Organic hair dye to hide (whisper it) the first hints of grey. A powerful new alliance with the Queen. As she hits 30, how Kate is coming of age
Rarely can a woman facing 30 truly say her life is just beginning. For most, it is one of those grin-and-bear-it milestones, made all the more manageable by a stiff gin and tonic.
But the Duchess of Cambridge, she of the preternaturally glossy hair (reportedly thanks to a newly applied organic vegetable dye, of which more later) and storybook romance, is entering not only her fourth decade, but also the most challenging and exciting phase of her life.
Earlier this week, St James’s Palace finally announced details of the first clutch of lifelong royal patronages Kate has agreed to take on — charity work, of course, being the mainstay of the Royal Family.
The announcement was a long time in the coming — eight months after her wedding, to be exact — thanks to the royal household’s almost fanatically cautious approach to her duties.
It is an attitude that has, on occasions, left Kate open to ridicule (Duchess of Dolittle is one of the less flattering monikers she has acquired).
After all, in her first year of marriage William’s own mother, Princess Diana, undertook more than 170 official engagements — compared to the mere 34 Kate has racked up so far.
Even the Duchess of Cornwall — once cattily dubbed the laziest woman in Britain — threw herself into royal duties following her marriage at the age of 57 to Prince Charles and notches up a respectable 250 engagements a year.
The Duchess is aware of such criticism, but with the support of William and, more crucially, that of the Queen, she has stuck to her guns and refused to commit to a full-time public role.
At 85 and about to celebrate 60 glorious years on the throne, William’s grandmother has several lifetimes of experience under her belt and is determined to avoid the mistakes the family made by throwing a 19-year-old Diana headlong into the bear-pit of public life.
The monarch believes quite firmly that the Royal Family should let Kate — of whom she has already grown extremely fond — enjoy some time as an ‘ordinary’ military wife before a lifetime of public service calls.
So the Duchess has spent the past four months working her way through applications from the hundreds of charities that contacted the Palace begging for her backing after the Royal Wedding and asking her staff to approach organisations on her behalf.
The fact that she has only chosen to become, initially, patron of four relatively small charities — Action On Addiction, the National Portrait Gallery, East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices and The Art Room — plus taking on an ad-hoc role with the Scouts, is part of her determination to become intimately involved with causes close to her heart, rather than spread her largesse too thinly.
‘It is impossible to predict whether her engagements will rapidly raise in the next year, but they will be broadly in line with those of her husband, the Duke (who carried out 90 last year),’ said one senior aide this week.
‘The couple are in a unique stage of their life and the Royal Family are very supportive indeed of their prioritising a lower-profile life and spending time together.’
The Queen believes that the Royal Family should let Kate enjoy some time as an 'ordinary' military wife
The military is a huge part of Kate’s life and — contrary to reports that she has ‘begged’ William not to leave her for his posting with the RAF to the Falkland Islands next month — the increasingly confident Duchess is actually planning to use his absence to launch her solo royal role.
‘It is a natural moment for her to step out on her own,’ said one involved in the process.
‘Until now she has been taking a back seat as all of the engagements she and her husband have conducted have been associated with the Duke’s charities.
'William is hugely protective of his wife, but is also very proud of her and agrees that she is more than ready to set off on her own.’
Nor is it is true that a bereft Kate is planning to move in as a guest of Charles and Camilla at Clarence House while William is away over February and much of March.
The couple have two homes — their rented farmhouse close to William’s base at RAF Valley on Anglesey and two-bedroom Nottingham Cottage in the grounds of Kensington Palace, which they use as their London base.
Both residences are deliberately unstuffy. In North Wales, the couple have a part-time cleaner who comes in for a couple of hours a week, but no formal domestic staff, while in London they are, I can reveal, about to employ a part-time housekeeper.
The new member of staff’s duties will include cleaning, running domestic errands and basic grocery shopping — although Kate insists she will still do the bulk of it herself in her local Waitrose on Kensington High Street. The Duchess also does all the couple’s cooking herself (with occasional help from William).
And she has continued to refuse the offer of either a dresser to help with her working wardrobe (which most senior female royals have) or even a lady-in-waiting (Diana appointed eight in the first six years of marriage), a position with which many had linked her sister, Pippa.
Kate does, however, have at least one ‘Girl Friday’ in her husband’s 11-strong office.
The increasingly confident Duchess is planning to use Prince William's absence to launch her solo royal role
Rebecca Deacon, a Home Counties sort in her 20s, was first employed by William and his brother to work on their Concert For Diana in 2007.
She quietly moved to the Princes’ private office as a ‘project officer’ when William and Kate’s engagement was announced in November 2010, but her real brief has been looking after Kate, particularly when meeting members of the public.
Having a woman on the staff is particularly useful when it comes to accompanying her on what courtiers quaintly call the royal ‘comfort breaks’ — popping to the loo in common parlance — as well as holding her handbag, introducing her to the right people and gathering up bouquets.
William and Kate’s long-standing personal private secretary, Helen Asprey, has also appointed a female PA dedicated to dealing with the couple on a day-to-day basis — making travel arrangements, booking hair appointments and the like.
