What it’s really like to work with Kate Middleton – and how ‘private’ personality differs
The Duchess of Cambridge has been a member of the royal family for almost 10 years, and in that time we’ve seen her grow from a rather quiet new princess to a confident, key part of the Firm.
She’s now a complete pro when it comes to public engagements, and her speeches have gone from strength to strength.
While we’ve seen the changes to her public personality, those who work closest to her have also seen how she’s grown and adapted behind closed doors.
Tracy Rennie is the deputy chief executive and director of care at East Anglia Children Hospices, which Kate has been patron of since 2012.
She was very new to the family when she took up the role, and it’s been a key part of her royal journey – including her debut speech.
But Tracy claims while Kate seemed nervous during the public side of the role, it’s a very different story behind the scenes.
Speaking to the Mirror’s royal podcast Pod Save the Queen, she said: “From my perspective, I’ve been one of the lucky few people that have met her on several occasions because of the nature of my role.
“It’s been interesting because privately, she always came across extremely confident and caring, and she was able to talk to you really easily. You felt really comfortable with her.
“But seeing her grow publicly, so thinking back to that first speech, in front of the world, it was just phenomonal.
“She did brilliantly.
“Just recently she opened our Nook hospice, last November. The confidence publicly now just shines, but the private confidence and the way she is with people has been amazing since day one.”
Kate first visited the charity in November 2011, just a few months after her royal wedding, to learn more about their work, and staff were completely shocked when they got a call the following day saying she wanted to be their patron.
Tracy explains: “I had a phone call when I was having my lunch from a colleague who works at St James Palace just to say that the Duchess of Cambridge would like to come and visit the hospice, and would that be possible.
“After I had stopped choking on my lunch, I went ‘oh blimey, yes, that would be brilliant’.
“At that point it was really exciting.
“That excitement has continued because right from those early contacts with her we’ve just had a really great experience of her being our royal patron for all sorts of different reaons.
“It’s exciting and it’s wonderful for the families as well.
After the first visit they celebrated a successful day, and were taken aback when they got a follow up call from the Palace.
“Our first thought was oh no, what have we done wrong”, Tracy says.
“The second bit was that she would like to consider becoming patron of our charity.
“We were completely blown away, because we really genuinely had no idea.”
Looking back to that first speech, which she delivered as she officially opened the charity’s Treehouse Hospice in Ipswich, Tracy said: “It created global interest. Right from that point she was someone who was incredibly caring, compassionate and friendly, down to earth.
“She just connected really well with the staff, the volunteers and the families that she met.
“It’s been really exciting right from the outset. “
As patron, Kate raises awareness of EACH’s vital work through her public visits.
Tracy explains: “It helps people to understand why services like ours are needed.
“Lots of people don’t know children’s hospices exist, they think the care is provided by the NHS and it’s not.
“Having someone with such a high profile who can talk so confidently about why families need the support and what our role is is phenonomal. “
Kate has also raised awareness of children’s palliative care during her royal tours, connecting the charity with other hospices around the world wherever she can.
This means they can work together, sharing skills and ideas to help with overall care for children.
But she also spends time getting to know the families in the hospices’ care, as well as the team behind them.
Tracy says: “We never underestimate the impact that she has when she speaks to family, and also when she speaks to staff and volunteers.
“She really recognises how hard people work, and the stresses and strains on emotions of volunteers working with the charity as well.”
As well as the public visits we see, Kate carries out a number of private engagements where she gets a better idea of how things run on a day-to-day basis, without all the crowds and photographers.
Tracy explains: “It gives them more of an opportunity to have a more relaxed time, less pressured, to really understand what we do.
“It’s always more challenging when we have the media involved. We have to make sure we get everything completely right and it’s always very strictly times.
“It’s okay on a private visit if things overrun a little bit more. But to fair, even in the public visits she absolutely will not cut short her time with the family if she’s in the middle of a conversation.
