Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Kate Middleton: Whoever you want her to be

In this Friday April 11, 2008. file photo, Britain's Prince William and his girlfriend Kate Middleton walk together at RAF Cranwell, England, after William received his RAF wings from his father the Prince of Wales.

(AP Photo/Michael Dunlea, Pool, File)/(AP Photo/Michael Dunlea, Pool, File)

The most striking thing about Kate Middleton is how little we actually know about her.

She has granted exactly one formal interview with Prince William to a doting journalist after the palace announced their engagement. Her family and friends - even the bartender of her favourite pub - have observed a remarkable code of silence during her eight-year courtship.

All of this means the British public, along with everyone else, knows almost nothing about the woman who will emerge from Westminster Abbey Friday morning as the celebrated wife of their future king.

Story continues below advertisement

Without saying a word, she has effectively managed to project a deferential image that will serve her well as the newest member of the Royal Family. To the public, she is a blank canvas on which it can pin its hopes for the future.

"It's quite unusual not to know anything about the person who is the most famous woman in the world at the current time," remarks Rafal Heydel-Mankoo, a royal commentator and editor of Burke's World Order of Knighthoods and Merit.

"She's like the Queen Mother. Everybody looks to her as inspiration, but nobody actually knows anything about her. Everyone can paint their own picture of what they see in her without knowing if there is any truth to it."

Just days before she walked down the aisle of Westminster Abbey, the story of Ms. Middleton's romance with Prince William was released in a TV movie, one that promised to reveal the most intimate details of the royal couple's Cinderella love story. The film was less fairy tale than flop, roundly panned by critics on both sides of the Atlantic.

The problem was the central story of Ms. Middleton, and how she met and ultimately married Prince William, is actually a bit boring: We are talking about a young woman who grew up sheltered, in a small town, in a close-knit, middle-class family, went to college, studied art history, fell in love and got married.

Reading this on your smartphone? Get the Globe's Royal Wedding App for iPhone, Blackberry and Android

The most controversial thing she did along the way, it seems, was wear an ill-advised outfit consisting of yellow hot pants and pink legwarmers to a '80s roller disco charity event some time in 2008. Based on the paparazzi pics, it appears she enjoys the same things most twenty-somethings do: Going to the gym, London nightclubs and out for dinner.

Story continues below advertisement

She is a strange hybrid of a celebrity and commoner: A celebrity who briefly worked as a part-time accessories buyer for Jigsaw. A commoner who travels with her own security detail. She has also emerged as living proof of social mobility in striking defiance of Britain's class-conscious society.

Her parents, Carole and Michael, met at British Airways where they respectively worked as a flight attendant and flight dispatcher. The bride's parents now run a successful mail-order party-products company called Party Pieces. She has two younger siblings, Pippa and James.

Her parents were ambitious, buying a country estate near the town of Bucklebury, West Berkshire, and sending their children to private boarding schools.

Snobby Britain dismisses them as social climbers, and there has been some speculation that Kate was sent to the same college as Prince William as part of a grand scheme that the two would meet and ultimately marry.

"Her life has been very much interpreted through the lens of Prince William because he is why she is well known," said Carolyn Harris, a PhD candidate in history at Queen's University who studies royal history.

"It makes it difficult to analyze her life more independently. As long as she's been known to the public, she has been known as one half of William and Kate," she said.

Story continues below advertisement

"I think the press misconstrues her when they start assuming that every decision she made in her early life was somehow related to her future relationship with William, but the truth is, we really don't have that much to go on."

Their romance at the University of St. Andrews in fact began in a much more predictable way. Ms. Middleton appeared in a charity fashion show wearing a see-through black lace dress, and caught his eye. Prince William was love struck: "Wow. Kate's hot!" he said.

The pair's friendship turned into a serious romance that saw them move in together as a couple. After graduation, the Prince joined the military while she took the job as an accessories buyer and apparently nurtured dreams of becoming a photographer, that in the end, went nowhere. Over the years, Ms. Middleton became a fixture at family events.

In the meantime, the press dubbed her "Waity Katie" for her seeming willingness to live in limbo without a proposal.

During a brief breakup in 2007, Ms. Middleton maintained admirable composure, while William appeared to crumble.

Royal observers cite the episode as offering a rare glimpse into how the future king's bride will deal with her role, which may prove turbulent.

"She is discreet and she knows her place. That will be the huge success of Kate Middleton," predicted Ciara Hunt, former editor of Hello! Canada and a royal commentator.

Prince William's understated bride clearly stands in stark contrast to the last generation of royal wives: Diana, Princess of Wales, and Sarah Ferguson, whose lives were punctuated by drama, divorce and tragedy.

"Nobody wants to recreate another Diana. There will be no wearing of hearts on one's sleeves," Mr. Heydel-Mankoo said.

Ultimately, nobody knows the answers to the small or big questions when it comes to Ms. Middleton: Which charities will she patron? How will she navigate her future in the Royal Family?

"I do wonder when all of this is over and she continues her life with William, whether she will feel isolated," Ms. Hunt said.

"The Royal Family will never do to Kate what they did to Diana, but at the same time, at some point she will probably feel isolated.

"You know, this life, it's not everyone's cup of tea."

Report an error Licensing Options
About the Author

Sonia Verma writes about foreign affairs for The Globe and Mail. Based in Toronto, she has recently covered economic change in Latin America, revolution in Egypt, and elections in Haiti. Before joining The Globe in 2009, she was based in the Middle East, reporting from across the region for The Times of London and New York Newsday. More

Comments are closed

We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.