Hair appointments, of course, have become something of a regular occurrence for the Duchess, who sports what is arguably one of the most admired styles in the world.
Now she is 30, even Kate needs, dare one say it, a little helping hand to keep those tumbling tresses in tip-top condition.
Indeed, impeccably placed sources have told me that the Duchess has, to her horror, started finding the odd grey hair (‘stress highlights’, her friends joke) and has been having an organic vegetable-based dye and subtle low-lights applied during regular four-hour sessions at the Richard Ward Hair And Metrospa in Chelsea.
But that's not to say she is anywhere near becoming one of those self-indulgent, pampered princess-types.
Kate is still a sporty, outdoors sort at heart — last week she was pictured running across a field as she played with her family dogs — but has, almost inevitably, given the levels of public scrutiny to which she is now subjected, become far more conscious of her looks.
Whether this has also led to her much commented-on weight loss is open to speculation.
Sources close to her vehemently insist she merely eats well and exercises regularly. But one associate who has known Kate since her days as a sports-mad teenager at Marlborough College recently remarked in horror on what they described as her ‘drastic’ change in figure.
It is, say friends, of enormous ‘frustration’ to Kate that her appearance is so heavily analysed.
‘She is happy and healthy and has never set out to present herself as a style icon, so gets hugely frustrated that is all anyone wants to talk about,’ says one.
‘Like any young woman, she wants to look nice and has more than a passing interest in fashion — but that is it.’
Kate's determination to lead as low-key a life as possible extends to her 30th birthday celebration
Her determination to lead as low-key a life as possible — despite her high-profile position — extends to her 30th birthday celebration on Monday.
Suggestions that her husband and sister have planned an Eighties-themed party featuring karaoke at a secret ‘pop-up’ venue in London have provoked guffaws of laughter at the Palace.
‘Nothing that exciting, I’m afraid,’ said one source.
‘It’s all very private and family orientated.’
On the eve of her big day — tomorrow night — the Duchess will accompany her husband to her first royal film premiere, Steven Spielberg’s hugely anticipated War Horse, which is being held in aid of William and Harry’s charitable foundation.
Bizarrely, she and William will share the red carpet with the film’s star Joey — a real horse. Another royal first, one presumes (and this despite the fact Kate is famously allergic to horses).
Afterwards, she and the Prince will mingle at an hour-long private reception for up to 100 guests, including Spielberg and wealthy donors who have paid up to 10,000 a ticket to brush shoulders with the most glamorous and sought-after couple in the world.
The couple plan to spend Monday with Kate’s family — possibly enjoying a lunch out — before returning to Wales, where William is due at work.
Quite an ordinary day for an extraordinary young women — but that, in a nutshell, is Kate’s life.
She is, say those who know her, at her most content pottering around their home in Anglesey, visiting the supermarket and making life comfortable for her husband.
‘She just loves being William’s wife, it really is as simple as that,’ said one.
Another source adds: ‘As a couple, she and William are already beginning to get into a routine which they hope to continue, at least until he leaves the military (possibly at the end of 2013). There is a quiet confidence about Catherine at the moment that is growing every day.’
In the coming months, their rural idyll will be shattered by the demands of their new royal roles (and possibly, the patter of tiny feet — although again friends insist this is something on which they will not be rushed).
The Duchess is set to achieve a royal landmark in her 30th year — sitting for her first official portrait.
A spokeswoman for the National Portrait Gallery yesterday confirmed that discussions were underway for a picture to hang alongside that of William and Harry, as well pictures of the Queen, Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana.
‘William and Kate will also take a leading role in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, with a high-profile tour of Singapore, Malaysia, the Solomon Islands and exotic Tuvalu in the Pacific.
Royal sources insist the Duchess is undaunted by the prospect.
In fact, she is apparently ‘raring to go’ — particularly as she is set, I can reveal, to undertake a joint engagement with the Queen next month.
‘It’s a remarkable show of support from Her Majesty and it is no coincidence that she has chosen to do this while Prince William is away,’ said an impeccably placed source.
‘Catherine will, after all, one day be Queen — and who better to learn the ropes from
‘The Duchess may be turning 30 next week, but by that age the Queen had already reigned for four years and given birth to two of her four children.
‘She is keen to hand down her reserves of wisdom while she still can.’
So how does she compare to the other royals at the Big Three-0
Queen Mother, 1930: Married to Bertie with daughters Elizabeth and Margaret, she became Queen in 1937
Queen, 1956: Four years into her reign as sovereign, she'd already given birth to Charles and Anne
Princess Margaret, 1960: With one unhappy love affair behind her, she was nearly 30 when she wed Antony Armstrong-Jones
Princess Anne, 1980: She was 23 when she married first husband Mark Phillips in 1973. At 30, she was mother to Peter, three
Princess Diana, 1991: Married to Charles for ten years, with two young sons, but a year later the couple split
Duchess of York, 1989: Mother to Beatrice and pregnant with Eugenie, the toe-sucking scandal unfolded three years later