It is the emergence of the Duchess of Cambridge as a figure of extraordinary good sense, graciousness and compassion.
Whether it was joining Zoom calls to lift the spirits of young parents struggling with their children during lockdown, making a low-key personal visit to lay flowers in memory of murder victim Sarah Everard, or doing her bit to boost the Union on a wildly successful tour of Scotland with William, Kate has not put a foot wrong.
Without anybody in the Palace – least of all herself – making any sort of song and dance about her role, the Duchess has over the past year quietly grown in stature to become of the royals’ greatest assets.
If there is a model of how the younger generation of royals should conduct themselves, and how the monarchy can connect more closely with the people of modern Britain, she is it.
It’s already a mark of the affection in which she is held that the Duchess is universally known as ‘Kate’, rather than her more formal given name, Catherine, which is how her husband always refers to her, at least in public.
And last week, in another low-key move, came the most telling example yet of how the Duchess is leading the way in modernising the monarchy.
The announcement of the Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood is a serious initiative to improve the lives of Britain’s children, especially those from deprived backgrounds, by researching and addressing the problems they can face during their first five years which can go on to blight lives.
Just how serious an undertaking this is was illustrated by the calibre of the Duchess’s collaborators – among them the London School of Economics and Harvard University. Heavyweight academia like that doesn’t become involved unless the research being undertaken aims to produce genuine results.
Kate talked about some of today’s “toughest social challenges” in the video to launch the centre, and her emphasis on trying to find ways of improving the mental health of children from poor backgrounds showed a person who is deeply concerned about issues that she has spent five years researching.
What she said – and the way she said it – is a world away from the showy posturing of Harry and Meghan in California, whose every pronouncement about mental health issues appears to require celebrity endorsement. Kate, on the other hand, spent her video talking about those at the opposite end of the scale from wealthy film actors, the underprivileged and forgotten.
This is the best a monarchy fit for the 21st century can do – being socially engaged, bringing people together in a good cause, using status to highlight issues that are non-partisan and encouraging action which everybody agrees will make a change for the better.
No young female royal has connected so powerfully with the public since Princess Diana, and Kate’s relationship with the people is an altogether healthier phenomenon. Whereas the country – and world – watched with appalled fascination as Diana’s life descended into turbulence and emotional fragility, what they are seeing in Kate is common sense and an understanding of ordinary people’s lives.
It helps that she was not born into the aristocracy. Kate’s background, though undoubtedly privileged, is refreshingly normal and stable. Her grounded outlook on life has surely helped William come to terms with the legacy of losing his mother so early, and in such tragic circumstances, in a way which Prince Harry has plainly struggled to emulate.
In April, the couple celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary. Over that period, William has gone from appearing awkward, and possibly even uncomfortable with his destiny, to confident and relaxed about his role. That must be thanks to his wife.
There was an ease about Kate’s online contact with the public during lockdown that points to a new way forward for the royals in the years ahead – striking a balance between formality and accessibility. Her photographs of Britain during the pandemic are the work of somebody who is genuinely engaged with, and interested in, the people around her. The public senses this, and that could well be the reason she is held in such growing esteem.
Kate is following the example set by the Queen over decades in adapting the way the Royal family engages with the country to suit changing times. Without making a fuss, but with charm, intelligence and good humour, she is doing a terrific job and the country is starting to realise just how lucky it is to have her at the heart of the monarchy.
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