Kate Middleton’s billion-dollar transformation shows her royal power

There was a time when any blazer owned by Kate, the Princess of Wales, pretty much languished at the back of her vast, vast wardrobe. (Small nation states probably take up less space than her trove of useless clutches and reams of unironically ladylike frocks.)

For years, those blazers – the sort of sassy thing a law graduate on the make might bust out for a performance review – just gathered dust.

My, how things have changed.

On Tuesday in the UK, it was Blazer Time (think Hammer Time meets Zara warehouse sale) – the latest in a long and ever-growing line of events for the Princess where she cracks open her stash of business-lite attire and dresses like a no-nonsense woman who deftly knows her way around a PowerPoint.

To really appreciate how far Kate has come, how fundamentally different she is as a public figure and as a working member of the royal family today than even a few years ago, consider this latest blazer outing.

There she was – a lectern for the first gathering of her brand new business task-force – bringing together head honchos from companies including Unilever, Ikea, insurer Aviva, Deloitte, UK supermarket chain Co-Op and Lego, as well as from the Bank of England, in support of her Shaping Us campaign. No biggie, just companies with a combined value of more than $50 billion.

This is not your Grandma’s royal family any more. There’s not a ribbon-cutting in sight.

Rather, Kate is proving to be a stealthy powerhouse dynamo of action and machine washable lightweight wool who is busily redefining what a working member of the monarchy can actually achieve.

And if there is one person who should be looking at these images of Kate with this clutch of business bigwigs who preside over global empires of shampoo and Allen keys, it is her brother-in-law, Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex.

Those shots of Kate in London might not be dazzling images – a bunch of awkward people set against a stereotypically grey London backdrop – but what this moment really drives home is the sheer bloody power of the royal family.

What unskilled arts graduate on the planet other than Kate could, in the last four months, have met with US President Joe Biden, launched a generation-reshaping social initiative, greenlit a nationwide UK advertising campaign, and managed to cook up a task force chock-full of the sort of CEOs who can send ripples through the stock market with the twitch of an eyebrow?

I know, I know, the royal family has no actual power in the most literal sense. It is no longer up to them which noblemen and women get to keep their heads or whether the UK should invade the Low Countries.

But the monarchy, nonetheless – despite essentially being a deeply archaic institution founded on laughably dated notions of the divine right of some pasty white bloke who happens to have lucked into being king – matters. Really and truly matters.

And they matter, not just as characters unwillingly cast in Harry and wife Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex’s prime time, made-for-TV psychodrama, but as serious players who can move corporate mountains and who are making a very tangible difference.

Don’t take my word for it. Just ask the accountants.

In 1956, Prince Philip took a break from coming up with new offensive quips about the Welsh and trying to save the monarch butterfly single-handedly (he was a huge conservation advocate back when it was the preserve of sandal-wearing sorts) and launched his Duke of Edinburgh Award. Since then the Award, which has seen one million unhappy teens worldwide forced to disconsolately hike up mountains in the name of self-improvement, has raised more than a $100 million to help young ’uns.

Then there’s his King Charles’ Prince’s Trust, whose name makes it sound a bit like a naff organisation that provides pocket squares to underprivileged youth. Au contraire.

Since 1976, it has helped more than one million young unemployed or those having a hard time at school in the UK and the Commonwealth try to turn things around. The trust has also returned more than $2.5 billion in benefits to the youth.

Even now, we have Prince William’s Earthshot Prize busily handing out more than $90 million to support innovative solutions, worldwide, to the climate crisis.

What Harry should realise, if he ever takes a break from huffily contemplating his family’s refusal to appreciate his generous pointing out of their many supposed faults, is that this is what he and Meghan have given up.

In leaving the royal fold, what they lost was the power to have corporate heavyweights and presidents take their calls; to have companies worth tens of billions of dollars combined dance to their jig when they snap their fingers.

Earlier this year, their Archewell Foundation put out its first impact report, detailing the work it has done, including helping World Food Kitchen serve 50,000 meals to people through World Food Kitchen and that the Human First Coalition, in conjunction with the Sussexes’ charity arm, had helped evacuate nearly 7500 people from Afghanistan, and had built a playground in Uvalde, Texas, the scene of a horrific school shooting.

All of this is wonderful stuff and all of this is far, far more than most people do to help make the world a better place.

But this is a question of scale. Every one of those people in disaster zones who were fed and every one of those people rescued from Kabul are undoubtedly deeply grateful for the Sussexes’ work, but what the Duke and Duchess are doing is not in the same universe, impact and scope-wise, as what his family is beavering away at.

What this Kate outing underscores is the unparalleled, unique convening might and heft of royalty.

Diana, Princess of Wales might have not exactly been a huge fan of her loose-zippered, Jung-reading husband or his fusty family, more comfortable talking about the number six race at Cheltenham than feelings, but she absolutely recognised the potency and the weight of being one of their number.

In her divorce from Charles, she not only got a payout of more than $30 million, but also kept her royal title, her Kensington Palace apartment and secured more than $900,000 in annual funding for her office.

Diana could easily have hightailed it off to the US for a lifetime of fending off Henry Kissinger’s wandering hands at charity events and Waldorf salads with Anna Wintour. But she knew where the real power lay: In that three-word title tacked on to her name and the fact she was still associated with The Firm.

The bottom line is that today Harry and Meghan are not playing in the same humanitarian ballpark now that they are taxpaying California residents with all the diplomatic status of breakfast TV hosts.

In the ledger of post-Megxit losses and gains, a very large entry in the minus column is that now they are stuck in the most outer of outer orbits of royal life: Ostracised from the King and with less chance of ever ending up on the Buckingham Palace balcony than Katie Price, they are now just two more famous do-gooders.

Do-goodery, mind, that they should be hugely praised for, but nothing that even begins to stack up against what the working HRHs are doing.

Their business, these days, is the biggest of big picture ambitious stuff. Queen Camilla is fighting the scourge of domestic violence while Sophie, the Duchess of Edinburgh has been for years tackling gender-based violence in war zones.

Contrast them with the Sussexes: On one hand you have a group who are working to effect generational, societal change and another lot who are very thoughtfully and generously building swings. Both are valuable – let me really make that clear – but we are talking about entirely different leagues here.

If, when the late Queen took over in 1952, the royal family was famous for visiting hospitals and opening the Chelsea Flower Show, then the 21st century model is one built on them as relevant and useful in modern Britain.

Today, the royal family is not just ornamental, there to keep the commemorative tea towel industry going, but they are actually doing meaningful work, too. Their aim is clearly to play a part in shaping an entire nation for the better.

Can the same be said about what Harry and Meghan have done since they sulked off to the West Coast and Oprah’s tender TV embrace?

There is one more interesting thing from Kate’s Tuesday outing. After the event, after she and the business bigwigs had done some posing, made polite small talk and finished their bad office coffees, the Kensington Palace social media accounts swung into action to big up Kate’s new task force.

But, so too did the King and Queen’s royal family accounts post about it, adding a quote of Kate’s and re-tweeting the original post.

Someone has clearly got a ‘Teamwork makes the dream work’ poster tacked up in the Kensington Palace staff kitchen because this sort of cross-royal office support marks a shift away from the days of siloed royal outfits working myopically on only supporting their principal.

The way things are shaping up today, the UK business-casual industry has a bright future because Kate is going to need more – oh so many more – in the years to come because she has lives to change, generations to shape and CFOs to call.

All hail the power of the blazer!

Daniela Elser is a writer and a royal commentator with more than 15 years’ experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.

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