- When she started at her first secondary school, Downe House, Kate Middleton was quickly targeted by bullies and became "desperately unhappy."
- Royal biographer Katie Nicholl detailed Kate's experiences at Downe House in her bookKate: The Future Queen.
- Former classmates confirm that the school, which Kate left part of the way through her first year there, was a toxic environment, but her former headmistress defends the school, saying that "teasing" is just a normal thing girls do.
Kate Middleton is probably one of the most popular, beloved humans on the planet today, but back in high school, she was apparently the target of some intense bullying. In her book Kate: The Future Queen, royal expert/biographer Katie Nicholl gave a deep dive account into Kate's real-life Mean Girls experience—and a rebuttal from her former headmistress who says the bullying wasn't actually a ~thing~.
Here's what you need to know about Kate's high school bully struggles, which ultimately lead the future duchess to change schools.
Why was Kate Middleton such an outsider at her first high school?
Nicholl offers a few reasons why Kate was targeted by bullies. First, when Kate arrived at her first high school (known as "secondary school" across the pond), Downe House, she was 13. Since the school accepted younger students and many of her classmates had been going there since they were 11, Kate was already the "new kid."
"It does make a difference going from eleven," another former Downe House student named Georgina Rylance told the Sunday Times, according to Nicholl. "You have two years of bonding, your first time away all together. Even some of the most popular girls in my school had a hard time when they came in at thirteen."
If starting at the school at 13 was strike one, then deciding to be a "day pupil" (a student who lived at home and commuted to campus every day instead of living in the dorms as a boarder) was strike two. So many people Nicholl cites from the time were obsessed with the fact that Kate was a "day girl" and what a huge mistake that decision was.
"In boarding schools a lot of the boding takes place late at night, or at the weekends, going to the local sweetshop," Rylance explained.
Strike three was just run-of-the-mill, could-happen-at-any-school bullying though. Downe House was reportedly a cliquey place and Kate stood out "for the wrong reasons." Per Nicholl:
"Being especially slender and a head taller than her peers, she stood out for the wrong reasons and was teased for being gangly and lanky."
What was it like at Kate's first school, Downe House?
In a word, Downe House was cliquey. According to Downe House alum Emma Sayle, who was four years ahead of Kate at the boarding school, it was basically the embodiment of all the things that make for a toxic social environment.
"It is a very cliquey school and there was a lot of pressure," she said. "The girls were all high achievers, and there were lots of girls with eating disorders. Everyone wanted to be the best, the fittest, the prettiest. I think Kate was miserable from the start."
Was there anything Kate liked about Downe House?
So, you might not know it to look at her being all prim and proper and "rubbish at soccer" today, but Kate was a full-on jock when she was a kid and the one place she should have been able to find her tribe of friends was on the hockey field. Unfortunately for Kate, who was an amazing hockey player as a kid, Downe House didn't have a team. They only offered lacrosse, which she had never played in her life, and even though she went out for the team, things didn't go great.
"Even when it came to sports, where she should have excelled, Kate found she was out of her league," Nicholl wrote. "The predominant game at Downe House was lacrosse, which she had never played, and there was no hockey on the curriculum."
According to Kate's old headmistress, Susan Cameron, Kate blew the tryout, which she says would have been a "crushing disappointment" for Kate:
"She was not selected for the school teams during her time with us, which, given that she was very sporty at her last school, was slightly unusual. Kate may have felt slightly out of things because people at that level would have been well into lacrosse, and I think she probably had never played. It strikes me that could have been a crushing disappointment. You pick up a lacrosse stick and think you're good at games, then someone says to you, 'That's not how you pick up a lacrosse stick,' and you feel rather squashed. It's a delicate age."
Bottom line: Kate just didn't fit in at Downe House in any way:
Yes, there were a lot of specific strikes against the school for Kate: She was a "day girl," she was a latecomer to the class, she was gangly and targeted by bullies, she didn't make the lacrosse team. But it was more than that. According to Nicholl, Kate just fundamentally didn't fit in with the kind of person who went to Downe House. Per Nicholl:
"Disappointed not to be part of a team on the sports field and shy compared to some of her more outgoing classmates, Kate retreated into her shell. She found the all-girl environment alienating and had little in common with many of the wealthy pupils who owned ponies and came from high-society families."
And this "not good enough" vibe wasn't just in Kate's head, apparently. According to Sayle, Downe House students judged each other pretty ruthlessly on their class, background, and looks.
What do Downe House officials have to say about claims that Kate was bullied there?
For what it's worth, Cameron, the headmistress (who apparently met with the Middletons several times during this period, presumably as they were like, "Hey, our daughter seems miserable, so can you help?") majorly downplays the bullying claims.
In a statement on the situation, Cameron implies that Kate was just being too sensitive and wasn't really bullied and then, in the next breath, admits that girls at Downe House (and girls in general, in her assessment) are "cliquey" and "cruel" and that they actively target the weakest among their ranks to tease.
"She may well have felt like a fish out of water , or unhappily not in the right place. Certainly, I have no knowledge of any serious bullying at all. But there's what everyone calls bullying, and there's actual, real, miserable bullying where someone had a dreadful time. That certainly didn't happen. Yes, there would be teasing. It's all a part of the normal competition of growing up, of establishing a pecking order. Girls are cliquey by nature and they can be rather cruel. If you're attractive, too, that can be seen as rather a threat. They can sense those who are slightly weaker or who haven't shown their strengths yet, and it's those girls who are likely to end up being picked on or teased. I think it's fair to say she was unsettled and not particularly happy. Maybe in Catherine's case she just kind of went quiet and didn't say anything."
Luckily, Kate didn't just go quiet and not say anything—she actually spoke up about the situation to her parents and transferred to another school, Marlborough, that was a better fit and a place where she made lifelong friendships and sang the Friends theme song at school events.
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