Royal insiders say the monarchy is counting on one person to save the family’s reputation amidst an ongoing sea of scandal: future queen Kate Middleton.
“As the Prince Andrew scandal shows, the monarchy is in desperate need of reassuringly conventional royal performers,” Patrick Jephson, the former chief of staff for Kate’s mother-in-law Princess Diana, told The Post exclusively. “Catherine is just what these troubled royal times need — it’s no exaggeration that the Windsors’ future lies in her hands.”
It’s been a week of hell for the royal family, following the announcement that Prince Andrew will spend the rest of his life in the wilderness after being stripped of his HRH and military titles by his mother, Queen Elizabeth, amid a sex assault lawsuit.
Add to this the continued tensions of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle having left the institution and accused an unnamed senior member of the royal family of questioning their son Archie’s complexion.
It’s no wonder a small team of advisers is focused on shaping Kate’s legacy.
This week, we got the first glimpse of her as a future queen in three stunning portraits released to celebrate her 40th birthday — and they include a couple of very deliberately placed nods to the past.
In the photos by Paolo Roversi, Kate wears the iconic sapphire and diamond engagement ring that belonged to her husband’s late mother, Diana, as well as the former Princess of Wales’ Collingwood Pearl earrings.
“It’s a very calculated decision by Kate and William to keep including Diana in anything that is about setting out a new royal chapter,” Bethan Holt, fashion director of the UK Daily Telegraph, told The Post. “It’s very clever of Kate to keep her memory alive.”
Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, has worn the earrings on a number of other occasions in the past few years.
“Monarchy is the ultimate long game … because unlike business, politics or media stardom, royalty is for life and its time horizons are infinite,” said Jephson. “Catherine has mastered that long game and that’s a very significant achievement.”
And she’s needed more than ever, and not just because of the scandals but also because she and William are much more popular than the next king, Prince Charles, and his second wife, Camilla.
“Charles and Camilla don’t seem to have the global pull and there seems to be this absolute campaign to make William and Kate the family’s global stars,” said Holt, the author of “The Duchess of Cambridge: A Decade of Modern Royal Style.”
“There seems to be a whole royal family operation to elevate the Cambridges.”
One highly placed palace source added: “If Charles and Diana had made a go of it we wouldn’t be talking like this. Because Charles and Camilla put their own needs and happiness first [having an affair that helped lead to the end of Charles and Diana’s marriage], we are in a continuing constitutional bind that means that William and Kate are the Windsors’ last cards.”
It remains to be seen how Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, will be known when Charles becomes king, but Kate will be given the title of Princess of Wales — just as Diana once was.
There is also, no doubt, the goal of highlighting the differences between Kate and her sister-in-law, Markle.
“When Kate came in, she said, ‘I’m going to learn the ropes.’ Meghan said, ‘I’m going to hit the ground running,’” said the palace source. “Learning the ropes is a lifetime job; hitting the ground running is not the royal style, and for good reason. You have to know who you’re running to — and who’s alongside you.”
Kate officially entered royal life when she wed William on April 29, 2011. The couple now have three children: Prince George, 8 and himself a future king; Princess Charlotte, 6; and 3-year-old Prince Louis.
One source who knows the Middleton family revealed: “Kate has a tiny team surrounding her day to day. She’s not part of the royal circus — for her, less is more.”
It includes her longtime stylist Natasha Archer, who has worked with the duchess since 2014, and her private secretary Hannah Cockburn-Logie.
And, of course, the royal family members Kate is closest to also have a hand in shaping her path forward.
“The Queen would be very ready to give specific advice possibly because the organization has worked out that you can’t just leave people to work it out for themselves,” said the palace source.
“In many ways, I’m sure William is [involved,” added Jephson. “It helps that Catherine, like Diana, has that indefinable but essential royal quality: presence. She has the bearing, the gravitas, the regal factor that already sets her apart from other royal women as a future queen.”
But for those who know Kate personally, the birthday photos are a world away from the down-to-earth mom they’re used to. “Honestly, I thought the photos would show Catherine in a field wearing jeans and mucking about with dogs — that is really her,” said the Middleton source.
“When I first saw the photos, I was really shocked,” said Holt, adding that some people wouldn’t have been surprised to see Kate “‘sitting on a gate, wearing a Barbour jacket in [the country],’ because that’s completely what we’ve come to expect from her normal mom brand.”
The timing, Holt noted, can’t be ignored.
“There’s no getting away from it, the Cambridges have had their [country estate] child-rearing years — now the real royal business begins. She has absolutely created a moment for herself and it’s been done very deliberately.”
Sarah Burton, the creative director of Alexander McQueen, was responsible for Kate’s wedding gown and The Post is told that she is believed to have helped shape the birthday portraits.
Photographer Roversi, who has worked frequently with Burton, was picked for the job after meeting Kate in November at Kensington Palace, where he joined the duchess and her staff for tea and cookies.
Roversi told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that William and the children helped make the final choices, adding: “At first the Duchess was apprehensive. She is machine-gunned by photographers every day but is not used to posing.”
But, Jephson said, Kate & Co. understood how important these portraits would be.
“Royalty is symbolism and theater — constitutionally, that’s its function,” he said. “And [an official portrait] has to work at first glance — and at the millionth glance.”
One thing to note, said Holt, is that Kate is not wearing a tiara nor a royal sash in the photos: “She’s still saving something for later.”