She hit headlines when she began dating Prince William as a university student in 2003. Now, almost 20 years on, Kate Middleton is celebrating her 40th birthday as one of the most popular royals, a mother-of-three, and a cherished member of The Firm.
In a 2021 YouGov popularity poll of royals, Kate emerged third, behind the Queen and her husband William respectively – and she’s reportedly been a rock for the Monarch since the death of Prince Philip and during her recent ill health – plus following the departure of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
She’s remained stoic through the turbulence of “Megxit”, despite accusations she made Meghan cry in the days before her wedding, as well as the scandal surrounding Prince Andrew, who has been accused of sexual abuse – which he strongly denies – and is set to head to court this month.
Now royal expert and Kate’s biographer Katie Nicholl – who wrote Kate: The Future Queen – says the Duchess’ 40th year will be her biggest yet.
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“We’ve seen Kate blossom over the years, growing in confidence and evolving into a key member of the royals. Just last month, she proved how far she’d come when she hosted the royals’ Christmas carol concert on her own.
“Standing there as a woman totally sure of herself who takes her role seriously. I think we’ll see her thrive even more in her 40th year. Like Diana, Kate’s immensely popular, a fashion icon and loved by the nation. I don’t think she ever wanted to ‘be’ her late mother-in-law, she just took inspiration from her work ethic and diligence. Kate’s the ‘people’s princess’, but her own version.
“In recent years, we’ve seen her leadership in the wake of Megxit, throughout which she’s kept calm and carried on. I think this year she’ll come into her own even more, especially as it’ll be a tough year for the royals.
“Harry and Meghan’s interviews this year have caused chaos for the royals, and Harry’s new memoir – due out next year – will likely reveal even more intimate details about the royal family, and cause further issues. And Andrew’s court case will too. Kate will step up and I know the Queen hugely values her support, and will rely on her more than ever.”
Growing up in a modest household with an air hostess mother and flight dispatcher father, Kate met Prince William while studying at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. The £200 sheer dress she wore to the university’s charity fashion show in 2002 is said to have won over William, and was later auctioned for £78,000.
However, being catapulted into the spotlight wasn’t easy and she earned the cruel nickname “waity Katie” for waiting seven years after she began dating Prince William before he proposed in 2010.
The couple married at Westminster Abbey in front of 162m TV viewers in 2011. Ten years on, they are parents to Prince George, eight, Princess Charlotte, six, and Prince, Louis, three, and fans have loved seeing Kate adapt to motherhood, praising her last year when she spoke out about the struggles of home-schooling during the pandemic.
Her and William’s relationship has delighted fans, too. Last month, the couple were seen exchanging affectionate looks at the Royal Variety Show when Ellie Goulding – who performed at their wedding – took to the stage, with one fan posting, “They are couple goals.”
Katie says, “Kate and William’s relationship hasn’t been without its ups and downs, like any relationship, but what we see when they’re together is total pride in each other and teamwork. When they first got engaged, Kate expressed nerves around stepping into the role, but now, when she’s at work engagements or speaking in public, you can see William looking at her with admiration and pride. It’s lovely to see.
“Despite their extraordinary lives and circumstances, they somehow come across as relatable and hands-on parents. Every time a family photo is released, the nation goes wild.”
But living in the glare of public life hasn’t been without controversy for Kate. After the birth of Prince George, she was dubbed “Duchess Dolittle” for her alleged lack of commitment to work within The Firm, and years before, on her 25th birthday, she’d been hounded by 25 photographers while leaving the Chelsea flat she shared with her sister Pippa – prompting Prince William to release an angry statement to the press, as Prince Harry did years later.
Kate was thrust into the headlines again when it emerged that she and sister-in-law Meghan had locked horns in the build-up to Meghan’s wedding over bridesmaids dresses – something Meghan directly spoke about in her shocking interview with Oprah Winfrey last March.
Meghan’s biography Finding Freedom also detailed how she’d allegedly felt “disappointed” by the “lack of support” from Kate. But throughout the drama, Kate kept silent, which Katie says has contributed to her popularity.
“Kate’s always stuck to the royal protocol of ‘never complain, never explain’ and that approach has earned her public respect. Tax-paying Brits don’t want to hear their royals moaning, they want them there, with a mega-watt smile, getting on with it. Kate has done exactly that, which is why she’s one of the most popular royals.”
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Like her late mother-in-law Princess Diana, Kate – who is said to maintain her slim size 8 figure through daily running and green smoothies – has become a fashion icon over the years. She was voted the top fashion influence in the UK in 2020 by brand Love the Sales, and has been praised for favouring both designer and high-street brands.
She’s also been praised for her sustainability in that she’ll wear the same outfits more than once – something royals and celebrities are often criticised for not doing. The Jenny Packham gold dress she wore to the James Bond premiere in 2021 put her on the front pages of papers around the world, while the red Zara blazer she wore to the England football final sold out in hours.
Meanwhile, Katie says Kate will go from strength to strength in her 40th year. She says, “It seems she’s more cherished than ever at this point in her life. She’ll no doubt be at the centre of more drama as she has to help the royals through a difficult year with Prince Andrew’s trial and the release of Harry’s memoir, but the royals know that with Kate among their ranks, they’re stronger for it.”