A version of this story appeared in the December 10 edition of CNN’s Royal News, a weekly dispatch bringing you the inside track on Britain’s royal family. Sign up here.
She wasn’t born into the House of Windsor, but the Duchess of Cambridge’s latest endeavor reveals her central position in the family now – and possibly gives us a glimpse of the Queen she will one day become.
Wednesday night saw Catherine host a glamorous festive extravaganza within the hallowed Westminster Abbey in central London – a moment that subtly showcased the future of the monarchy.
With the ornate Gothic church decorated with twinkling Christmas trees, Kate put on a warm welcome for the unsung heroes of the UK’s pandemic response. The choice of a location so deeply threaded into the history of the monarchy signals how far Kate has come. Westminster Abbey is what’s known as a “Royal Peculiar,” under the authority of a Dean and Chapter and subject only to the sovereign. One of Britain’s most famous royal spaces, it’s where numerous coronations, weddings and burials have taken place. For Kate to be given permission to use the abbey also conveys her spiritual commitment – an important quality to reinforce if she is one day to be the wife of the Supreme Governor of the Church of England.
And while William accompanied her to the event, his was very much a supporting role. It’s a break from the norm, when the primary function of the royal spouse has been to assist the monarch – or, in this case, future monarch. In decades past, Prince Philip principally supported the Queen, and we’ve seen the Duchess of Cornwall conduct herself similarly with Prince Charles. But William appears to have become comfortable with letting Kate display her own brand of leadership, and it is yet another example of how she is quietly modernizing from within the firm.
If part of the royal role is about supporting the public and strengthening national unity, Kate’s Christmas concert was a textbook example.
The evening of carols is not an annual event but, rather, one that was spearheaded by the duchess, who wanted to put on “a celebration of life in our communities, and illustrate how acts of kindness, empathy and love can nurture and reconnect us.”
Within the order of service, she reflected on the end of “another extraordinary year” and the “previously unimaginable challenges” of the past 18 months.
“We have been reminded just how powerful human connection is to us all. Just how much we need one another,” Kate wrote in the foreword. “This Carol Service is our small way of recognising the inspiring contribution so many of you have made.”
She added: “Christmas is a time when we can reflect on the past, listen to one another, focus on the relationships that nurture us and build our resilience, so we can look forward to a brighter shared future. My hope is that this Service creates a moment for us to do this together.”
The congregation was made up of guests nominated by their local communities, as well as representatives from many of the charities and patronages of the Queen and other royal family members. Invitees also included soldiers involved in Operation Pitting, the UK’s evacuation of civilians from Afghanistan.
The hour-long service, set to air on the UK’s ITV network on Christmas Eve, featured a sprinkling of celebrity appearances, with musical performances from singers Ellie Goulding and Leona Lewis, while British Paralympian Kim Daybell and “Harry Potter” star Tom Felton delivered readings.
Members of the Windsor clan descended upon the festivities to offer their support to the Duchess’ big night, including Princess Beatrice and her husband, Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi, Princess Beatrice, the Countess of Wessex, and Zara and Mike Tindall.
Also making a rare public appearance were Kate’s parents, Michael and Carole Middleton, along with her siblings, James and Pippa.
And the event appears to have been a success, with guests and royal-watchers complimenting Kate online. One invitee, Jay Dave, a retired police officer and South Wales President of the British Red Cross, thanked the duchess “for inviting us to such a lovely concert to spread hope & light from the darkness we have all been in” in a post on Twitter after the event.
Much like the Duchess of Cornwall and Countess of Wessex in recent times, Kate is routinely undertaking solo engagements, with royal-watchers praising her regal but relatable approach. The three were also widely applauded for stepping up in the Queen’s absence during Remembrance Sunday commemorations in November.
If the monarchy must continue to evolve in order to thrive, the qualities we’re seeing from Kate and the other senior women of the family are important. They have brought a real-world awareness to the firm and are drawing on their own experiences as “commoners.”
We learn something about them from the causes they choose to promote. They understand how the public perceives the royal family and are able to use that knowledge to help the monarchy adapt with the times.
PHOTO OF THE WEEK
A tradition many royal-watchers wait for at this time of the year is the release of the annual Christmas cards. William and Kate were first off the block, dropping a delightful family photo of mom and dad surrounded by their three kids. According to Kensington Palace, the photograph was taken earlier this year in Jordan, a previously unknown vacation that the family managed to sneak away for.
WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING
The Queen’s getting busy again, despite the doctor’s advice to rest.
Queen Elizabeth II didn’t make it to the Duchess of Cambridge’s carol concert but she’s certainly not taking it easy back in Windsor. On the same day as Kate’s festive service, the 95-year-old monarch carried out six engagements (three video calls, two face-to-face meetings and her weekly audience with Prime Minister Boris Johnson). The busy day comes nearly a month after she had to cancel an appearance at the national Remembrance Sunday service. She’s been undertaking light duties while resting outside London but the packed schedule shows it’s back to business, albeit without any travel amid her government’s latest guidance to work from home once more.
William opens Kensington Palace up to teen heroes.
The Duke of Cambridge welcomed teenage award-winners to Kensington Palace this week in recognition of “their dedication to helping others through their selfless, brave and exceptional achievements.” BBC Radio 1’s Teen Heroes is a yearly celebration of young people who have gone above and beyond for others. This year’s winners included a 17-year-old who helped an individual in danger of taking their own life, a 14-year-old fundraiser for bereavement causes and a 19-year-old carer who is also studying to become a nurse. It’s the fifth year William has invited youngsters to the royal home to congratulate the winners personally.
ROYAL TEA BREAK
Prince Charles looked on gleefully while attending an advent service at Holy Trinity Brompton church on Thursday in London. His wife has also been bringing the holiday cheer this week. Camilla visited a school in the capital to switch on their festive lights. She’s also set to welcome kids from two children’s organizations of which she is patron – Helen & Douglas House and Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Children’s Charity – to Clarence House, where they will decorate the Christmas tree and receive “a few festive surprises.”
Prince William is taking listeners on a walk down memory lane after joining forces with Apple Fitness+ for a special festive episode of its “Time To Walk” audio series. The duke is understood to be a fan of the series and approached the company about getting involved in the project. He is hoping to encourage people to listen while taking a walk for their mental wellbeing over the Christmas period. In the episode, William cringes over a moment he once shared with Taylor Swift, some of his favorite tunes and car rides with his mom and Harry. Read the full story.
The couple released a statement on Wednesday, marking one year since the administration of the world’s first coronavirus vaccine. They congratulated the UK’s National Health Service scientists, volunteers and workers on this “extraordinary achievement” before calling on the public to get vaccinated. The world’s first Covid-19 vaccine dose was administered to 90-year-old Margaret Keenan in the UK on December 8 in 2020, nine months after the World Health Organization declared the global pandemic.