Little could we have known when 28-year-old Prince William proposed to an ordinary girl from Berkshire, his future bride would be responsible for changing the royal family forever.
It's been almost seven years since that day and in that time there has been a revolutionary shift in the way the House of Windsor does business. Traditional pomp and circumstance still abound, of course, but alongside it, with equal importance, there is now an unprecedented amount of soul bearing and emotional confessionals—the kind of thing the royal family has always publicly shied away from.
And there is no doubt that Kate is at the root of this fundamental change.
The evidence was especially clear a few weeks ago when William and Harry admitted during a candid video shoot the real inspiration behind the launch of their most ambitious project yet, the mental health charity Heads Together.
"It was your idea, I think," William said, nodding to Kate, as the camera rolled.
"It was your idea…," echoed Harry.
"Because it's a common thread wasn't it?" answered Kate.
While on the surface the public gratitude might seem like par for the course, it's actually way more significant than that and proves how much of a game-changer Kate has been. Heads Together is very different from the tens of other causes the royal trio spend time on because it focuses on something very close to their heart—the devastation Harry and William felt when they lost their mom in a horrific car crash in Paris in 1997.
Chris Jackson/Getty Images
It's tradition to describe royalty as blue-blooded, a term which literally implies if you are born in a palace you're made up of different matter than the rest of us. Arguably it's an idea that has helped royal families the world over rationalize their position of privilege and power. But now, there's been a sea change and William, Kate and Harry are doing everything they can to highlight our commonalities rather than our differences. They are determined to break down the boundaries between them and us and prove they are, in fact, just like us.
Princess Diana began the emotional education for her boys, exposing them to the homeless and others who were less fortunate than themselves. But the transformation really took hold when William started university at St. Andrews. In Scotland he was thrust into an entirely alien learning environment. Instead of the mostly male upper class peers he socialized with at boarding school, in the aftermath of Diana's death, he was forced to widen his circle and mix with average folk, which included for the first time—gasp—girls.
Will and Kate crossed paths when they were placed in the same university accommodation (she later admitted that during their first introduction she "went bright red and scuttled off, feeling very shy"). Her upbringing was hardly poverty-stricken; her family was very comfortable thanks to a successful party-planning business, but she was still nothing like his Eton friends, most of whom could boast about having lords and ladies in their ancestry.com profile.
In their blossoming friendship, William found not just eventual romance but also some comfort after losing his mother so tragically. We now know, from multiple interviews conducted over the past year, that both William and Harry never really dealt with Diana's death directly after it happened.
Chris Jackson/Getty Images
With barely any counseling, the family instead focused on preparing the two boys for their future public roles as heir and spare. But thanks to the Middleton magic, William got to experience what life was like if you didn't have an HRH in front of your name. The pair would often sneak away for secret visits to see her family—parents Carole and Mike and siblings Pippa and James—at her childhood home.
Weekends for the lovebirds were filled with local trips to the pub, jokes and home-cooked Sunday roasts (sans a full set of cutlery). It was an eye-opening time for William: "Kate's got a very, very close family," he said in his 2010 engagement interview. "Mike and Carole have been really loving and caring, and really fun…They have been welcoming towards me so I've felt really a part of the family."
When you look back at that first interview with William and Kate together, she was the first to admit she felt like a fish out of water at the prospect of one day becoming queen. When asked how she was planning to adapt to royal life she admitted, "It's quite a daunting prospect. Hopefully I'll take it in my stride. William's a great teacher, he'll be able to help me along the way and I really look forward to that."
The discomfort of talking publicly about their relationship, while the cameras were rolling, is evident. But what we didn't fully understand then is that the union would actually result in an equally as large transformation for William. It's now apparent the Middleton magic and Kate's humble beginnings have transformed the royal family in an indelible way. You can see it in the way Princess Diana's sons have started opening up about the soul-crushing hurt they experienced after their mother perished (especially when compared to the scene witnessed in the week after Diana's death, when William and Harry, who were just 15 and 12, respectively, were put on public display as they accompanied her coffin down the mall).
The idea that the young princes had to fulfill such public roles amidst such private sadness was inconceivable to most. But for the Windsors it was imperative to convey a centuries-old message that despite the circumstances, it was business as usual.
Luke MacGregor - WPA Pool/Getty Images
Now in 2017, the last thing William and Harry want is to hide the extent of their childhood sorrow. Kate has shown them that, by confronting the pain, they can actually make a huge difference in other people's lives. As Kate herself explained in the Heads Together video, we are all the same, royal or not, "whether it was homelessness, military with yourself [she nods to Harry] and addiction with me and bereavement [she looks at William], there was a sort of underlying thread of mental health."
"It's always sold as though everyone else's life is perfect," added Harry. "That's the problem and therefore if you think everyone else's life is perfect, there must be something wrong with me."
Every so often I get tweets from people upset that we sometimes call Kate "Kate" and don't always refer to her by her official title. If we're really going to split hairs, then it means we should be calling her "Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge, Countess of Strathearn and Baroness Carrickfergus."
It's a tongue twister for sure. But aside from it being a bit of a mouthful, there's another reason why Kate will always be Kate to some of us. It reminds us that even with the grand honors, she's actually very relatable and it's this same background that has allowed her to break down the barrier that tends to separate royalty from its subjects. And because of this, the royal family has never been more popular, more adored or more understood.
By encouraging William and Harry to show their vulnerability, to speak out about their heartbreaking past and use it for good, Kate has actually helped save the House of Windsor from the possibility of one day becoming outdated and irrelevant. She's given them meaning and a bigger purpose than ever before, helping to cement their legacy for centuries to come.