No one ever looks perfect at 2am.
It's kind of comforting to know that even the woman formerly known as Kate Middleton faced the same rumpled, bleary-eyed fate the rest of us do. For a glorious time between about 2006 and 2008, Kate was regularly snapped arriving at and leaving a series of London's most exclusive nightclubs — places like Mahiki, Boujis and Raffles — where she and a seemingly endless round of corduroy-wearing blokes (and Pippa) would enjoy rounds of expensive, sugary cocktails, reports News.com.au.
"Kate leaving nightclub" became a staple that photo editors the world over could rely on to provide them with a steady stream of stories about Prince William's girlfriend. They were all reassuringly similar; her trademark brunette mane dishevelled, whatever high-end high-street frocks she was wearing cheerfully rumpled, her cheeks flushed as she flopped into the back of a black cab. (Sadly, no one ever got a shot of her stopping for a kebab or doing a quick Macca's run on the way home.)
However, looking at those photos now is like looking at a totally different person. Not because her fashion sense tended towards brown knee-high boots or a series of dangly earrings. But because in pretty much every shot there is one thing you can clearly see — she was having fun. The girl looks like she was having a goddamn great time.
Contrast that with Kate, Duchess of Cambridge.
Today, when she steps out in public, her blow-dry is perfect, her clothes an appropriate hem-length and her wave carefully practised. Yes, she grins and occasionally giggles but it's not the same. There is a quality of forced jollity whenever she steps out in front of the smartphone-wielding public, a woman whose performance in the role of Future Queen is breathtaking to witness for its sheer commitment to monotonous, antiseptic affability.
In marrying Prince William, Kate got a lot of things — commitment from her on-again, off-again boyfriend of about nine years, a shiny title, a whopping fortune and admission to the most famous family in the world.
But in doing so, she paid a clear price, trading the opportunity to express joy and spontaneity for an existence marked by a need for constant restraint and impeccable self-control.
One thing that rarely if ever gets mentioned is that being a Windsor is never meant to be fun. For the monarchy to continue to thrive in this millennium it needs to continue to generate that most precious resource: respect.
And that respect stems in part from constantly giving the impression that royal life is something that one bears, tolerably. There is an implied sacrifice to royal duty and a need to project an air that contending with the weight of regal responsibility is something of a burden.
I'm not criticising Kate's life choices by any means, but I find there's something quite poignant about looking back at images of Nightclub Kate.
I wonder if she knew quite how colossal a trade she was making when she accepted that gargantuan sapphire engagement ring in 2010.
Perhaps one of the biggest sacrifices she has made is having the opportunity to have an unabashed good time in public. There is no popping along to a swanky Chelsea restaurant with Pippa to share a bottle or two of pinot grigio to enjoy a Sloane-y giggle about Harry's follicular transformation into a red-headed Friar Tuck.
There is no going to Royal Ascot, putting 20 pounds on your favourite gee-gee and then cheering with unabashed joy when he comes in first.
And, there is no enjoying a sneaky cigarette out the back of Kensington Palace whenever you get bored of helping Prince George knight all of his teddy bears.
The constant vigilance with which she must police her own behaviour is exhausting to even think about.
Today's Kate might smile and wave but she is unquestionably something of a cipher, her face a cheerful mask that betrays absolutely nothing about what she truly feels. That sort of perpetually guarded existence might ensure she is adored, but to so neuter your public self is a bit sad.
RIP Nightclub Kate. I miss you and I wonder if sometimes, you miss you too. And if you ever change your mind, it's an eight-minute Uber ride from Kensington Palace to Mahiki.