Since she began dating Prince William in 2004, Kate Middleton has been the object of adoration worldwide. The second coming of the people’s princess, the down-to-earth Duchess—Middleton inspires fawning headlines wherever she goes.
I’ve always thought the Duchess was a beautiful, classy role model. But beyond that, I didn’t know much about her. So when I was assigned this story, I dove into research about the princess. The first thing I learned? You can’t even pretend to be royal unless you’ve had high tea. And so, over scones and Earl Grey at the Plaza Hotel’s Palm Court, I met with historian Robert Lacey, the historical consultant for Netflix’s The Crown. His new book, The Crown: The Official History (opens in new tab), chronicles his four decades of research into Queen Elizabeth II.
Of Middleton, Lacey said, “I think she'll be one of the great modernizers of the royal family.” She’s relatable: Not only does she shop at Zara and Topshop (opens in new tab), Lacey told me that she’s close with her family (she calls her mom nearly every day) and has a group chat with William, Harry and Meghan Markle. I can do this! I thought. I shop at Zara! I’m close with my family! I have multiple group chats!
There's a little more to the life of a duchess than that.
Day 1: How She Gets Her Bod
One Button Blazer (opens in new tab), SMYTHE (Available at Shopbop), $595; Striped Tee (opens in new tab), ROMWE, $8; Maria High Rise Photo Ready Jeans (opens in new tab), J BRAND (Available at Shopbop), $189; Celina Wedge Heels in "Midnight", RIALTO (Available at The Scarpetta), $30
Middleton’s physique has been gossip fodder since she started dating Prince William. Although she’s quipped that it’s from running after her two kids, I figured my presence chasing after strange children might not be welcome at my neighborhood playground. So I decided to start my week doing another of her favorite workouts: rowing. The class I took at CityRow (opens in new tab), a boutique fitness studio, mixed traditional rowing with intervals of squats, planks, and other sculpting exercises. I’m more of a spin person (and as hard as I tried, I couldn’t find any evidence that Middleton does SoulCycle), so there were a few moments when I thought I might not make it. Whenever I thought there was no way I could do 20 more squats, I actually said to myself, like a mantra: You are Kate. Embarrassing! I know. But it worked.
I felt my legs shaking underneath me as I walked to brunch afterward. But I was also on an endorphin high. My boyfriend’s mom was in town, so I met them, along with his sister and her boyfriend, a few blocks from the studio. Middleton is close with her family, so it felt like an appropriately Kate way to spend the afternoon. After our meal, my boyfriend Stanley and I went to play tennis. Middleton loves the sport and has played since she was a child. I, on the other hand, did JV for three years in high school and haven’t picked up a racket since. Game, set, match! Or something.
Because we’re not actually royal and don’t belong to a tennis club, Stanley and I made do with a public court in Brooklyn. The 48-degree weather wasn’t ideal but at least felt like England. We hit around for about an hour and even had a few rallies. I also had my fair share of embarrassing misses:
Afterward, we called a Lyft. There was no way I was walking a mile home after my laborious day of exertion. “I’m exhausted,” I sighed dramatically.
“Kate’s life,” Stanley replied.
F*ck, I thought. It’s only day one.
Day 2: Blowouts Make Everything Better
Being in the public eye, one of Middleton’s main jobs is maintaining her polished appearance. She reportedly gets three blowouts a week from her longtime stylist, Richard Ward. Making three trips to London to get my hair done didn’t seem like something I could expense, so on Monday morning, I went to DreamDry, a blowout bar co-founded by stylist Rachel Zoe. To achieve Middleton’s voluminous look, my stylist used Kérastase products—the Duchess is reportedly a fan—and twirled my hair with a round brush before pinning it up in rollers.
With my hair all va-va voom, I felt a little self-conscious. Can I pull this off? I wondered. But I felt my self-esteem rise after I posted an Instagram story, and the DMs of validation started rolling in (“gorg!” and, “dude you look hot”).
After work, I headed to nail salon tenoverten (opens in new tab) to get my nails princess-perfect. The royal family has strict guidelines in place for nail polish: Any color is considered “vulgar” and strictly forbidden. Muted shades, however, are acceptable, and Middleton reportedly wore Essie on her wedding day. So I relaxed as the manicurist removed my emo-dark polish and replaced it with a pale pink Essie hue. As much as I love painting my nails dark colors, I have to admit, the understated shade made me feel more grown-up.
I ended the day trying out Middleton’s nighttime beauty routine. She loves Trilogy Rosehip Oil, so I slathered it onto my face and neck. My body still ached from the rowing class, but all the pampering helped me forget that I could barely walk up the stairs to my apartment.
Day 3: Princess Lessons
Fascinator, ELLEN CHRISTINE, $195; Ring, Thrifted; Dress, Thrifted; Kediredda Heels (opens in new tab), ALDO, $40; Tights (opens in new tab), WOLFORD, $33; Earrings, ANNE KLEIN (Available at Bolton’s), $10
In preparation for my photo shoot, I needed to match my hair color to Middleton’s. I’m a natural brunette but got blonde balayage a few months ago on a whim. To mask my decidedly un-princess-like ends and get the Duchess’s rich auburn shade, I went to Ryan Pearl, a master colorist at Cutler salon. He bathed my hair in a semi-permanent conditioning gloss and topped it off with my second blowout of the week.
