History. She first met Prince William in 2001. Kate Middleton is the eldest of three siblings, all of whom are self-made millionaires (CNN Library). From 2002 to 2005, Kate, Prince William, and several other students were college roommates. She began dating the Prince in 2003, briefly broke up in 2009, became engaged in October 2010, and wedded in 2011. Prince William gave her his mother’s Princess Diana, previous engagement ring.
After graduating from university, Middleton briefly worked in the family business, Party Pieces, before becoming an accessories buyer for the clothing chain, Jigsaw, for one year before her nuptials to Prince William. While some factions have criticized her billing as a contemporary woman in the royal family due to her limited career credentials, her position as Duchess did immediately offer her a unique opportunity to be immersed into her royal assignments and transform it into a lifelong career.
Kate Middleton’s marriage into the royal family was hailed as evidence that the monarchy was finally yielding to modernity, with the second in line to the throne going against tradition by choosing a spouse from the British middle class rather than a fellow royalty. However, Ruiz argued that the marriage was fundamentally traditional if considered from the conventional purpose of royal matrimonial unions, which have always aimed at cementing some important political or economic alliance with an allied power. In the modern era, the much-needed alliance for the monarchy is with the British people. To survive the changing political landscape that devalues the concept of the monarchy, the aristocracy has acknowledged unconventional measures to remain relevant in the public eye. From such a perspective, the choice of a commoner appears to be much aligned with the inherent monarchical agenda of survival. This strategy is especially critical in an age where the monarchy is increasingly viewed as out-dated, unnecessary, and burdensome to the population. There is perhaps a no better way of securing the goodwill of the masses than by incorporating them into the royal family. This perception is a much-needed attitude if the monarchy is to survive in the coming decades, if not centuries. For a country whose national image and ethos are deeply embedded within the monarchy, the change in nuptials tradition is an undeniable advantage for framing unity and stability.
The Duchess’s Official Role
Members of the royal family are expected to assist the reigning monarch in executing her numerous state and national mandates, such as undertaking crucial tasks in the public and charitable services and promoting the UK’s national stability and unity. The family is also responsible for representing the country internationally and within the commonwealth. The royal family carries out about 2000 official engagements throughout the year both domestically and globally (CNN Library). Only the closest family members of the Queen are assigned official duties. They include the monarchy’s children, grandchildren, and spouses, as well as the Queen’s cousins and spouses. All roles assigned to the Duchess of Cambridge are more or less related to these main responsibilities of the royal family. The Duchess of Cambridge supports the Queen and the royal family as a patron of the Royal Foundation. She also explicitly supports various charities relating to children, mental health, arts, and sports. During events, the Duchess is also expected to assist the Queen in welcoming the guests. She is also called upon to represent the Queen and the U.K. in the commonwealth and other countries. The events may include national funerals, festivals, and longer visits intended to strengthen the country’s economic and diplomatic ties with allies.
The Duchess has had to make significant compromises and sacrifices to perform more effectively. For instance, she relocated to Kensington Palace in 2017 from their Norfolk country home, indicating that she would be residing in London for the first time since 2011, when she married into the royal family. The move was projected to increase the couple’s royal duties on behalf of the Queen and the various charities they support. In addition to assisting her husband in national and international assignments within the commonwealth and beyond, the Duchess’s role evolved with the relocation to offer more significant participation in charities dealing with addiction, mental health, motherhood challenges, among others (Proudfoot).
An important fact to note is that the role of the Duchess is not confined to what appears in the royal and general media only. A Duchess also undertakes auxiliary duties, including attending meetings, preparing speeches or remarks, correspondence, managing her household, and preparing her children for royal duties. She also researches pertinent facts about a country she is visiting abroad, such as its culture, protocol, and traditions,, to be more conversant during the visits.
