I wrote this morning’s post yesterday, noting at its end that we were still waiting for the Duchess of Cambridge’s first solo engagement of the New Year, but cautioning it could come at any moment. Well, indeed! A couple hours later Kensington Palace had a big announcement for us – Kate has unveiled a national survey asking five “big questions” to help improve early childhood. To mark the occasion, she is now undertaking a 24-hour “tour” of the UK, carrying out engagements in Birmingham, Cardiff, and Surrey.
We’ve heard unofficial guidance that KP was poised to make a major update on Kate’s Early Years program, so now we have it. Former palace press secretary Dickie Arbiter noted to BBC that this survey would probably have taken a year to plan, so its development likely took up a good portion of Kate’s 2019. I’m personally thrilled that KP not only unveiled it, but that Kate carried out a whirlwind series of engagements – her physical presence out and about guarantees there will be more attention paid.
The 24 hours kicked off yesterday in Birmingham, where photos of her visit to the Thinktank museum were shared with the survey’s announcement. During brief remarks, she noted:
“As a parent, I know how much we cherish the future health and happiness of our children. I want to hear the key issues affecting families and communities so I can focus my work on where it is needed most. My ambition is to provide lasting change for generations to come.”
Today she started off in Cardiff, visiting a baby sensory class at the Ely and Caerau Children’s Centre. She met with parents, staff, and young children who participate in the services, chatting with them about the “big questions,” the role of community in parenting, and the necessity of support and resources. Specifically, Kate reflected on her own sense of isolation during Prince George’s early babyhood in 2013. She said:
“It’s nice to be back in Wales! I was chatting to some of the mums earlier, It was the first year and I’d just had George – William was still working with Search and Rescue and we came up here and I had a tiny tiny baby in the middle of Anglesey it was so isolated, so cut off. I didn’t have any family around and he was doing night shifts. If only I had had a centre like this.”
This isn’t new information – Kate has touched upon this period of time during public remarks below, but I’m pleased to hear her do so again because I think it’s so important. Kate has a plethora of blessings and advantages, and given her reserved nature, it’s all too easy to attribute a certain sheen of perfection to the entirety of her life. This particular reveal, I think, is helpful for other women and new mothers. If even the Duchess of Cambridge can feel isolated in those stressful, sleep-deprived first months, then just about anyone can!
Her first stop was in the baby sensory room, where babies were playing with spaghetti, jelly and musical instruments. Crouching down, Kate was in her element as she cooed over the little ones and chatted to their parents about the centre. She smiled at 11-month-old Eleanor Logue, who was happily covering herself in cooked spaghetti as mum Rhi, 29, talked about how she felt supported by other parents there. “You can come here and tell people, ‘I haven’t slept’,” said Rhi. “And everyone else is like, ‘I haven’t either!'” laughed Kate. “It normalises it. No one is going to judge you for it. And it’s a social thing for you.”
“So many families now are so spread out,” the Duchess continued. “It’s much harder to rely on other generations for support.” She asked several parents about the survey, Five Big Questions on the Under Fives, saying: “Have you heard about the survey we are doing? What do you think? There is so much pressure on parents, but actually they need the community too.”
Afterwards Rhi said: “We talked about post-natal depression and how hard it is to have a kid and how important centres like this are. I would have been in such a dark place without it. It’s lovely to see her in a place like Ely. It’s such a deprived area and there have been so many funding cuts. Sometimes you are scared to walk the streets, but coming here you feel safe. You don’t feel like you are going to get mugged.” […]
“I love your hair, I should have done mine like that today. I love the drawing too, thank you! Thank you so much, what a special morning I have had.” She also joined three-year-old River Roson, who was playing with pretend food. “Are you cooking too? Are you making a stir fry?”
“You’re my friend!” the little boy told her, to which the Duchess replied: “You’re my friend too!” As she made her way back through the building, Kate was stopped by another little girl who asked her to help clean her hands. She agreed and began wiping the child’s hands, prompting Carolyn to tell her: “You’ve got the job! When can you start!”
The last stop was to a women’s prison in Surrey. She last visited this particular site back in 2015, so today she had the opportunity to meet with prisoners who have subsequently released, in addition to current prisoners. The idea behind the trip was to talk to follow up on earlier conversations about what role early intervention could have had on their own lives and trajectories – in other words, highlighting the issue from the other end.
A fourth stop was planned for London, but was cancelled due to weather concerns. It’s possible the trip will be re-scheduled for a later date, but TBD.
There was a lot about today that I liked. The relative aggression of so many engagements in a short window raises the stakes. Kate keeps a very careful calendar, so when she commits like this to an initiative it makes it all the more clear that this is something that she feels passionately about and has clearly invested her time and attention – both valuable commodities for a future queen and mother of three(!) I also appreciate that today (and yesterday) really highlights how much behind-the-scenes work Kate does, which is always a point worth reinforcing with the public.
Finally, the entire project showcases Kate’s own thought process when she’s working. We know that she was the mastermind behind Heads Together, connecting the dots on how much work she, William, and Harry were conducting separately that all fed back into the broader issue of mental health. The Early Years initiative, I think, is similar – her work with mental health, addiction, and childhood development emphasized for her the importance of these first five years for children, parents, and families. It’s a smart, strategic way to look at royal work.
Last but not least, fashion. For the Birmingham visit, Kate wore a new chevron-printed blouse by Tabitha Webb with navy Jigsaw trousers and navy Emmy London block heels. It was very Kate. I’m still pleased to see her experimenting with trousers (weird sentence, but here we are), but I can’t say I’m a big fan of the blouse. I like the color and I like the print, but not together for whatever reason. Alas.
Today was more of a win for me. Kate debuted a camel colored Massimo Dutti coat over a Zara leopard-print skirt, a black turtleneck, and tall Ralph Lauren boots. Have we ever seen Kate wear a camel coat before? Nothing is springing to mind, but I love her in this. It feels very modern and fresh, and the printed skirt kept things from being too staid. I declare it a win!
As of right now, we’re due to see Kate and William again on Monday, but TBD on whether any surprises crop up between now and then.