Kate Middleton had ‘phenomenal mentor in Queen – she isn’t trying to emulate Diana’

The royal family pulled out all the stops to welcome South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa to Buckingham Palace last week as King Charles III hosted his first official state visit as monarch.

His Majesty was supported by the Queen Consort, the Prince and Princess of Wales and the Earl and Countess of Wessex –
and both Camilla and Kate dazzled as they wore jewels inherited from the late Queen, paying a moving tribute to Her Majesty.

Being his first state banquet as sovereign, the event was hugely important for the King and he and Camilla very much looked the part at the grand dinner.

While His Majesty observed the white tie dress code with his dinner suit, Camilla looked stunning in a royal-blue Bruce Oldfield dress, which she previously wore to a dinner with Commonwealth leaders in Rwanda in June. And she accessorised her gown with a sapphire and diamond tiara and a matching necklace and earrings, which previously belonged to her late mother-in-law.

The King paid close attention to the preparations for the dinner and was involved in decisions about the seating plan and the menu. Ahead of the three-course meal – which included grilled brill and ballotine of Windsor pheasant – the King and Queen Consort inspected the tables.

At one point, keen gardener Camilla, 75, reached out to touch one of the gorgeous floral table decorations, which were made up of pink, red and purple wildflowers from the royal estates, including rose hips, hydrangea and chrysanthemum blooms.

Addressing his 160 guests, the King, 74, made a speech in which he talked about Britain’s colonial history with South Africa and the strong friendship between his mother and Nelson Mandela, the late former president of South Africa.

“The late Queen had the great pleasure of hosting Presidents Mandela, Mbeki and Zuma for state visits to the United Kingdom, at all of which I was present,” he said.

“On each of those occasions, she expressed her admiration for your country and its people, its vibrancy, natural beauty and diversity.

“And she always talked warmly of her return to your country in 1995, as the guest of President Mandela, after the momentous events – driven from within South Africa and supported by so many around the world, including here in the United Kingdom – that brought democracy to your country.”

The Princess of Wales was also centre stage during the big occasion.

In the afternoon, ahead of the banquet, Kate and husband Prince William joined a horse-drawn procession through London,
in which President Ramaphosa rode in a carriage with the King and Queen Consort to Buckingham Palace.

And at the banquet she wowed in a white Elspeth gown by Jenny Packham and the Lover’s Knot Tiara that previously belonged to Princess Diana.

The blue sash and Maltese cross Kate wore were gifted to her by the late Queen, a sign that she had appointed her as Dame of the Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order.

And the yellow ribbon that was visible on Kate’s dress was the Royal Family Order, something she received in 2017 and which features a portrait of the late Queen surrounded by diamonds.

While many would feel overwhelmed and nervous about the responsibility of taking part in such events, Katie Nichols – the author of The New Royals: Queen Elizabeth’s Legacy And The Future Of The Crown – says Kate takes these events in her stride because she had such strong mentoring from the late Queen.

Katie said, “I think it’s very apparent in the way Kate conducts herself and how she carries herself in royal engagements that she’s been well prepared. A lot of it comes down to her own innate confidence but there isn’t a princess training manual and the success of being a princess comes from experience and mentoring.

“She had a wonderful mentor in William but I think she also had a phenomenal mentor in the Queen. It was very much in the late Elizabeth II’s interest to make sure that the future Princess of Wales and future Queen was prepared.

“I remember being told ahead of William and Kate’s wedding in 2011 that the Queen had made her own private office and her ladies in waiting available to Catherine, so she could go and talk to them first-hand about what it was like to do royal engagements and how one should behave. And she took up that offer and made sure she benefitted from that experience.”

Katie thinks that Kate’s ability to glide through these events so effortlessly is all down to the fact that she spent a lot of time with our late sovereign.

She said, “Once her and William were married, the grandchildren came along and seeing both sets of grandparents, as well as the great-grandparents, was really important to William and Kate. They made sure they went to Balmoral every summer to spend time with the Queen and so that their children could spend time with her.