Since her children are also in line to the throne, Middleton is responsible for preparing them for their role as possible heirs. She also assists Prince William in coordinating household activities with members of staff and performing other royal mandates, as well as overseeing the children’s upbringing. Essentially, the Duchess is expected to epitomize a public role model, especially in her representation of the Queen, who is also regarded as the head of the Church of England.
The Official Role of the Success of Cambridge
After the induction of Megan Markle into the royal family, some observers wondered how Kate Middleton’s role would evolve. One comparison has related to the fashion sense and influence between the two Duchesses. The Duchess of Cambridge has been compared in many ways to Megan Markle the Duchess of Sussex, especially on their style in how they presented their infant children for the first time immediately after birth. Prince William and the Middleton presented all of their three children within 24 hours of delivery, while the Duchess of Sussex chose a more laid back baby debut at Windsor Palace. Being married to the second heir to the throne, Duchess of Cambridge is more obliged to observe long-standing loyal traditions, including how their children are introduced and presented to the world (Ruiz). For instance, William and Kate posed with their third child six hours after delivery at the steps of St. Mary’s Hospital in London even before they had decided on his names. Nonetheless, at six months, the Duchess did take uncharacteristically longer maternity leave than she did after the birth of her first two children. Interestingly, Kate wore the same designer (Jenny Pacham) on this occasion as she had done when presenting her first two children Prince George in 2013 and Princess Charlotte in 2015.
Notably, the tradition requiring royal family members to present their children to the public moments after giving birth has been described as barbaric. Royal women are expected to appear in public just a few hours of giving birth, looking stylish and proper despite the arduous process they have just undergone. While the Duchess performed supremely well in all three presentations of her infant children, observers have insisted that no woman should be required to accomplish such a duty at their most vulnerable time. The public presentation of Prince Louis, the third child, particularly shocked the world due to the Duchess’s sleek appearance in heels and designer attire, with little indication that she had just given birth. As much as her ability to pull such a flawless look can be credited to an innate sense of style for which she is known, the occasion still raises important questions regarding the demands placed on women when they are at their weakest and most vulnerable. Nevertheless, the Duchess’s commitment to always portray the monarchy in the best possible light must be recognized.
The public and charity sectors are among the areas where the royal family is heavily represented and through which they advance a positive image of the country they represent. According to CNN Library, more than 3000 charities list at least one royal family member as a patron. Indeed, charity is one of the roles in which Kate Middleton has excelled at the state level and around the globe. The wide range of charities they are involved in provide the royal family with opportunities to meet and interact with people from a wide range of backgrounds, locally and internationally. It keeps them in touch with the issues and challenges plaguing the common population and develop strategies for alleviation. Addressing the needs of a country’s most vulnerable is fundamentally tied to a nation’s image.
In this regard, the Duchess is a patron to four charities, including The Art Room, which assists children from disadvantaged backgrounds using art to express themselves; East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices, that helps children with life-threatening or terminal conditions; the National Portrait Gallery, a repository of famous photographs and paintings of the royal family; and Action and Addiction, a charity for people suffering with various addictions. Before selecting charities for her patronage, the Duchess of Cambridge is credited with conducting extensive research to determine issues she desired to be involved with and to what degree. That two of her charities of choice are art related. The Duchess has had a lifelong attachment to art, including in her study and work. Her charity preferences relate to art, a subject she studied in university, which reflects a passion and some qualification in the chosen subject. This approach has significantly elevated her chances of creating real change through her charitable activities, especially in the choice of actions taken towards tackling a particular issue.
International travel to represent the Queen in significant events and activities is central to the Duchess’s role. The task is presently even more important because as the Queen ages, she can no longer keep a vigorous international itinerary as she did as a much younger monarch. In turn, Prince William and his wife are increasingly called upon to attend major global events on behalf of the Queen. This mandate means that the Duchess has to cultivate a likeable personality in the U.K., and her image must also be endearing to the greater commonwealth and other countries. The diversity of cultures, ethnicities, norms, and traditions worldwide make this duty challenging.
