The English royal family puts on a poised, polished front for the public, which leads many people to wonder, what are they like behind closed doors? Kate Middleton decided to break from that facade of perfection with a post on the Kensington Palace Instagram page. And, with just one picture, she broke royal tradition.
Indeed, the younger royals — including Kate’s husband, Prince William, and his brother, Prince Harry — have been pioneers when it comes to social media. They joined Twitter in September 2014 and then Instagram a few months later. But their posts featured professional photos, and all of the captions were written in the third person – not a very personal touch.
When Prince Harry married Meghan Markle, though, the newlyweds made the medium their own. After they joined Instagram in April 2019, they began sharing their own selection of photos – and the captions they added were much more casual and conversational. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge lagged behind, though, maintaining a professional presence on the site.
Even away from the internet, Harry and Meghan seemed to be the more “normal” of the royal couples, regularly breaking with tradition to carve out the life they wanted. But the Cambridges didn’t keep up their perfect facade forever. With a single Instagram post, Kate proved that she and William wanted to forge their own path, too.
Before she even became a royal, Kate Middleton had broken the family’s strict protocol. She met Prince William in 2001, when they were both at St. Andrews University. In the documentary William & Kate: Too Good To Be True?, royal memoirist Tom Quinn revealed that the future King of England had tripped and almost fallen over when he approached Kate for the first time.
But it wasn’t this snafu that saw the couple breaking royal protocol from the off. As it turns out, the fact that both Kate and William earned their degrees from St. Andrews sets them apart from their predecessors. Surprisingly, should they ascend to the throne, they will be the first reigning royal couple to have obtained their college degrees.
Those ahead in line for the throne have, of course, earned their degrees. For instance, Prince Charles earned his diploma from Cambridge University – however, his wife, Camilla, didn’t reach the same academic level. Even Queen Elizabeth II received her education at home, albeit under the guidance of a private tutor from the prestigious Eton College.
So, that was Kate and William’s first step outside of royal tradition. But their romance marked another important milestone for the royal family. Previously, monarchs chose their spouses with an eye on political strategy, royal maneuvers or public popularity. The future duchess’s family didn’t have noble roots, though – she and her husband married for love.
After their show-stopping nuptials – over two billion people watched worldwide – Kate and William started their life in a non-traditional way. The royal family had always based themselves in London. But the future king and queen set up home in Anmer in Norfolk and started their family there, too.
Kate and William kept their country home as their base until 2017. By that time, they had two children: George and Charlotte. Their older son, born in 2012, had reached school age. So, the family moved back to London to allow George to start his education, thus falling back in line with royal tradition.
Still, some wondered how William got away with his and Kate’s time in the country, since his royal duties required him to live a more public lifestyle. One report claimed that the prince had made a deal with his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II. She supposedly agreed to let him break with protocol and spend the early years of his marriage in private.
Once they came back into the spotlight, though, William and Kate subtly continued to bend royal tradition. Family members before them – save for the Prince’s mother, Princess Diana – often conducted official business with poker faces, shall we say. They put on polite smiles and used their neutral expressions to hide any discord that might be brewing behind the scenes.
However, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have taken a page out of William’s mother’s book. They share their emotions much more openly, laughing out loud and showing genuine care for the people they meet. The couple also act affectionately with one another in public, which wouldn’t have been the royal way in the past.
Kate and William have started their own traditions around the holidays, too. For many years, the royal family gathered together on Christmas Day with the Queen at her country estate, Sandringham House. However, the future king and queen don’t attend the festivities every year. Sometimes, they spend the morning at their own home, Anmer Hall, instead.
In fact, Kate has played hostess at Anmer Hall at Christmas, throwing a party at the same time as the Queen. She invited her parents and siblings to the gathering, skirting royal tradition by celebrating with her side of the family instead. Indeed, most couples know what this is like – alternating relatives with whom to spend the festive season.
Kate isn’t just making her own holiday rules, though. The Duchess of Cambridge has made changes to royal expectations of her when it comes to fashion too. Rather than donning only designer threads, she has made a point to wear clothes from budget-friendly brands. Plus, she has no problem rewearing her favourite items, a surprise considering many public figures wouldn’t want to be photographed in the same outfit twice.
Finally, Kate and William’s parenting style is much different than the royal moms and dads that preceded them. The pair do have a nanny, but they don’t have a fleet of caretakers in charge of their children. Instead, they prefer a more hands-on role in the upbringing of their three little ones: George, Charlotte and Louis.
Body language expert Judi James told the Express in June 2020 that Kate seems to want her children to be independent and strong. She sent that signal by dressing them in unique outfits, but coordinating their colors to match so that it’s clear they’re part of a unit. Unlike other royal parents, James said that the Duchess’s demeanor suggested she would be “a slightly more relaxed, hands-off presence” in her kids’ lives.
For all of their rule-breaking moves, William and Kate have been slower to defy royal tradition on social media. The couple joined Twitter in 2014 under a Kensington Palace account, so they shared it with fellow resident Prince Harry. The trio joined Instagram with the same account name just a few months later.
Both accounts provided updates on what William, Kate and Harry were doing – at least, as far as their royal engagements went. But the social media was quite professional, as it featured media photos, as well as captions written by a third party. None of it provided much of a behind-the-scenes glimpse into royal life.
