Thursday, 24 November 2016

When will Kate's words count more than her image?

Kate's latest speech has made headlines
(photo Province of British Columbia via Flickr)

When I woke up this morning to see 'The Duchess of Cambridge' trending on Twitter, my first thought was baby. After all, Kate's last engagement was the day before last and with no appearances or anniversaries to make her name flash up on the most popular talking topics of the day, bambino number three seemed a possibility. It turns out that everyone was talking about Kate talking, for a change. But does this mean we want to listen to Kate more now that click on photos?

The speech in question was made on the evening of November 22nd 2016 in London where Kate was attending an awards ceremony for her charity, Place2Be. The prizes celebrate the work being done in schools and by young people to promote positive mental health. 

Kate was clearly talking about something that matters a great deal to her. She spoke about 'transformational support' in schools that has ensured children have the 'help, care and attention that will get them through tough times in their lives'. She told her audience that ''even the luckiest people can face great challenges.  No matter how invincible we seem on the surface, all of us need help from time to time''.  She had praise for the young people whose achievements were being celebrated as she told them that ''in your willingness to have open conversations, become young mental health pioneers''.

So why has this speech by the Duchess of Cambridge made such an impression?  Passion always helps - this is a topic Kate feels strongly about and we all respond when we know someone cares. Observers said the duchess sounded stronger and more confident than previous speeches - let's face it, if someone sounds uncomfortable, we'll remember that rather than their words.

But maybe this also comes down to the fact that Kate doesn't make that many public speeches. In the last few months she's taken the mic to contribute alongside William and Harry at events for Heads Together, their campaign to change the conversation on mental health. But they've been small parts of a bigger whole. This was one of the longest speeches she's given.

Admittedly, despite the Twitter trend this morning and the focus on the speech, it all came after Kate's clothes had been dissected and photos of her new frock had been shared and shared and shared once more. In all likelihood, the general interest in her image rather than her words will be higher at this engagement, just like it always is.  Kensington Palace's Instagram got over 24,000 likes for the photo it posted of Kate making the speech - easily the most liked that week until Prince Harry got on his hunkers on a beach in the Caribbean to save some endangdered turtles. Not even Kate in a new frock can compete with that.

There's nothing wrong with a bit of royal fashion. I love it. And royals have used clothes for millennia to make their mark. Visit Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire (seriously, visit it, it's beautiful) and you'll see exhibits all about the way that Katherine Parr, last queen of Henry VIII, used clothes to create the image of a consort. The Royal Family is well aware of the power of clothes - the big exhibition at Buckingham Palace this year was 'Fashioning a Reign' and this display of the Queen's clothes throughout her record breaking rule is still pulling in the crowds at Windsor Castle right now.

Kate's issue is that, in the five and a half years since she married the Duke of Cambridge, she hasn't had that much of a voice. While we all notice where she is and what she's doing, when there aren't that many words then the pictures have to do the talking. Modern royalty is faced with the dilemma of making sure the style doesn't override everything else.

More speeches is one way to make sure that happens. Look at the recent Norwegian visit to Canada. Crown Prince Haakon Magnus and Crown Princess Mette-Marit shared the speech duties between them - if he did one, then sure as eggs is eggs, she did the next one. Queen Silvia of Sweden has given several big addresses in the past couple of weeks alone on major issues including keeping children safe. Queen Maxima of the Netherlands is as well known in some parts for her words on inclusive finance as she is in others for wearing major hats (and they are major).

So maybe it's time for Kate to have a bigger voice. We should see Kate's speech as a move towards balancing the interest in her style with focus on what lies behind it. Time will change much but making those words a regular feature will help too. And then next time the Duchess of Cambridge trends on Twitter, maybe baby won't be the first word that springs to mind.

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