A Royal Kate of affairs

While the stalwarts of the Royal Family were on show for the Queen's 80th birthday earlier this month, Kate Middleton pitched up with Prince William at a polo match, managing to look demure in a low-cut sundress and wearing simple jewellery.

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Published: Fri 30 Jun 2006, 2:45 PM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 4:45 PM

She has made an art of ducking the limelight. The couple looked young, affectionate, at ease and — in a heartstirring way — familiar.

There are striking similarities and differences between the two women.

Both tall and leggy, both popular at school without being intimidating academics, Kate has a striking colouring, reminiscent of Koo Stark. She also has a quiet poise, a solidity which was absent in Diana.

Kate was brought up in a secure, two-parent, upper-middle-class, Home Counties family. She has been used to material wealth and emotional support.

Lady Diana, in contrast, was an aristocrat from a broken family. If you wander round the grounds at Althorp, where Diana grew up and was buried, you can feel her playful yet wistful presence.

There was a self-awareness about Diana probably borne out of insecurity, which translated into empathy.

A friend of hers, Lady Cosima Somerset, once told me that even at the height of Diana's fame, she would notice who was looking at her. A male admirer said that she had the eyes of the Laughing Cavalier, or perhaps even the Mona Lisa. Every man in a room with her felt that she was aware of their presence.

By contrast, Kate Middleton has a self-contained quality. She seems to be wrapped in privacy even in the midst of intense public interest.

There are further comparisons and contrasts in the women's relationships with the heirs to the throne.

Diana had a childhood crush on Prince Charles, just as Kate put up a poster of Prince William in her dormitory at Marlborough College.

Yet Kate and William appear to have more of a relationship of equals. Kate is a few months older than William, whereas Diana was 12 years younger than Charles.

Charles's interests and friends were different from hers. He was, moreover, sexually experienced and, as we now know, in love with another woman, Camilla Parker Bowles. The cruel truth is that his was an arranged marriage.

Diana, with all her sweetness and complexity, wedded a man whom she did not really know. Kate has lived with William for years, knowing him first as a friend and fellow undergraduate at St Andrews University and then as a girlfriend.

The youthful fidelity is on both sides. Their friends at St Andrews say they might as well have been married. Charles and Camilla share an autumnal version of this absolute familiarity and companionship.

Kate has reportedly been welcomed by the Firm, who have modernised their expectation of marriage, preferring stable marriages to ancient demands for royal bloodlines and unbroken hymens.

There will be different sacrifices asked of Kate. If Prince William joins the Household Division, she will have to be a dutiful Army wife as well as a Princess.

A year or so ago, I asked a magazine director if she would put Kate Middleton on a cover. She replied that Kate did not have the star quality of Diana, although she is actually prettier.

Kate certainly has cover girl potential now. Alexandra Shulman, editor of Vogue, says: 'I think Kate is a contemporary version of Diana. She has the same mainstream style and will go on, like Diana, to get more glamorous.'

The unfussy look — good jeans, great genes — suits the environment. If Kate stays with William, she will have to survive many rugby touchlines and fast ski slopes.

In the early years, Diana experimented-with costumes rather than outfits — the tartan, the sailor suit, the headmistress and the vamp. Later, she was dazzling, adopting a kind of euro-chic of white shirts and sunglasses by day and gorgeous gowns by night.

The last photographs of her by Mario Testino are so blindingly beautiful that an early Monroestyle death seems inevitable.

What else does the camera show? Kate has a natural athleticism — she is good at hockey and tennis — while Diana loved dancing and swimming. Both photograph sensationally in bikinis.

If Kate is a contemporary version of the young Diana, then it is a version mercifully without the anguish and doomed star quality.

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