As the world’s most watched royal, it takes a superhuman amount of dignity and grace to live under intense social pressure, but Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge – also referred to casually as Kate Middleton – has exceeded every challenge. As the wife of Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, who is second in line to the throne, Middleton has a fair shot at becoming Queen Consort. Today, on her 36th birthday, we’re taking a look back at the life and style of Britain’s favorite royal.
In her early days, Middleton could hardly imagine her future as a queen. Born to Michael and Carole Middleton in Berkshire, England, she spent the first few years of her life in Amman, Jordan, where her father worked for British Airways. Although her father was a former flight dispatcher and flight attendant, and her mother was the founder of a multi-million dollar party supplies company called Party Pieces, the family has long ties to British aristocracy.
After the success of Party Pieces, Middleton bounced to various boarding schools before landing at the University of St Andrews in Fife, Scotland in 2001. As fate would have it, she moved into St. Salvator’s Hall, where she met Prince William, who also lived in the same dormitory. Although they shared the same classes and often took breakfast together, the pair did not become romantically interested in one another until the following year.
For two years, the couple wisely kept their relationship private, but the paparazzi eventually sniffed out the situation when Middleton attended a royal family ski vacation in 2004. From that moment forward, she was hounded and harassed by the press, and eventually both Prince William and Middleton’s lawyer were forced to threaten legal action to abate the intense paparazzi attention.
In 2006, Middleton was given her own 24-hour security detail from the Royalty and Diplomatic Protection Department, which prompted the public to speculate that she was being selected as a future wife for Prince William. However, the prince headed off to military academy, which quelled some of the rumors. The duo would break up briefly the following year, but quickly rekindled their relationship.
In October 2010, Prince William proposed to Middleton during his birthday trip to the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya, and the official Clarence House announcement was released on November 16th, 2010. He proposed with the engagement ring that once belonged to Diana, Princess of Wales. Over 300 million people worldwide watched their nuptials, which took place at Westminster Abbey in 2011.
After much public speculation as to who she would choose to make her wedding gown, Middleton wore a dress designed by Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen, thus honoring the British heritage of the brand. Over the years, she has spoken candidly about the difficulties of motherhood. Although her impeccable outfit, warm smile, and perpetually glossy hair speak to a life of privilege and perfection, they belie the difficulties she faces by being a mother under the watchful eye of the public.
“Personally, becoming a mother has been such a rewarding and wonderful experience. However, at times it has also been a huge challenge,” she said during a public speech in London. “Even for me, who has support at home that most mothers do not. Nothing can really prepare you for the sheer, overwhelming experience of what it means to become a mother. It’s full of complex emotions of joy, exhaustion, love, and worry, all mixed together.”
Additionally, she has spoken out about the stigma of post-partum depression, pointing out that two in ten women suffer from it after giving birth and urging awareness of this important mental health issue. Prince William has also echoed the sentiment in his own speech, saying fatherhood was made of “wonderful highs and wonderful lows”. In fact, Middleton formed Heads Together with Prince William and his brother Prince Harry, which is a charity initiative that aims to end the stigmatization of pre- and post- mental health problems for mothers.
The relatability of the royal couple and their struggles with parenthood have only served to make them more likable. Nobody is perfect – no matter how they look from the outside – but what’s more important here is that they are using their position of power and high-profile status to shine a light on this vital issue.
Although Middleton held a variety of jobs over the years of her courtship to Prince William, her raison d’etre would eventually become philanthropic work. Heads Together is but one of the many initiatives that the princess is involved with. In 2013, she launched M-PACT Plus, which provides support for young children whose families are affected by drug and alcohol abuse.
The Duke and Duchess together have worked with UNICEF to help supply food for malnourished children in Africa, and through their joint foundation – The Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry – to raise funds for various projects. Middleton has also established The Art Room, which teaches children self-esteem through art, the National Portrait Gallery, Action on Addiction, The Scout Association, and much more.
Beyond her contributions to British culture and multiple philanthropic causes, Middleton is a global style icon. She prefers polished separates, fit-and-flare silhouettes, delicate heels, and the occasional dramatic hat – overall, her looks are very feminine and relatable. In the fashion industry, the “Kate Middleton effect”, or “Kate effect”, refers to the trend frenzy that surrounds anything and everything she wears.
Because she is keen to mix affordable high-street brands, British labels, and high fashion together, Middleton’s choice of attire can cause a sell-out effect across all three categories. In fact, Newsweek speculated that the “Kate Effect may be worth £1 billion to the UK fashion industry”. In celebration of her grace, class, and stylistic perfection, we’ve compiled a style file on the birthday girl that contains some of her best looks over the past few years.