The Duchess must be able to represent the traditions of the monarchy while at the same time creating no offence to her hosts, as is likely to be the case where different cultures and nationalities come into contact. The Duchess has superbly excelled in this role as she traverses the globe. Her role requires dressing appropriately when in culturally conservative nations such as the Muslim Marjorie States in the Arab World or appearing to enjoy a local cuisine that, in reality finds unpalatable. Conforming to the local norms is an important aspect of promoting mutual respect and unity that form the core of effective diplomatic engagements. She was described as successful in her inaugural event in Canada as an international representative of the Queen.
In the Media
The media is perhaps one of the most important tools that a monarchy exploits to retain power and influence. Through the media, the monarchy can also accomplish its role as a symbol of unity and strength in the country (Komar). This critical role notwithstanding, the royal family is also embroiled in recurrent disputes with the media, particularly about its portrayal of the royal family and pertaining to the gross invasion of privacy and in recent times, the growing phenomenon of online bullying and abuse. As much as the monarchy relies on the media to remain relevant in changing times, the mystery surrounding royalty and the masses’ obsession with royals’ lives often pushes journalists to cross the line between journalistic ethics to an and outright extreme and extreme privacy violation and harassment. Being in the limelight means that Duchess is even more vulnerable to the antiques of overzealous journalists and photographers seeking to gain the most intimate picture of her life through any means possible.
To some, having a spotlight constantly shining on one’s life may appear glamorous. However, this predicament is necessarily not an enviable position in which she is under constant threat of negative publicity or being exposed in ways that could irreparably damage the public image that she has laboriously endeavoured to create. Despite a few but major incidences, the Duchess has skillfully navigated the media conundrum to maintain her public image as a hard-working philanthropist who is also deeply dedicated to her mandate as a member of the royal family, mother and wife to potential heirs to the throne.
As a media object, Kate Middleton aptly fits in the manifestation of the current globalization trend and lifestyle because her character and image are expressions of a reorganization of the status quo, including that of the monarchy. This aspect is fundamental to a nation’s image. The reinterpretation and reorganization of how people become motivated to live their lives have been replicated around the globe as specific communities evolve from subsistence localized contexts to increasingly being connected to the global community that consumers crave for internationalization (Berlinger 13). As communities adapt to what can be considered as global values, the role of the Duchess on the international platform becomes even more important than it would have been when societies were isolated from each other decades ago.
Internet penetration means that even the most remote communities are aware of who the Duchess is, making it more important for her to be perceived favorably within and beyond U.K. borders as a role model and diplomatic agent representing the country to the world. Local communities from across the globe receive news about the royal family as a part of their everyday life. It means that they are learning about the Duchess of Cambridge and other royal family members as a reflection of their desire to be happy and wealthy. As Berlinger observed, Kate Middleton has, in this respect, become incorporated to the collective consciousness of the community and village, and her image and appearance in any form become a differentiator or indicator of what is good and, therefore, meaningful (14). The consequence is that young girls and women aspire to be like her and copy her style, while men appreciate her as an ambitious partner.
The Duchess must ensure that her image is not merely projected into their homes by royalists or commercial interests unrealistic to their remote and dislocated perspectives. In this aspect, the Duchess of Cambridge can be viewed as having bridged the disconnect between what is projected in the media and the reality the local communities face. She has accomplished this mission by skillfully engaging with the locals and going a step further from the restrictions that typically restrain royals from meaningfully engaging even with the individuals or groups targeted by their charities. This assertion transcends mere rhetoric as the numerous occasions evidence that the Duchess has engaged directly with children and other beneficiaries of her philanthropy and sought to understand their challenges from their perspectives as opposed to how they are framed by lobbyists (CNN Library). As a result, she has managed to become the embodiment of their hopes and aspirations of diverse subjects, such as maintaining a Christian union, the female body image mainly because of her pristine appearance hours after giving birth to each of her three children, the possibility of climbing socially for a woman, though from a wealthy family, still a commoner by aristocratic measures, the advantages of an elite education, the portrayal and maintenance of royal privilege, and setting fashion trends and driving clothes sales.