Prince Harry’s wedding to Meghan Markle changed the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s approach to social media. They started their own Instagram, where they picked all of the photos that went up. And sometimes, one of them would sign the captions, signifying the sentiment attached to each picture was a personal message.
Not only that, but Meghan and Harry used their Instagram to show what life was like, beyond what the public saw on red carpets at official events. They started sharing their personal photos with the world at large. They even announced the birth of their son, Archie Mountbatten-Windsor, with a post on the social media platform.
Nowadays, though, the Sussexes have become relatively silent on social media – and they’ve fallen out of the public eye, too. Apart from some video messages in support of good causes and unexpected sightings, the pair share very little with the outside world. However, the rest of the royal family hasn’t completely closed the door to their fans.
Instead, William and Kate have changed their approach to social media, as well. For starters, the pair have begun to conduct royal engagements via video chat, and they share clips of their conversations via social media. But that’s not all – they have shared a bit more about their family life, too.
On the personalization side, Kate and William started small. First, they changed their display name on Instagram. It used to read “Kensington Palace,” which implied that the account was more of an official media account, rather than one helmed by the royals themselves. But they updated it to say “Duke and Duchess of Cambridge” so it’s now clear who’s in charge.
That wasn’t all, though – the Kensington Palace Instagram got a new profile picture, too. Instead of a royal logo or official portrait, the image now features Kate, William and their three children. And, although the Duchess has shared photos she took of her children to commemorate their birthdays, a recent post pushed the envelope even further.
On April 23, 2020, the Duke and Duchess shared a photo of their youngest son, Prince Louis, on his second birthday. As usual, Kate had captured the set of shared pictures. But the images, featuring Louis with paint-covered hands — and then, a paint-splattered face — came with a much less formal caption.
“Instagram vs. Reality,” said the caption of Prince Louis’ birthday photos. For those unfamiliar with the social media site’s trends — influencers have long used the same caption on their photos. They typically share the winning image from a photoshoot, as well as an imperfect, rejected, picture, just to show that their lives aren’t constantly glamorus, despite appearances.
According to People, it was the first time that Kate and William had taken part in the popular Instagram trend. They did so as a way to thank their followers, many of whom had reached out to wish Louis a happy birthday. And, naturally, people appreciated the royals’ casual way of showing their gratitude.
One Instagram user said they “absolutely adore[d]” the laidback snaps of Prince Louis. Another wrote, “Lol, a very happy boy indeed!” And, of course, many lauded Kate’s skill behind the camera. “Such a cute photo,” one person wrote. Someone else asked what type of camera the Duchess used to capture such great photos.
However, royal watchers and correspondents tasked with following the Duke and Duchess noted that the post was more than just a sweet change of pace. It represented Kate’s desire to make her family seem more relatable to the public in the U.K. and beyond. Social media allowed her to do this, according to royal reporter Omid Scobie.
Scobie pointed out how Louis had his hands in the rainbow paint to create art in honor of the U.K.’s National Health Service, just like countless other kids his age. On an episode of the HeirPod podcast she said, “Children have been drawing rainbows, pictures and multi-colored pictures and sticking them in the windows of their homes to show support for the NHS and so Louis had done his hand painting”
Rather than solely highlighting Louis’ proper use of paint, though, Kate gave other moms a behind-the-scenes look at how her kids created art – and it wasn’t as perfect as the first picture would suggest. “There was this great outtake that Kensington Palace shared the day after the birthday where little Louis was rubbing the paint all over his face,” Scobie said.
Scobie’s HeirPod cohost, Maggie Rulli, pointed out that the rainbow painting content was relatable for moms everywhere. “Another good moment that really showed this realness, I think, right now and I think any parent with little kids can probably relate to seeing Louis with paint all over his face,” said Rulli.
Rulli went on to point out how the caption made it even more personable. She said, “I also love that Instagram post because they actually use the words ‘Instagram vs Reality,’ which I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a royal post before. To see them post that also just reminded me of things my family and friends post as well. It was such a relatable moment.”
Rulli’s comment gave Scobie pause, as she hadn’t realized that Kate’s caption marked the first time anyone in the monarchy had followed an Instagram trend. “Now that you point it out I would like to think that that was a royal first,” she said. “The first meme. I love that.”
Indeed, during the early months of 2020, Kate notably began to open up more to the public, through both her Instagram and in conversation. For instance, in February, she sat down for an interview on the Happy Mum, Happy Baby podcast. And she revealed sides of her personality previously unknown to her fans.
For instance, the Duchess admitted that, to handle her often hectic schedule, she made a point to remember the moments that made her feel happiest in life. She explained, “I’ve got this one photo of Charlotte smelling a bluebell, and really for me it’s moments like that mean so much to me as a parent. I try every day to put moments like that in, even if they’re small or even if I don’t have time.”
In the same interview, the Duchess highlighted the formative relationships of her childhood – and how the same ones were valuable to today’s generation of little ones, too. Kate explained, “I think there’s a few things that really stand out for me. One is quality of relationships. So, those moments that you spend with people that are around you. I remember that from my own childhood.”
Clearly, Kate’s beliefs have led her to forge quality relationships with her family, as well. With her Instagram posts with her children and husband, it’s clear that she wants to build a stronger bond with the public, too. And, if that requires bending royal protocol a bit, it seems the Duchess is keen to do just that.