“She’s got a really good balance about it.”
Kate has also organised lunches out for the volunteers at fancy London hotels to thank them for their hard work and dedication.
Tracy remembers one visit in particular when one little girl spotted her walking through and decided he wanted to play.
She says: “She’s not frightened to have a giggle, she’s prepared to have fun.
“[The little girl] didn’t realise who she was, she just saw a lovely lady with long her – this little girl likes long hair – she ran across to her, grabbed her hand and took her into the sensory room and that was it.
“The Duchess kicked off her heels and just went into the room and started playing.
“To me that was a really lovely thing that you’re not going to see in the public arena. That was really special.”
On another occasion, Kate was chatting to another little girl and just started to plait her hair.
She said: “I think a bit of the mum in her came out. She’s not frightened to get on the floor and play with the toys.
“We see the playful side to her and the mum side of her.
“You can see she really enjoys being with children.
“What struck me is it wasn’t just the children who are fully able. The children with some really profound disabilities of communication, she was equally confident.”
Another thing that always stands out to Tracy is her ability to remember the people she meets and chats with.
She explains: “For her first visit to the Cambridge hospice, we have a wonderful chef called Julie who makes the most wonderful Danish pasteries. Kate went over and said thank you to her and they had a chat.
“Then when she came to open the Treehouse, the same chef had come down to Ipswich to help the team out that day.
“She recognised her from the previous visit, and went over and hello. She remembered.
“Then the same chef was working at the Nook for the opening in November. She saw her and she recognised her again.
“There was something for me in that, that’s really special, and for that person being remembered. She meets thousands and thousands of people doesn’t she, so just to remember that. That was amazing.”
“There have been so many things I’ve been struck by.”
But above all, Kate has an incredible ability to talk and comfort people who are going through unimaginably tough times.
On one occasion, she was visiting a hospice where a grieving family who had lost their children just a few days before were staying.
Tracy said: “For someone to go into that room, to talk to people who were still obviously very shocked and the grief was very rare, they were very tearful, the way she reached out to them and spoke to them, and the comfort she offered in her words and understanding.
“There was a dad in there and she was able to connect with him, talking about the importance of looking after dads and mental health.
“By the end they were actually having a bit of a laugh, but actually it was appropriate and it was lovely. I’ve got so many memories, but they are memories where I think wow.
“In my job, I do this all the time, it’s what I’ve been trained to do, but for somebody to be able to be like that with all the difference audiences and doing so well – she seems to be pretty good at everything she tries to do.”
Kate has also stepped in to offer support during the coronavirus pandemic.
Like all charities, their fundraising has been hit. Overnight they had to cancel all events and close their shops.
But the other impact they’ve had to tackle is stopping face-to-face care.
“Quite rightly, families have really shielded their children – which is amazing. No child on our case load has died from Covid, which is unbelievable considering how vulnerable the are, and that’s down to the families.
“Overnight we had to become a virtual hospice. We still provided end of life care, which is face to face.
“We’ve been providing crisis care face-to-face, but everything else has gone online so we’ve really had to get up to speed with using the technology really quickly.
“The same as everybody else, we learnt how to use Zoom and Teams and everything else.
“There have been some benefits to that, but for the families now, four months into shielding they’re exhausted.
“We’re seeing an increasing number of requests for a break, what we call crisis care.”
“She likes to know what’s going on, what exciting things are happening and if we’re having any challenges.”
At the beginning of the pandemic, Kate contacted the charity to ask if she could write to staff and volunteers.
“She recognised how difficult it might be changing our ways of working during Covid.
“That was lovely to get that letter. She initiated it, we didn’t ask and that was really motivational. People were really please that she was thinking about us.
Kate was also able to make her first post-lockdown visit to the charity during Hospice Awareness Week.
She popped into the Nook to chat to staff and families about how they’ve adapted, and also helped out with a bit of gardening.
To find out more about EACH and their work, click here.
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