Arguably, it is perhaps in the media that the Duchess of Cambridge has excelled in her role as a symbol of national unity and a representative of British society abroad. Possibly due to her status as a commoner before marrying a Prince, Kate Middleton became a media sensation as soon as the public knew of the couple’s dating and later engagement. However, the royal press has on various occasions had to issue requests for the respect of Duchess’s privacy, a serious factor considering the infamous role of the media in the death of her would be a mother in law, Princess Diana. The shocking fatal accident in which Prince William’s mother was involved was caused by the typical predatorial pursuit of a story involving a royal family member. This is clear evidence that the media sometimes hampers the ability of royalties from fulfilling their role of enhancing the national image of cohesiveness. A suitable example was in 2012, when a gross violation of the Duchess’s privacy occurred, significantly compromising her public image and threatening her ability to represent England effectively. However, the royal office launched a legal suit against the publication, which was won in 2015.
Criticism and Online Abuse
She can graciously weather the storm of online and tabloid media abuse that strengthens her aptitude as a royal. As much as the aristocracy has often endured unforgivable insults and criticism from the masses, being in the limelight in modern society, where individuals can easily voice extremely derogatory and vile opinions about the contemporary celebrity, makes it particularly challenging. Behind the safety of their electronic devices, people have become particularly aggressive. The situation has escalated in recent times in the wake of a manufactured feud between the Duchess of Cambridge and the Duchess of Sussex. Supporters of either side have contributed to the online hate prompting mainstream media houses to create campaigns for more online kindness and better communication on such platforms without degenerating to hateful remarks. The Duchess of Cambridge has remained unfazed by the negative opinions and continued effectively representing the Queen and the country.
Physical appearance and grooming are crucial to the image of any individual, especially that of a royal family member. The choice of dress by members of the royal family has been known to create fashion revolutions across the globe (Komar). If not for anything else, the Duchess of Cambridge has been highly respected as a trigger for fashion trends since she joined the monarchy. It would be naive to underestimate the Duchess’s role as a fashion trendsetter. After all, the culture and norms of a person or generation are acquired from their most influential figures. A case in point is the now global tradition of brides donning white gowns on their wedding days, a trend first introduced by Queen Victoria in 1840 as she married Prince Albert (Komar). Before this day, wedding dresses for royals and the masses alike were colourful affairs embellished with elaborate jewellery. By choosing to wear a simple white silk dress, Queen Mary singlehandedly created a wedding tradition that has lasted over 200 years and come to acquire a spiritual, cultural, and religious connotation (Komar par. 3). While seemingly mundane, fashion is recognized as a powerful tool of influence able to cultivate an individual’s likability and, therefore, ability to inspire, motivate, and recruit others into meaningful pursuits.
The physical appearance, including grooming and dress, is the first element through which a person represents his or her values, ideals, and morals to the world. For this reason, the aristocracy has stringent rules about dressing for both men and women that determine what is appropriate and what is not for all royals. Despite constricting requirements on how a member of the royal family can dress, there is still room for the creative and intuitive royal to invoke his or her individuality. It is this element that the Duchess has been hailed as largely successful. In a world where having a personality could be a liability, where public political opinion is forbidden and cultivating public loyalty depends on likability, fashion style becomes one of the few ways to portray a level of personhood without straying too far from the ethos of the aristocracy.
Espousing this intricate balancing act, in the few years that Kate Middleton has been a royal, she has managed to showcase a unique fashion sense that has endeared her to the masses. Many women look after Kate’s dress choices to influence their own wardrobe choices. Unique pieces that the Duchess has won in public events have gone to sell out globally in a matter of minutes or hours. A more in-depth analysis of Middleton’s sense of fashion can be traced to her artistic background and intuitive choice of designers, colors, and trends that strengthen her individuality while making her more appealing and likable to the public without losing her ability to influence on more pressing matters. It is through this relatability that she has been able to cultivate through the style that lends her more power to drive change on more salient issues.
