How Kate Middleton Will Be a Different Princess of Wales Than Diana
Kate Middleton is now the Princess of Wales, but royal experts point out that she won’t just be Diana 2.0
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It’s been 25 years since Princess Diana’s tragic death. Since then, no one has held her former title, at least publicly. Now, the beloved “people’s princess” finally has a successor: Princess Kate—or, officially, Princess Catherine—the new Princess of Wales. King Charles III bestowed that title on Prince William‘s wife, Kate Middleton, shortly after Queen Elizabeth’s death.
For obvious reasons, comparisons between Kate and her late mother-in-law are inevitable. Of course, the two women have some similarities, including Kate and Diana’s fashion sense and the times they wore nearly identical outfits. William also used his late mother’s engagement ring to propose, and more recently, Kate wore a pearl choker to Queen Elizabeth’s funeral that Diana once donned. But Kate won’t just be a slightly modernized copy of the “people’s princess” of the 1980s. “Diana and Catherine are completely different personalities,” says royal commentator Richard Fitzwilliams. “[Plus,] Catherine has had over a decade to successfully make her own identity as a hardworking royal. She is beloved because she stayed true to herself.”
But what will Kate focus on in her new role, and how will she do things differently than Diana? She already went through one royal transformation when going from commoner to the Duchess of Cambridge, and here’s what we might see now that William has moved up the royal line of succession and she’s the Princess of Wales.
When did Kate Middleton become the Princess of Wales?
A royal by marriage, Kate’s Princess of Wales title is dependent on her husband’s place in the royal family, and William is now next in line for the throne. While the heir apparent is the only one who can hold the title Prince of Wales, that title isn’t automatically bestowed on him, unlike the Duchy of Cornwall. Instead, royal law holds that the monarch must give the Prince (or Princess) this title, and that’s exactly what happened on Sept. 9, 2022, the day after Queen Elizabeth’s passing.
“I am proud to create him (William) Prince of Wales,” King Charles said in his first speech to the U.K. and the Commonwealth. “With Catherine beside him, our new Prince and Princess of Wales will, I know, continue to inspire and lead our national conversations.”
Technically, King Charles III’s wife, Camilla Parker Bowles, was also the Princess of Wales before she became the queen consort. But she never used the title and instead went by the Duchess of Cornwall. “When Camilla married Charles in 2005, there were some resentments, given how people perceived the couple had treated [Diana],” explains Fitzwilliams. “But Catherine has no connection to that period, and the public will be very pleased about her being princess.” In fact, Princess Kate already ranked third in a March 2022 survey by Ipsos that asked Brits about their favorite royals; only Queen Elizabeth II (first place) and Prince William (second) were ahead of her.
What are the duties of the Princess of Wales?
The main duty of the Prince and Princess of Wales is to support the sovereign in ensuring the stability and continuity of the British monarchy, as well as “bringing people together across all sections of society,” according to the Prince of Wales’s official website. In reality, this slightly vague job description means that the holders of these ceremonial titles attend a lot of functions, state dinners and royal events, including the annual Trooping the Colour, alongside other senior members of the family. The main goal? To represent the British monarchy in the best possible light.
As the Princess of Wales, Kate will mainly support her husband as the couple represents the Head of State both in the U.K. and on overseas trips. Highlights of Diana’s reign included a tour through Australia and New Zealand in 1981 and a trip to Washington, D.C., to meet President Ronald Reagan four years later. (It was during the latter visit, FYI, that she danced to music from “Saturday Night Fever” with John Travolta at a White House dinner.) And while charity work technically isn’t part of the job, it has become an unofficial tradition.
What was Princess Diana known for during her reign as Princess of Wales?
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Princess Diana shot to worldwide fame as a style and fashion icon, as well as a caring, down-to-earth royal. She was the president or patron of more than 100 charities, advocating for HIV+ and leprosy patients and the homeless, and against landmines. And not only did she know how to grab the media’s attention to highlight these causes—such as by walking through a minefield in South Africa wearing a visor and bomb-proof breastplate—but she also took the time to talk to those in need. For example, she spoke with and shook hands with an AIDS patient in London without gloves during the height of the crisis. This closeness to the people was new in the British royal family, and both the public and the media loved the Princess of Wales for it.
