Humble Kate dropped 'royal' from title to keep things low-key – 'She got it'


The former director of the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) recalled how the Duchess came to cover her role of patron of the organisation in her early years as a member of the Royal Family. Sandy Nairne was approached by Kate’s team in late 2011, a few months after the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge had tied the knot.

The then director of the gallery recalled the request of a visit by the royal, who was at the time laying the foundations for her work.

Ms Nairne said Kate demonstrated to be well prepared to take on the role of patron of the NPG.

As an art history graduate and keen amateur photographer, Ms Nairne said, Kate “clearly knew what she was talking about”.

However, despite Kate being a good fit for the gallery, the NPG was reluctant over awarding the Duchess the title of “royal patron”, Ms Nairne revealed.

She told The Sunday Times magazine: “We had some toing and froing about what she would be called.

“The gallery had never had a royal patron or any patron, the ethos was it was a gallery for the nation, so the feeling was the idea of a ‘royal patron’ didn’t sit right.”

The former director recalled approaching Kate’s office to ask if she would be willing to drop the “royal” part of her title in association with the gallery.

She said: “I hesitantly rang her office and said we’d love to have her but would she mind just being patron, not royal patron?”

READ MORE: Prince William to face ‘bittersweet moment’ when title passed to Kate

Kate agreed to this, Ms Nairne revealed as she said: “She completely got it.”

As patron of the National Portrait Gallery, Kate helped connect it “with much wider and younger audiences”, the former director said.

The Duchess carried out her first-ever solo engagement in February 2012, when she visited the Lucian Freud Portraits exhibition at the gallery.

As patron of the gallery, Kate recently spearheaded a key initiative – the Hold Still contest.


The Duchess launched this photography contest during the first national lockdown in the spring of 2020, with the aim to inspire people across the country to depict life in Britain during the first wave of the Covid pandemic.

A panel of experts later hand-picked 100 finalists, which were included in the Hold Still photography book.

Among the most touching pictures chosen there was one of four-year-old Mila Sneddon, seen kissing the window as her dad stood outside the house.

The portrait depicted the Sneddons’ difficult choice to shield the child, undergoing leukaemia treatment, from COVID-19 by splitting the family in two and leaving Mila and her mum living alone for a few months.

During her first months as a member of the Royal Family, Kate considered carefully on what to focus her work, according to Rebecca Priestley, a confidante and former adviser of the Duchess.

Working with Kate between 2011 and 2017, Ms Priestley recalled the Duchess’ “listen and learn” approach.

She said: “Catherine knows every decision is for the rest of her life, everything is for the long game.

“She was aware she wasn’t an expert in any one field and she wanted to educate herself first, then shine a spotlight where needed.

“It was a ‘listen and learn’ approach rather than immediately becoming patron of a charity.

“We did a lot of under-the-radar visits before the public engagements.”

Over the past decade, Kate has focused her attention on early childhood and the impact the first five years of life have on children’s development.

She has also worked on addictions, mental health and supporting the NHS among other areas.


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