Still, the Duchess’s style that effortlessly personifies grace and elegance has remained malleable and adaptable to the different seasons of her life. For a more reserved and proper style, Kate has, since the birth of her third child, demonstrated a more adventurous look during specific outings or events. At a recent appearance at Victoria and Albert Museum’s Photography Center, she was dressed in what would be widely described as a bold and fashion-forward outfit of her career “a tweed Erdem with an asymmetrical neckline plucked from the Spring 2018 collection” (Ruiz Par. 4). She also presented to a royal dinner wearing an Alexander McQueen Cinderella dress and a Tiara known to Have been favoured by Princess Diana.
The Duchess has also used style to show support for important causes. A suitable example is her choice of attire during the 2018 BAFTA ceremony when female attendees had been asked to wear black outfits in solidarity with the “#MeToo” movement and survivors of sexual attacks. While she did not wear black from head to toe, she accessorized her dark green gown with a black sash around the waist, which was viewed as a subtle yet gracious nod to the movement (Berlinger par. 2). Royals are forbidden from making overtly political statements and the fact that the “#MeToo” movement had acquired some political connotations as it unfolded made Kate an ingenious yet understated gesture that showed support to an important cause without stirring up political antagonism. Some factions argued that she could have made a bolder statement but given the situation, no doubt had she won a full on the black outfit as many of the Hollywood celebrities were doing, the public and media would have immediately picked it up as a point of criticism. Feminists faulted her decision not to wear all black to support women’s rights issues. However, as a member of the royal family, she has foregone her ability to make a political statement or support movements that may have some political implications. In this case, the prohibition also includes her feminist voice. Indeed, the Duchess has been likened to the Queen herself in reigning in the pressure to express any major opinions. Picking sides can go against the stabilizing and unifying role of the monarchy. Nevertheless, Middleton could still contribute to bringing more awareness to the endemic issue of sexual harassment in the entertainment industry and a call to action towards demanding gender discrimination. Her conduct and fashion choice clearly indicate her strong representation of the royal family without polarizing communities, especially where delicate issues are involved. After all, subtlety is an indispensable aspect of royalty.
In essence, the Duchess’s role and responsibilities are ensconced within the general mandate of members of the royal family as representatives of the Queen in various events and activities nationally and abroad. Her public footprint is continually scrutinized and debated in extensive detail to the extent that a subtle misstep in her manner, posture, or facial expression could prove catastrophic to her and to the monarchy and the nation it represents. She bears the solemn duty of being a symbol of unity and the stability of the United Kingdom as well as an ambassador of goodwill on the global platform in social, diplomatic, and economic issues (Ruiz). To be a neutral political arbiter and effectively portray the unity of the United Kingdom, the Duchess of Cambridge must be loved and revered in equal measure, the requirement by royal strategists to espouse an air of being distanced from the public notwithstanding.
Berlinger, Joshua. Duchess of Cambridge opts for green as black dresses sweep BAFTAs. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. 2018.
CNN Library. Duchess Catherine Fast Facts. 2019.
Cole, David, D. Capitalized Education: An Immanent Materialist Account of Kate Middleton. England: John Hunt Publishing.
Komar, Marlene. Why so Many Brides Wear White on Their Wedding Day. CNN. 2019.
Proudfoot, Jenny. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s roles are about to change. Marie Claire, 2017, www.marieclaire.co.uk/entertainment/people/duke-and-duchess-of cambridges-roles-change-533728. Accessed 28 May 2019.
Ruiz, Michelle. Welcome to the Golden Era of Kate Middleton. 2018. Vanity Fair. www.vanityfair.com/style/2018/10/kate-middleton-comeback. Accessed 28 May 2019.