Princess Diana was also known as quite a rebel in the royal household, challenging and breaking the protocols on more than one occasion—sending Prince William to a public preschool as the first royal in history and racing barefoot at one of Prince Harry’s school events. Overall, she seemed more accessible and relatable than, say, Queen Elizabeth II, who had a more formal and slightly stiff image at that time.
Diana was perceived as a “people’s princess,” a moniker she was given after her death in 1997 by then–British prime minister Tony Blair. “Diana had an extraordinary connection with everybody. People felt a kinship with her,” Tony Blair’s former adviser Anji Hunter recalled in an interview with CNN. What’s more, Diana reshaped and modernized the British monarchy. Since then, other senior royals have mingled with the public in ways they wouldn’t have before.
Will Kate be a “people’s princess” like Diana?
Just like the mother-in-law she never met, Kate has proved that she is capable of winning hearts. She has been seen casually chatting with other moms about parenthood, baking cupcakes for a street party in Wales and, most recently, inviting a schoolgirl to place a corgi teddy among the many tributes to the late queen at Sandringham.
Unlike Diana, however, Kate is considered to be closer to “The Firm,” the institution that runs the monarchy behind closed doors. “Catherine is deeply loyal in the way she handles all her affairs, including in regard to her family and the institution,” says Fitzwilliams. While Princess Diana and Prince Harry both publicly criticized the monarchy and The Firm, we have yet to hear a negative word from the new Princess of Wales—and we probably won’t.
Kate also used the years since her wedding with Prince William to master her future roles. As Duchess of Cambridge, she was regularly spotted at Queen Elizabeth’s side, and joint royal appearances included trips around England and a visit to London’s King’s College in 2019, where they adorably shared a blanket. When the Prince Andrew and Harry and Meghan dramas unfolded, Catherine smiled her way through and never took sides in public, even when Meghan accused her of making her cry before her wedding in her interview with Oprah Winfrey. Following Queen Elizabeth’s death, Kate appeared side by side with her sister-in-law in Windsor.
“I would compare her to a young Princess Elizabeth,” royal expert Ingrid Seward said in a recent interview with the British Evening Standard. “Kate has always known her destiny and is ready for it now—unlike Diana, who shied away from it and never wanted it. She has understood her role from the beginning and made it her ambition to do it properly.”
How else will Kate be different as the next Princess of Wales?
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While Kate has not yet talked about her new role in public, the British press reported that she wanted to “appreciate the history” of the Princess of Wales but at the same time aimed to “look to the future as she creates her own path.” What does that mean, exactly? Let’s dig a bit deeper into the potential differences between Princess Kate and Princess Diana.
She’ll be a more experienced royal
Expect Kate as Princess of Wales to dive right into her duties—confidently. After all, they are a continuation of what she’s been doing for the last decade as the Duchess of Cambridge. Over the years, she not only accompanied her husband to countless official functions, she also mastered several solo appearances, including a two-day visit to Denmark at the beginning of this year, to kick off Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee.
And don’t forget: Kate dated William for a full decade before they were married, so she’s had plenty of time to get used to the spotlight. She also married for love, and you can clearly see the connection between Kate and William in their body language. Diana, on the other hand, was thrown into the deep end when she married Charles. She was just 20 years old, and while she had casually known her future husband since she was 16, they had only been a couple for about a year before tying the knot. As a result, Diana often looked shy and unsure in her early days as Princess of Wales, and in later days, we saw the effects of her unhappy marriage.
She’ll focus on charities close to her
Kate and William support fewer charities than Diana did—currently around 20, which is just a fifth of Diana’s number. However, Kate seems more intimately involved with them, and they are all somehow linked to her personal life.
The mother of three is an advocate for mental health and the environment, sharing the latter interest with King Charles. She is also committed to creating a brighter future for children. One of her favorite projects is the Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood, which she founded in 2021 to provide more support for young children (and their parents). She also supports mental health organizations focusing on children and teenagers, as well as several arts- and sports-related institutions, including the National Portrait Gallery, SportsAid and the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.
