A picture is worth a thousand words: What Kate's beaming smiles and £40 Zara dress tells us about her friendship with sister-in-law Meghan Markle
- On Sunday afternoon the cameras clicked on a family relaxing in the sunshine
- The focus of this carefree sequence were the children, George and Charlotte
- There is no doubt. judging from her smiling informality, Kate is feeling wonderful
By Richard Kay, Daily Mail Editor At Large
Published: 19:37 EDT, 11 June 2018 | Updated: 19:57 EDT, 11 June 2018
Photographs seldom say too much, but once in a while they say everything. On Sunday afternoon the cameras clicked on a family relaxing in the sunshine at a polo match.
Naturally, the focus of this carefree sequence were the children, Prince George, four, and his three-year-old sister Princess Charlotte, the royal scene-stealer-in-chief.
For once, George, so often uncomfortable in the public gaze was a picture of playful intent, whether it was swiping a ball with his cut-down polo stick, playing make-believe cowboys or just obediently watching 'papa' Prince William on horseback.
Is this, then, a snapshot of the real Kate, the way she sees herself, a royal duchess and a Middleton?
But while the young Prince and his sister with her skipping and somersaults are certainly charming, the stand-out element of this tableau of family happiness is surely the children's mother.
Sitting bare-legged on the ground with sunglasses casually propped up on her head, they are the most extraordinary pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge. Extraordinary, because the way a woman looks usually reflects the way she feels.
And there can be no doubt that judging from her smiling informality, Kate is feeling wonderful.
Now there is surely something unexpected about this. It is, after all, only seven weeks since the birth of her third child, Prince Louis, and if the experience of her first-born children is anything to go by, the early weeks of baby No 3 have been tough.
There was surprise that Meghan chose the off-the-shoulder look again on Saturday
George cried and was difficult to feed, and while Charlotte was perfect in comparison, her arrival left Kate exhausted, even irritable. With all three pregnancies she suffered from extreme morning sickness, so who could blame her if she wanted to retreat from the spotlight a little bit longer.
But look closely at the pictures and at the joie de vivre that shines out. No sign of resentment at being photographed — something she has displayed in the past — no suggestion of self-pity.
Instead, there is a radiance that says: 'Here I am, the happiest woman in the world.'
Is this, then, a snapshot of the real Kate, the way she sees herself, a royal duchess and a Middleton? And if so, why now? The answer lies in part with another set of pictures. These were taken 24 hours earlier, of the Buckingham Palace balcony for the Queen's official birthday celebrations, Trooping the Colour.
In these, the slim Duchess in a hat that seemed to elevate her height, stands in the front row next to her father-in-law Prince Charles, towering over him. She is looking completely at ease.
Behind her is the Duchess of Sussex, slimmer — and shorter — but in a dusty pink outfit that highlighted the honeymoon glow of her shoulders.
The two women, relatives by marriage and neighbours at Kensington Palace are the pin-ups of the Royal Family, both epitomes of style and whose every outfit provokes a sales rush.
Look at me! Three-year-old Charlotte impressed Kate as she showed off her gymnastic skills with a handstand - leaving her mother in fits of giggles
When Harry and Meghan gave their post-engagement interview, the prince spoke of the challenge the actress set. As he recalled, he told himself: 'I am really going to have to up my game here.'
Harry, it seems, has not been the only one to up their game — in palace corridors they are saying that so, too, has the Duchess of Cambridge. Just take her clothes.
The casual dress she wore for the family visit to Beaufort Polo Club on Sunday that displayed her open neck owed much to the 'bateau'-style Meghan chose, not just for her wedding dress but also at Trooping. There is no doubt the couture chic of Meghan has drawn comparisons with Kate's more High Street look. In fact, the dress sense of both women is highly prized — but are they rivals?
Courtiers believe there could be a nuanced message here. As elegant and chic as Kate looked, her £39.99 Zara dress will be much more affordable to the average British woman than Meghan's high-end fashion choices.
There was surprise that Meghan chose the off-the-shoulder look again on Saturday. 'She looked like she was going to a cocktail party rather than the formality of the Queen's birthday parade,' says a former palace official.
'It's a difficult act to pull off, and these are early days, but maybe she's trying to be a little too cutting edge. In her early days, Kate had to be subtly told not to show so much leg, so it can happen to anyone.'
The young royal was seen pretending to shoot the plastic firearm at other children and even his mother, the Duchess of Cambridge
Many at the Palace have warmed to the arrival of the American for just those reasons, of course. Kate can come across as stiff and rather formal alongside the more spontaneous and articulate Meghan.
They are not the first royal sisters-in-law to face critical attention. Thirty years ago, Princess Diana and the Duchess of York see-sawed between kinship and rivalry. At first, the two were friends: Diana, remember, more or less introduced Sarah Ferguson into Prince Andrew's life and after the Yorks' wedding they became close friends.
But after five years of Diana, the public were bound to be intrigued by the new arrival. And they weren't alone. Charles famously once reproached his wife, saying: 'Why can't you be more like Fergie?'
The criticism stuck and Diana told photographers: 'You don't need me, you've got Fergie now.'
By the time of their separations they were reconciled, only to fall out again when Fergie brought out her memoirs. But this time there was no making up and Diana was dead before there could be a rapprochement.
Kate, of course is not Diana, though Sunday's visit to the polo field is so reminiscent of the Princess's own weekend visits with Harry and William to watch Prince Charles play in the Eighties and early Nineties.
And any comparison between the Duchess of Sussex and Fergie, starts and ends with the fact that Meghan, too, married a younger royal prince, who also happened to be in the armed services.
Meanwhile, her adjustment to royal life is taking time. Insiders say she was 'very nervous' on her first appearance on the Palace balcony and Harry was a reassuring presence at her side.
Both Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall have recognised that such is the scale of the change in her life from screen star to working duchess that she will need extra time to adapt.
Young royal Prince George was seen pretending to shoot the plastic firearm at other children
'They are trying to keep things light to ensure she doesn't get overwhelmed by the idea of duty,' says a friend of the Prince. 'There are protocols to observe, but they are saying that things can be done differently and no one will really raise too much of an eyebrow.'
Kate can be key to this. As an outsider, she knows the royal ropes, but the two women are not obvious allies. What binds them is the love and affection they have for Harry and their shared lives at Kensington Palace.
There is one area where Meghan cannot compete with Kate — children. Harry yearns to become a father and the sight of George and Charlotte playing in the sunshine also carried a powerful message.
For Kate was showing that, as a member of the Royal Family, being a mother is the most important thing of all. So it may be that rather than Kate copying Meghan, Meghan will want to copy Kate.