Although Middleton hails from the upper crust of English society, she still had a lot to learn before she officially joined the royal family. Before her wedding in 2011, she was rumored to take etiquette lessons to learn how to be a proper princess. So on Tuesday, I paid a visit to Patricia Napier-Fitzpatrick, the founder and president of the Etiquette School of New York, for an hourlong cram session. I knew I’d be skewered for being late to an etiquette class, so I fast-walked from the office, zigzagging through holiday tourists. I arrived at 4:01 with a thin film of sweat coating my forehead. “I’m so sorry I’m late,” I said. She coolly replied: “The princess would never be late.” I already failed my first test.
Once I stopped sweating, we tackled posture, making a good impression, graceful introductions, and how to get out of a car without flashing everyone (the secret: keep your legs together as you swivel them out). She even had me walk with a book on my head, like I was Mia Thermopolis preparing to govern Genovia.
But it all seemed a little excessive. Why do women have to go through all of this, anyway? Why can’t Kate just be herself? Napier-Fitzpatrick must have seen the skepticism on my face. "Think about it,” she said. “As Kate Middleton, you represent the kingdom. You represent England.” In short: She has to be more than just herself.
It was unjust, maybe, but I could see her point. “Yeah,” I agreed. As soon as I said it, I knew I’d made a mistake—I’ve seen Miss Congeniality. Napier-Fitzpatrick firmly, but kindly, pointed out my error.
Day 4: Upstairs, Downstairs
Women's V-Neck Short Sleeve Ruched Waist Fit and Flare Wrap Dress (opens in new tab), FINEJO (Available at Amazon), $27; Ring, Thrifted; Tights (opens in new tab), WOLFORD, $33; Kediredda Heels (opens in new tab), ALDO, $85
One thing that Middleton and I have in common: We’re both huge fans of Downton Abbey. In 2015, the Duchess visited the set of the English period drama, meeting the actors and watching them film scenes. Luckily for me, a special exhibit dedicated to the show recently opened two blocks from the office. I didn’t get to meet Michelle Dockery, but I did get to see real props and pieces from the show, including the servants’ bell board downstairs, which Middleton posed in front of on her visit to the set.
Day 5: Every Day Is a Photo Shoot
Polka Dot Print Smock Dress (opens in new tab), ROMWE, $14; Blanket, Stylist’s Own; Shoes, Thrifted
Thursday was the day of my photo shoot, so I arrived to work early to get my third blowout of the week. (Honestly, my hair had never been so pampered.) A stylist from GlamSquad, an on-demand beauty service, came bright and early to get me princess-ready—using Middleton’s preferred shampoo brand, Kérastase, to achieve the look—and one of the company’s makeup artists dolled me up with the Duchess’s signature brown smoky eye.
Although I felt self-conscious having my picture taken—especially when I was wearing a paper-thin dress outside in 30-degree weather, nips a-poppin'—I tried to channel Middleton’s confidence. She has her photo taken constantly, and for the most part, it doesn’t seem to faze her. As the day went on, I felt more comfortable smiling as the camera clicked. This was her job, after all—and today, it was mine, too.
Day 6: Art Appreciation
ON THE QUEEN: Blue Hat, ELLEN CHRISTINE, $227; Tweed Blazer, Thrifted; Pearl Necklace (opens in new tab), ROSEMARIE COLLECTIONS, $26; Pearl earrings, ELLEN TRACY (Available at Bolton’s), $15; Bow Brooch (opens in new tab), ELEQUEEN (Available at Amazon), $16
Middleton studied art history in college and has put her degree to use in her life as a royal, opening a new wing (opens in new tab) of the Victoria and Albert Museum over the summer. So after work on Friday, I headed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I checked out an exhibit featuring David Hockney, an English painter, which seemed appropriate. I walked through the rooms slowly, taking time to read every description and appreciate his work. After only an hour, I felt more cultured—like maybe I, too, could preside over an exhibit opening.
Day 7: Doing Good, and Also Wearing Very Extra Hats
One of the most important aspects of being a member of the royal family is philanthropy. Middleton and Prince William have their own foundation and are patrons of a number of charities, many of them focusing on children. In my non-Duchess life, I work with the Princeton University Summer Journalism program, an organization that teaches journalism to low-income high school students. My boyfriend and I are mentoring three high-school seniors through the hectic college application process. With most applications due Jan. 1, we had no time to waste, so I spent a few hours editing personal statements and college-specific supplements. Even though I would do this normally, it felt like a very Kate way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
That night, two of my friends were having their birthday party in the East Village. So I put on my cutest going-out top, black boots, skinny jeans, and…a fascinator. Middleton loves a good decorative hat, so I went on Amazon and got myself a $14 version (opens in new tab). As I clipped it into my hair, I steeled myself for strange looks on the subway and at the bar. But other than my close friends, who know I’m not a big hat-wearer, the accessory barely earned me a passing glance. Not surprising: This is New York, after all.
It’s easy to pine for the life of a princess: the jewels, the pampering, the absolute adoration of people around the world. As it turns out, though, keeping up the image and representing a nation can be hard work. I wouldn’t trade my life with Middleton’s—but I could get used to the blowouts.
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Rebecca Nelson is a magazine writer in New York. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post magazine, GQ, and many other publications.
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