Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge might be many things – coat dress-fancier extraordinaire, lifelong proponent of the bouncy blow dry and eternal fan of the useless clutch bag. But TV star? Unabashedly taking centre stage while the cameras rolled?

As if.

She might be one of the most famous women in the world but happily putting herself, and just herself, in the spotlight for the world’s viewing pleasure? Well, that has never quite factored on the list.

That changed on Thursday though when the 39-year-old future Queen and nude hose devotee took on her first solo starring role, hosting a carol service for the unsung heroes of the coronavirus pandemic at Westminster Abbey, in what was a royal first.

The event saw 1200 congregate in the 752-year-old abbey for Royal Carols: Together At Christmas, a jolly singalong and injection of festive cheer. But what made the event extraordinary wasn’t her outfit (a demure, predictably red Catherine Walker get-up) or that there was at least one predictable touching moment caught by the cameras featuring an adorable small child, but instead who also attended the concert.

Sure, Prince William did his husbandly bit, looking suitably supportive and unconcerned about the fact someone had decided that live reindeer were a good idea.

No, it was the appearance of the majority of the younger members of the royal family out in very unusual force which really set the event apart.

There was Princess Eugenie, in a surprisingly sexy cape and knee-high boot ensemble, followed hot on her heels by a glamorous Zara Tindall with her permanently beaming husband Mike. Despite having a two-month-old baby at home, Princess Beatrice and her dishy Anglo-Italian property developer husband Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi rolled up looking sickeningly happy.

That all of William’s adult royal cousins, aside from Peter Phillips, rolled up for Kate’s big night, and with not even a glass of Waitrose-brand sparkling to tempt them, is particularly significant and an unprecedented show of Windsor unity.

Further reinforcing the one big happy vibe was the appearance of Sophie, the Countess of Wessex as well as Kate’s family including her mother and father Carole and Mike, sister Pippa and her brother James and with his wife Alizee, doing their darndest to earn their nickname the ‘En Masse Middletons’.

(Maybe blood is not only thicker than water, but bubbly too?)

As far as I am aware, there has never been a moment such as this when the Queen’s grandchildren turned out in such collective force to support one of their own.

As with everything royal, this is hardly an accident.

The last time that William and Kate took part in any sort of formal proceedings inside Westminster Abbey was for the Commonwealth Day service in 2020, which not only constituted Harry and Meghan – the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s final outing as working members of the royal family – but was probably the most sour public performance by a clutch of HRHs in history.

William, Kate and Harry endured the service with rictus, grim expressions of such blatantly curdled feeling, along with Meghan’s plastered-on perma-smile, that historians will be writing about this moment for generations to come. (Never has so much royal ill feeling been on display since Queen Caroline of Brunswick turned up in the very same spot for her husband King George IV’s coronation only to be locked out and end up futilely banging on the door to be let in.)

The contrast between that moment in 2020 – the miserable faces, the rolling-just-beneath-the-surface anger – and Thursday’s – all big grins and festive cheer – could not be greater.

The carol service was Kate’s moment to shine, with William firmly cast in a supporting role. That the younger, adult members of the royal family turned up, on a chilly night, to show their backing is significant. (Factor in too here that not only Beatrice but Eugenie and the Tindalls all have babies at home and yet chose to frock up on a wintry weekday for a rare night out.)

Adding even more of a pointed note here was the fact that the Duchess of Cambridge wore, for only the second time, a pair of dramatic sapphire and diamond earrings that had belonged to the Queen Mother and that have likely been permanently lent to her by the Queen.

Meghan, on the other hand, aside from her wedding tiara, has never worn any piece of jewellery from the royal collection. While the former actress might own pieces which had belonged personally to Diana, Princess of Wales, getting to frock up in some enormous sparklers from the royal trove was a perk she never enjoyed.

Declaration of allegiance

It is hard not to read this outing and the appearance of the Windsor cousins as a declaration of allegiance after a year that has seen the royal house riven by accusations of institutional racism and of a coldly indifferent family more interested in protocol than helping one of their own.

The images of William, Kate, Eugenie, Mike and Zara happily chatting inside the Abbey could not be further from the image of the royal house that Harry and Meghan cast via their series of grenade-lobbing media appearances over the course of the year.

While the Duchess of Sussex, doe-eyed, recounted her experience of royal life as brutally cold and isolating to Oprah Winfrey, here was a totally and diametrically opposite picture of the Windsors as supportive, loving and shockingly functional.

Huh. Who would have thought?

Given that the family business traffics solely in image, then this was no accident. (Nor, a more suspicious mind might wonder, that Beatrice, Eugenie and Zara all turned up in muted, dark tones and that the Duchess of Cambridge was the only woman in vibrant, Christmassy red.)

After a year in which one of the recurring questions was whether Kate had made Meghan cry in the lead-up to the latter’s wedding, then the picture of Kate surrounded by a cavalcade of royal peers is a powerful and freighted gesture.

A gesture and a show of solidarity that one would assume Harry and Meghan would not miss.

In the forward to the service, Kate wrote about how the evening was about “the importance of simply being together” and that the “unimaginable challenges” of the past year had shown “just how much we need one another”.

In short: The power and potency of family was, in every sense, on full, unmissable display, a potent antidote to the Sussex agitprop of the last year.

We, the public, will have to wait until Christmas Eve, UK time, to actually watch the full concert when it will be broadcast on ITV, (the BBC having gotten the boot after airing the recent highly controversial documentary series The Princes and The Press) and which will include an introduction from the Duchess herself.

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

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