Kate Middleton’s landmark speech is overshadowed by Meghan Markle news

It would have been good to be Alexandra of Denmark (Britain’s queen consort from 1901-1910) or even her successor Mary of Teck (queen consort from 1910 until 1936).
Back in those days, being the wife of the king was a far, far easier gig. There was the occasional grand statue to unveil, the odd public gesture of maternal benevolence towards the nation and once the whole heir business was sorted, all that was left was hours to spend shopping for massive hats and endless pairs of ecru gloves.
Being queen was in and of itself an occupation. All those tiaras tucked away in Buckingham Palace? They don’t just wear themselves.
Pity Kate, Duchess of Cambridge and future queen consort, then because her day job is a world away from that of her Windsor (nee Saxe-Coburg and Gotha) forebears.
What is required in the 21st century is to fill an often thankless role that is part CEO, part roving British Ambassador, part fashion plate all the while being one of the world’s most famous mum.
Those days of leisurely glove shopping are long over.
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In recent years, Kate has been stepping up her charitable focus and Friday last week was a red letter moment in the duchess’ royal tenure, with the unveiling of the results of her landmark Five Big Questions survey.
Conducted earlier this year, it is the biggest UK study ever done into early years childhood development. This was to be the pinnacle of her career so far and should have marked the launch of a far more serious, professionally-minded Kate.
There was a carefully choreographed rollout of social media posts, charming-and-relatable video content (giving the world this lovely GIF for posterity) and a keynote speech at the online Royal Foundation forum. It should all have registered as a slam dunk, an ace in the hole.
She got Fleet Street front pages, the royal editors churned out some nice copy about her (truly) good works but Kate’s – literally – years of hard labour ended up being largely eclipsed by far more sensational royal news that had unfolded on the other side of the Atlantic.
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Entirely coincidentally, barely two days before Kate’s big moment was set to kick off, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, had published a profoundly moving and powerful personal essay in The New York Times about having miscarried her second child earlier in the year.
In the hours and days since then, her piece has sparked a global outpouring of sympathy and support for the couple.
The world’s press breathlessly focused on Harry and Meghan’s sad news while millions of social media users passionately posted, commented, and talked about the California-based couple.
Despite there being a good 48 hours between Meghan’s sensational story hitting the net and Kate’s unveiling, the impact was the same: The Duchess of Cambridge’s project was largely lost in the hubbub surrounding the Duchess of Sussex’s revelation.
These are clearly two substantially different events, one professional and one deeply personal. However, what is indisputable is to be a senior working member of the royal family, to day in and day out get up and do your darnedest to represent the Queen, largely translates to doing your bit to generate lots of lovely good press.
The early years project and Five Big Questions isn’t just something to keep Kate occupied in between fretting about her husband’s balding pate and how many new mid-range wrap dresses to buy, it is about a calculated effort to reposition her image-wise.
This moment should have represented the unveiling of CEO Kate, a woman affecting substantial, generational change and who can wear the hell out of a blazer all of which is in aid to setting her up as a future queen consort of substance.
Poor diligent Kate. All that industry and striving and effort and time and her big moment hardly caused much of a ripple.
Therein lies the Sussex-sized issue.
The royal family needs Britons and the Commonwealth to see them as industrious cheerleaders, diligently toiling away behind palace gates and to constantly reinforce that image comes down to generating lots of PR. Because, as base as this might be, to keep the monarchy chugging along and public sentiment buoyed is pretty much just a monumental exercise in branding.
However, The Firm’s ability to achieve this is facing its biggest test in decades thanks to the breakaway Sussex ‘court’. Harry and Meghan are both dazzling, charismatic and let’s be honest, wildly photogenic. They take on thrilling, contemporary causes, pal about with celebrities, love a video chat and are willing to talk about themselves on occasion.
The Cambridges might be conscientious and their children suitably adorable; their considered, plodding and dependable approach might be entirely the right timbre one for a future king and queen, but pit them against the glittering, fascinating Sussexes, they just seem a bit boring. Let’s be honest: all that hard work and dedication is hardly electrifying stuff is it?
This is all only going to become more pronounced in the years to come when the COVID pandemic is brought under control and we return to ‘normal’ life. The Sussexes will be unleashed from the confines of their $20 million Montecito mansion and the mind boggles even just considering where they might go, who they might meet and what they will get up to. Their future catchphrase: Have private jet, will travel and change the world.
As Harry and Meghan ramp up their global presence and the footprint of Archewell, their soon-to-be-debuted charitable entity, there is every chance that poor old William and Kate and all of their High Street jumpers and assiduously practised speeches face being consigned, forevermore, to second place.
Both couples might be fulfilling their ‘job requirements’ perfectly but only one of them holds us in perpetual, fascinated thrall.
The inherent issue here is that the Cambridges are not and never will be exciting or rule breakers and that’s fine – their job is to do exactly the opposite and to perpetually project an air of dependability and continuity.
The Sussexes, by contrast, have been released from the bonds of royal protocol and are free to ideate (as they say in LA-ease) as many rule-breaking, status quo-shattering projects as they fancy.
There is another danger to all of this for the monarchy, beyond the PR challenge. The royal family has always largely existed in a vacuum and has never really faced any competition as such. So what happens when there is a second ‘royal family’ out there in the world embracing a wholly different approach to whom the house of Windsor can be held up against?
How will they fare when there is a competing ‘royal family’ for them compared to? When the Queen and co’s efforts are being thrown into stark relief, will they be found wanting?
There is no escaping the fact that the world is far, far more interested in watching, reading and talking about Harry and Meghan and that is why some secret red warning light should be at this very moment flashing furiously above the Queen’s desk.
What are the long term consequences for the royal family if the Sussexes continue to suck up all the press oxygen and public interest? What happens to William and Kate if all their hard work is permanently overshadowed by whatever dashing, fascinating thing Harry and Meghan are up to? What happens if we get to a point where … we just don’t care about The Firm?
Centuries ago inbreeding posed an increasing threat to the monarchy; today the equivalent is public indifference.
While for decades there has been some undercurrent of republicanism, what is far more pernicious a danger is an apathetic UK and Commonwealth.
The looming challenge for the royal family in the 21st century is to find a way to hold – and keep – the fickle public’s attention, interest and support. Making that task that much harder is going to be the fact they are going to have to achieve this while another far more gripping ‘show’ is playing out across the pond.
So, best of luck with all this Kate, but remember: You’re going to need more than your trusty cupboard full of Zara blazers if you want to come out on top.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.