The big question today in the royal world doesn’t involve a dyspeptic adult prince or the multimillion-dollar manoeuvring of a duke and duchess or anything even vaguely to do with Oprah Winfrey.
No, today the question is: Who the hell knew that Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge could be quite so … sexy?
Poised? Sure. Beautiful? Of course. The epitome of ladylike grace? That’s a given.
But swapping her signature belted and buttoned coats for a figure-hugging, short-sleeved tee? Oh my, we are entering some new and very interesting territory here.
On Saturday, Kensington Palace released an image of the 39-year-old receiving her covid vaccine, however what was remarkable was that Kate rolled up for her date with modern science and history in a casual white H&M top and some particularly on-trend mum jeans. (I imagine that as I type there is a smouldering pile of redundant Zara skinny jeans in the Kensington Palace garden, gone to meet their high street maker.)
With what looked suspiciously like a broad grin going on behind her mask, the shot is a huge departure from staged, stuffy, pictures of the future Queen we have come to know and not necessarily love.
Gone, at least for now, was a woman whose sartorial age is usually on par with Margaret Thatcher circa the Downing Street years, with not a sensible neckline, shoe or button-up floral shirt in blessed sight.
And this matters, truly.
Because Kate doesn’t just pop on whatever she can find on her Persian rug-carpeted Kensington Palace floor, zip out for her vaccination and get her assistant to take a quick snap with their iPhone.
Outings and looks are planned with the sort of military precision usually reserved for a Shonda Rhimes TV production or a Middle Eastern ground invasion.
That this new vision of her – relaxed and looking genuinely comfortable – perfectly exemplifies the covert but radical evolution Kate has undergone in recent years.
Somehow, over the past few years, while the world’s attention was riveted by the ongoing Sussex drama, while we all watched on, agog, as Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s fairytale crumbled, elsewhere Kate was in the midst of a quietly radical personal transformation.
To fully appreciate how far she has come, you need to go back to May, 2011 when newlyweds William and Kate were trotted out to do their diplomatic best and to welcome then-President Barack Obama and wife Michelle to the palace.
Looking at the images of that Kate now, she looks like any person timidly feeling their way only weeks into a new job – on edge and permanently unsure of where the loo might be.
Sure those nerves seemed to slowly morph into a less acute sort of low-lying unease but still, Kate never seemed totally relaxed. She didn’t so much seem to be treading carefully as tiptoeing along in perpetual state of vague apprehension.
To be the Duchess of Cambridge looked like a nerve wracking job.
However, over the course of the last few years, that slightly jittery, underlying tension has gradually dissipated and a new Kate has emerged, a woman who is confident in her skin and confident in the job she is doing.
The duchess’ new picture is in a similar vein (I can’t go past an easy pun on a Monday) to her husband Prince William’s own recent covid vaccination photo which revealed that, far from resembling a suet pudding in line to the throne, the future king is secretly the owner of some impressively buff arms.
In the wake of the image being released, the UK grappled with a strange and new thought: Might William actually be dishy?
Again, none of this, I reckon, is coincidence and comes less than a month after the couple debuted their shiny new YouTube channel.
Launched in early May, they currently have more than 550,000 subscribers and have proven to be dab hands as quasi-Millennial content generators, racking up millions of views with touching video offerings.
In March this year, Kate made her most overtly radical move in a decade as a member of the royal family, visiting the memorial for murder victim Sarah Everard unannounced.
It was a watershed moment for Kate with the perpetually-measured HRH dipping a toe into the political fray that sprang up around Everard’s killing, very clearly putting her sense of what was right ahead of dogmatic adherence to the royal status quo.
It was a delicious and very promising hint of rebelliousness on her part.
All of this – the social media push, the casual new images, the new-found assuredness – would be notable at any point in time, however, the fact they have managed to achieve all of this while the royal house is mired in one of its most turbulent and damaging periods since the death of Diana, Princess of Wales makes their achievements even more impressive.
Buckingham Palace has weathered, barely, the drama and strife of the past 18 months or so, from Prince Andrew’s cataclysmic BBC interview, to Harry and Meghan’s agonising exit, to the now-Stateside couple’s recent penchant for blistering TV tell-alls.
By contrast, William and Kate have not just emerged mostly unscathed but have somehow risen, like two Marks & Spencer-loving phoenixes from the near-ashes and have thrown themselves into their royal roles with new-found vim and vigour.
Factor in too here; the Cambridges have only this weekend just returned from their highly successful tour of Scotland, which will be earning them no end of gold stars and extra pieces of congratulatory shortbread the next time they pop around to Buckingham Palace.
Then there’s the fact they have undertaken 174 engagements between them so far this year, according to The Telegraph, in contrast to the 93 runs they had on the board at this point in 2020. Now sure, last year was hardly an average year and for much of that time they were stuck at their ten bedroom Norfolk pile, Anmer Hall. Still, the significant jump in their numbers suggests something more is afoot behind the scenes.
This is a vast cry from only a few years ago when the British press was still casting the Cambridges as work-shy HRHs, more interested in the slopes of Courchevel or soaking up the sunshine in Mustique than putting in the plodding but necessary regal hard yards.
(In March 2017, the prince drew the collective ire of Fleet Street for skipping the Commonwealth Day ceremony at Westminster Abbey to hit the slopes in Switzerland.)
It is not simply that they have finally committed themselves wholeheartedly to the royal grind but that they have truly hit their stride.
What often gets lost is that Kate is by all accounts an inherently shy person; not only has she overcome that timidity but she now nearly looks like she is actually enjoying her royal job.
What lies at the heart of this new Kate is not just that she has overcome her bashfulness but for that we are finally seeing real confidence in herself and joy shine through.
So, welcome to the party Kate, Duchess of Denim. We’ve been waiting a decade to finally meet you.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and a writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.
Originally published as Photo confirms Kate’s covert change