“Those were precious, valuable moments for Kate to develop a close relationship with the Queen. And they did have a good relationship. Part of that relationship was mentoring and the Queen being able to pass on her advice, her values and
her guidance.”

And while anyone else in her role might feel overwhelmed by the weight of history behind it, Katie thinks one of the most impressive things about Kate, 40, is that she’s made it her own. She said, “Obviously, inheriting the Princess of Wales title comes with a great privilege for Catherine but also a sense of expectation, and I think there is a sense of burden that comes with it.

“She’s stepping into very formidable shoes. Princess Diana is still, even 25 years after her death, one of the most iconic and popular royals of all time.

“I think that Kate’s success actually has been carving out her own identity, first as the Duchess of Cambridge and now as the Princess of Wales. She has really made a mark by doing that and she hasn’t tried to emulate or copy. What Kate does do is pay respect at appropriate times and I think that’s what we saw at the state banquet.

“She was wearing the Lover’s Knot Tiara, which was commissioned by Queen Mary in 1913. Diana wore that tiara on many occasions, for many state visits and receptions.

“Kate’s worn it before as well, so it’s clearly one of her favourite go-to tiaras and it clearly has great sentimental value, as it was gifted by the late Queen.

“Wearing the diamonds and drop pearl earrings that were also Diana’s as well was another subtle and heartfelt nod to her. She’s very aware that she’s stepping into Diana’s shoes as Princess of Wales and this is her way of paying tribute to the Princess of Wales who preceded her.”

But while Diana is a hard act to follow, Katie thinks Kate has been “very sensible” about following her own path.

She said, “She’s not letting anything overshadow or overwhelm the Princess of Wales that she wants to be. I think that’s very much to her credit and her confidence.

“You know, she’s been with William now for the best part of two decades and she has a lot of royal experience under her belt. I don’t think she’d find an event like the state dinner overwhelming.

“She will appreciate the importance of the event and she’s certainly taken on a more prominent role as the Princess of Wales.”

Katie also thinks it is very telling that the King, who placed Kate next to President Ramaphosa at dinner, gave her and William, 40, such starring roles during the state visit.

She said, “I think the fact that Kate and William were there to officially greet President Ramaphosa to bring him to Horse Guards Parade was a real sign to the world of their importance and power as the Prince and Princess of Wales.

“I think she wears that very well. She doesn’t seem overwhelmed, she seems incredibly confident. I think she’s well equipped. All of this training has paid off. She can take it in her stride.”

The author even goes as far as to say that our new King actually looked to Kate for moral support at the event.

She said, “You noticed during the dinner, when Charles was making his speech and greeted the President in different African languages, he kept turning to Kate and engaging with her. And she seemed very comfortable with that.

“She has a great skill at putting people at ease and he must have been incredibly grateful for that.”

In terms of her outfit, Katie says it was no surprise that Kate chose Jenny Packham to design her dress, given that she always comes up trumps for these kinds of occasions.

Katie said, “She does turn to Packham for big, show-stopping moments. She can make her look like an A-list movie star for a film premier and she can make her look like the princess she is in this caped, embellished white gown. It was perfect. It was a white-tie dinner, so the choice of white was perfect. And all the embellishment was stunning and befitting of a state occasion like that, and the jewellery was exquisite. She was flawless.”

While it would be easy for her to take attention away from the other royals, Katie thinks the Princess of Wales is a “team player” and knows it’s not all about her. She said, “Kate is very aware of her position and her role as a consort. She’s very careful never to overshadow her husband or the King, or indeed the Queen consort. It’s not her role. Her role is to be there to support as a team player – and she totally gets that.”

Charles was also joined at the event by the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester and the Duke of Kent.

And earlier in the day, Prince Edward, 58, gave the South African president a tour of the greenhouses at Kew Gardens, before they met up with Environment Secretary Therese Coffey.


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