Duchess of Cambridge Kate has appeared on the cover of Tatler numerous times but for an age the most eyebrow-raising iteration was the June 2014 issue, which featured a heavily photoshopped shot of the royal that rendered her famous face cartoonish. Inside that particular issue there was a set of Kate paper dolls! What jolly fun! All in all, it was a bizarre editorial turn for the society bible, which has been ardently chronicling the goings on of the aristocracy since 1709.

That is, until this week, when their latest issue hit newsstands with a clang.

The cover is an old photo of Kate taken at the 2019 Bafta Awards, with the cover line "Catherine the Great". (While she looks stunning, sadly the chosen image means that poor William disappeared behind the T of the masthead. Also, let's not mention the fact the real Catherine the Great overthrew her emperor husband.)


While at first blush the associated story, written by royal biographer Anna Pasternak, seems like the usual sort of sycophantic puff piece that gets predictably rolled out for the magazine's devoutly monarchist readers, the reality is far more barbed.

Carole Middleton is cast as a social climber ruthlessly pushing her daughters forward (and who has some questionable taste in decor); Kate is alleged to have "carefully modulated" her voice with the help of the nephew of a duke; and the future queen is said to have "a ruthless survival streak".

All of which would be grist for the gossipy London mill but the story then swerves into particularly treacherous waters, with a friend claiming "Kate is furious about the larger workload" since the dramatic departure of her brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. The 38-year-old mother-of-three is "working as hard as a top CEO", the unnamed chum reveals, and all "without the benefits of boundaries and plenty of holidays."

Elsewhere, a friend of the Cambridges is quoted as saying: "Meghan and Harry have been so selfish. William and Catherine really wanted to be hands-on parents and the Sussexes have effectively thrown their three children under a bus. There goes their morning school runs as the responsibilities on them now are enormous."

Kensington Palace and the Tatler are now very publicly facing off over the story. A palace spokesperson has denied the claims, saying: "This story contains a swathe of inaccuracies and false misrepresentations which were not put to Kensington Palace prior to publication."

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the magazine has said: "Tatler's editor-in-chief Richard Dennen stands behind the reporting of Anna Pasternak and her sources. Kensington Palace knew we were running the 'Catherine the Great' cover months ago and we asked them to work together on it. The fact they are denying they ever knew is categorically false."

Whether the quotes accurately reflect Kate's feelings or not, this situation will be setting off alarm bells behind palace gates. The very fact the Palace felt compelled to put out a very rare statement reflects the significant potential damage this imbroglio could cause Kate's squeaky-clean image.

Most glaringly, to suggest that it is "exhausting" both to work and parent three little ones with the help only of a full-time nanny, housekeeper, private secretaries and gardeners (at least) is risible.


At a time when millions of Brits are unemployed and more than 37,000 have lost their lives to Covid-19, even the merest suggestion that Kate might deserve public sympathy for doing it particularly tough right now is insensitive in the extreme.

Making things even more precarious for palace publicity is that this has reawakened the issue of Kate's work-shy reputation. In 2008 it was reported the Queen had told Prince William his then-girlfriend needed to get a full-time job, with a senior aide telling the Daily Mail at the time, "On the few occasions the Queen has met Kate, she has thought she is a nice enough girl. But the Queen has admitted she has no idea what Kate actually does."

Royal biographer Katie Nicholl, wrote two years later that "If (Kate) was not with William at Balmoral then the couple were skiing or holidaying on Mustique. Kate was there so often the press dubbed her 'Queen of Mustique', a title that had previously belonged to Princess Margaret. Britain was now in a recession and such frivolous displays of wealth were unpalatable to the Queen."

Basically, the trope of Kate being more interested in planning her next smaaaarrrshing trip to Courcheval than making small talk with Union Jack-waving pensioners has, rightly or wrongly, haunted her for years. Happily, that perception was slowly replaced with one of the duchess as a diligent if slightly dull HRH, who has cultivated an exemplary listening face. (It's all in the cocked chin.)

Royal work statistics don't exactly paint Kate as having had a particularly arduous workload. In 2019, she worked 82 days; by contrast, the 84-year-old Duke of Kent notched up 110 working days. In 2018, she worked 52 days (though to be fair was on maternity leave for several months) and in 2017 managed just over 60 days of royal toil.

The bigger issue is there has always been significant sensitivity around royalty and their workloads. Arguing that Kate's day job has become that much more demanding in the wake of Megexit is to bring unwanted scrutiny to bear on the question of just how much hard graft the Windsors actually do.

To make the case that someone who enjoys clockwork holidays, only works for the equivalent of two to three months a year and enjoys hot and cold running staff is "exhausted" is to bait a restive British public into going on the attack.

So, should we give the Tatler story credence?

On one hand, this is a magazine keenly tapped into this particular social milieu and the magazine's editor-in-chief holidayed with Kate, twice, when they were younger. (Just imagine how many frequent flyer points the woman must have.) Similarly, close friends of the royal family only speak to the press when sanctioned. To do otherwise would result in immediate and permanent exile.

However, the counterargument here is that Kate and William have cultivated a particularly small, devoted social circle who protect the royal couple's privacy with an iron-clad devotion. This is not some gaggle of loose-lipped toffs who will tell-all about the future king and queen after one too many G&Ts at Annabel's.

There is a certain irony to this whole messy rumpus, which is that Kate has always been the royal family's Good Girl, the flawless but inscrutable queen-in-making who has never, ever put a beige wedge heel wrong. Who would have thought that in 2020, after Prince Andrew's mortifying interview and the Sussexes' explosive exit, that it would be Kate who would pose the next PR threat to the palace?

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