She’ll continue to work the media
Back in the day, Diana heavily relied on the media to create her public image. And while she reportedly developed close relationships with a bunch of journalists she trusted and she knew would portrait her in a positive light, she was still more or less at their mercy. Kate has more means to actively shape the way she is perceived. The Prince and Princess of Wales run their own social media channels, where they regularly post snippets of their life, including private family snaps together with their children, Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis.
In this way, Kate as Princess of Wales may appear more open than Diana, but at the same time she has more control over what the media presents about her. Most outlets would rather opt for the latest cute family pictures shot by the princess herself, after all, than rely on grainy paparazzi shots of Kate’s kids that could get them in legal trouble.
How will Kate be similar to Diana in her new role?
Let’s talk about the fashion first, shall we? Designers adored Princess Diana, and now Princess Kate—and so does the public. This will only increase now that Kate will be front and center in the monarchy. “Princess Diana was the most glamorous person in the world at her time,” says Fitzwilliams. “And Catherine and William are the most glamorous and famous royal couple in the world, with Catherine having a tremendous influence in the fashion scene.”
When Kate wears a “relatable” outfit that’s highlighted by the media, it often sells out. Take, for instance, the fuchsia knot-front dress she wore in her first official family photograph with Prince George. Cécile Reinaud, founder of maternity brand Seraphine, said it sold out within hours of the picture being published. And interest in the blue-and-white polka-dot dress Kate wore on the steps of the hospital following George’s birth crashed designer Jenny Packham’s website. That polka-dot dress, by the way, was a near-replica of the green polka-dot dress Diana wore after she introduced a baby Prince William to the world in 1982.
Kate will also continue to connect to the public through her children. The public loved seeing Diana and her sons spending some (more or less) private time together, whether she was playing the piano with the boys at Kensington Palace, smiling on a roller coaster or on a ski lift in Switzerland. Kate, too, is regularly spotted hugging, cuddling and playing with George, Charlotte and Louis in public … and occasionally gently reprimanding them at a royal event with the ultimate mom expression.
Despite their differences, notes Fitzwilliams, “Catherine is the nearest contemporary equivalent to Diana, in terms of her popularity with both the media and the general public.”
What else can we expect from Kate as Princess of Wales in the next few months?
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While Kate certainly hasn’t spent her time as Duchess of Cambridge sitting around twiddling her thumbs, her new role as Princess of Wales will likely go hand in hand with additional duties. “I am sure [Catherine and William] will stick with the charities they have, but they might take on more in the future,” predicts Fitzwilliams, who also sees the Prince and Princess of Wales traveling more in the years to come. “There’s a rumor about new overseas trips, including to Australia.” So far, the prediction has been accurate with Kate and Prince William traveling to Boston.
Kate and William might also move to Windsor Castle, though that likely won’t happen right away, since the children just started school and also had a fair amount of upheaval with the death of the queen. Fitzwilliams predicts they might ultimately “change the way they use the royal residences and potentially decide to open them to the general public once in a while.”
Kate may also play a key role in putting an end to the ongoing Harry and Meghan drama, at least publicly. “The Sussexes have been very unpredictable. But at the end of the day, a public reconciliation makes sense for all parties,” says Fitzwilliams. “The royal family doesn’t want to be slammed—they want to be known for their work.” The first signs of this came after the queen’s passing, when the erstwhile “Fab Four” presented a united front in front of mourners outside Windsor Castle. “It’s a positive sign and a start, but it was obvious they weren’t relaxed,” says Fitzwilliams. “There’s still a long way to go.”
- Richard Fitzwilliams, royal commentator
- Ipsos: “The Queen remains the nations’ favourite royal as the public associate her with tradition and a positive symbol of Britain at home and abroad”
- Prince of Wales official site: “Royal Duties”
- CNN: “How Diana became known as ‘the people’s princess’”
- Evening Standard: “Queen-in-waiting: How Kate Middleton became the face of The Firm”
- Evening Standard: “Kate follows in Diana’s footsteps but will create own path as Princess of Wales”
- Royal.uk: “The Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge”