The dust is settling after a ceremony which marked the life of the Duke of Edinburgh, but also points the way to other transitions in the royal dynasty. Prince Charles is now in effect a “soft regent” with a more active chief executive role in palace affairs. The Queen, faultless in her ability to combine private affliction with a public occasion watched by 13 million people in Britain alone, needs time and space to recover from losing a life-partner to a gruelling final illness.
The royal tribe remains fractious and competitive in the heart of an ongoing PR war with the Sussexes, unleashed by last month’s j’accuse interview, headlined by Meghan’s accusations of racism and cold-heartedness and Prince Harry’s airing of grudges against his father and brother. And although no courtier would be crass enough to say so openly, Saturday’s funeral marked a re-set moment, in which the monarchy regained momentum and a narrative of continuity having flailed in the wake of Harry and Meghan’s outburst.
There was one big winner: Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, whose poise and nimble thinking made sure she was assertive enough to catch the camera lenses and tactful enough to head out of the way, allowing the feuding brothers to walk together in the procession.
Think of the Windsors as akin to today’s turbulent political spectrum and Kate is the “centrist royal”— conventional enough to appeal to conservatives, who baulk at sudden changes demanded by the radical wing of the Royalist Party (Prince Harry and Meghan), yet spontaneous enough to avoid the fustiness of Charles and without the taint of grubby associations dogging Prince Andrew. To judge by her assured outing on Saturday, Kate knows the centrist brand of royalty she and Prince William embody will win out, when the drama of the last month gives way to the task of “keeping the show on the road” as the late duke put it.
Since she emerged from the “Waity Katy” girlfriend years, I have wondered if the Kate brand was a bit too safe in the Waitrose and Boden way of being “very nice” but not outstanding (her maiden name of Middleton feels apposite).
But when we cast a critical eye over her reticence and complained that she lacked spark, we hadn’t bargained for Andrew’s foolish entanglements with Jeffrey Epstein, nor the full-force megatron explosion Meghan would bring. Kate also looks a lot more at ease in the role — and at home in the “significant jewels” she wore on Saturday and which tell their own story of status in the ranks.
When the Prince of Wales takes the throne, he will already be well into his seventies. That (and the tinge of anxiety many of us feel about his ability to connect and empathise outside a narrow range of causes) mean the lens of expectation will turn rapidly to the roles of William and Kate in replenishing a monarchy which, warts and all, unites a fissiparous United Kingdom. Privately, William has a dry, witty streak (not unlike his grandfather but thankfully more 2020s-compliant in his tact) and some much-needed steel. Joining forces with his father in the first tentative “summit” walk yesterday with Harry illustrated that he does not intend to be pigeon-holed as “trapped” in his role. Indeed, he looks more settled in it than most of the other core royals. Kate, meanwhile, who prefers to be called Catherine outside her inner circle (presumably on the grounds that its formality is better suited to a future queenly role), is a bridge builder who has kept good relations with Harry.
So we will see more of her stepping out of her shell, championing the visual arts, and sending out upbeat videos which have been cheering but not insufferable in a trying year for so many. Yes, it is a work in progress. Coaching for alternatives to the word “amazing” would not go amiss. You can feel her fretting about whether a slip-up might come across as entitled when she compares notes on the headaches of home schooling, or some other minefield.
All things considered though, she has carried it off with aplomb and she will reap the rewards. Whatever difficulties she might have had with that or the job of raising three children to face public scrutiny most of us would baulk at, Kate bears it with equanimity, good grace and a hefty amount of eyeliner. When the extremes present a problem, the wisest answer is to rely on moderation. And amid the Sturm und Drang, with a lot of men around her in a strop, the centrist duchess is quietly nailing the part.
Anne McElvoy is Senior Editor at The Economist