Daniela Elser: Secret message in Kate Middleton’s rare show-stopping outfit at Bond premiere

OPINION:

To the headline writers of Fleet Street, I doff my cap to you.

So far, not one has given into what must be the burning temptation to slap some sort of Goldfinger pun on any of tomorrow’s front pages after Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge fronted up to the premiere of the newest Bond film dressed in a glittering getup.

It was a family outing in the way that donning tens of thousands of dollars of designer gear, some lovely diamonds and plenty of big smiles constitutes a regular sort of excursion for members of the Queen’s family.

But this was not just another shiny red carpet outing in a lifetime of shiny red carpet outings for Kate.

The 39-year-old is, after 10 years at this HRH game, an old hand at formal dressing, having long established a very clear sartorial language for these sorts of events.

Pretty dresses in a variety of shades of pastels and soft shapes are her go-tos. Throw in a clutch, some appropriate pumps, the occasional floral motif or a daring flirtation with navy and you have the sort of nice, inoffensive wardrobe that would warm the hearts of generations of Sloaney debutantes.

Instead, Kate’s Bond dress was a wild veering off from that very predictable course with the duchess eschewing her usual oh-so-pretty look for a bespoke structured gold gown from Jenny Packham.

This was unequivocally the most striking and glamorous get-up she has ever worn.

Contrast this Jenny Packham number with the floaty baby blue creation, also from the London designer, which Kate wore to the Spectre premiere in 2015. The difference could not be more glaring.

One is a meek, shrouded and pastel frock (if an apology could be a dress, this was it). The other, quite simply, f**k-off, no-holds-barred-fabulous, the equivalent of a sartorial roar.

So, let’s be crystal clear here: This wasn’t just a dress. This was a declaration of intent and a very apparent power move on Kate’s part.

If we wanted to channel our inner Anna Wintour here we could talk about the fact that Kate has never worn solid gold before. White with gold accents, sure, but never like this.

Or we could talk about her wholly unprecedented choice of theatrically flared sleeves and the structured shoulders. Or, we could dive into the fact that the duchess has, while on occasion flirted with a sequin, never given into this Vegas-worthy level of sparkle.

We could even interrogate the fact that Kate arrived without her signature clutch, which is highly, highly unusual.

No, this frock was a very audible statement, which, to channel the Goopy argot of the Sussexes’ California, about Kate stepping into, and owning, her power.

It might have taken a decade to get here, but this was a glorious display of confidence that telegraphed a level of comfort in herself and a level of comfort in the spotlight from a woman who is inherently shy.

Moreover, the Bond event was a significant one because this event was essentially the royal family firing the starting gun on the beginning of the post-pandemic chapter. After 18-months of home schooling, Zoom appearances, and both Charles and William getting the virus, this much-delayed premiere marked not only the resumption of regular royal duties after Covid but also has given us our first real taste of regular royal life after Megxit.

It’s easy to forget that it was in the same month last year that Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex swept into Westminster Abbey for their final outing as working members of the royal family that lockdowns swept the globe.

At the time of that Westminster event, the Sussexes were poised to take North America, buoyed by a wave of Stateside support and the promise of a new life where Wall Street, Silicon Valley, Hollywood and Washington doors would open automatically for them.

We all know what came next: The ravaging march of the virus that saw much of the world locked down.

Things, for both the Sussexes and the house of Windsor, have essentially been in a holding pattern since then.

That period would seem – seem – to be coming to a close. And it is against this backdrop that we have Kate unveiling her most thrilling and daring look ever.

It could be tempting to wonder if this dramatic choice of outfit was some sort of reaction to the obscenely chic but obscenely expensive wardrobe Meghan has just rolled out for the couple’s pseudo-royal tour of New York over the weekend.

However, the reality is, Kate’s looks are most probably worked out months in advance with the sort of precise planning usually reserved for a ground invasion. (Are there whiteboards and long metal pointers involved? I’d like to think so.) No matter the allegedly fraught history between the two commoners-turned-duchesses, this was not a case of stylish one-upmanship.

Rather, what this was, I’d argue, was Kate making a very clear-cut statement about what we might expect from the royal family in this new chapter which will be bigger, bolder and no-holds-barred.

Or, to put it another way: The world is not enough.

Here’s what else you have to keep in mind here.

Hours before the Cambridges hit the red carpet, it was announced that billionaire and former Presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg has joined William’s $97 million Earthshot Prize as a global adviser and will mentor winners.

Also, later this month, a five-part TV series about the 15 finalists for the innovative prize will air, both in the UK and the US, which the prince made with environmental icon Sir David Attenborough.

Forget giving an occasional impassioned speech about the threat of climate change or cutting a ribbon every once in a while: William is not here to play around, having recruited a slew of global heavy hitters including, among others, billionaire Jack Ma, former Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi, and Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the head of the World Trade Organisation, for the prize’s council.

Likewise, in January 2020 Kate launched the biggest project in her career, the rolling out across the UK of Five Big Questions, a landmark survey that saw more than 500,000 parents take part.

While this charitable focus might superficially read like the equivalent of one of her favourite flowery dresses, innocuous and safe, what is driving Kate’s focus here is the clearly established link between wellbeing in the years zero to five and issues like mental health, homeless and addiction.

In June, she launched The Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood saying “my hope is that we can change the way we think about early childhood, and transform lives for generations to come.”

Taken together, William’s Bloomberg news and Kate’s Jenny Packham turn, and we have the future king and queen dialling things up which I think could signal the beginning of a more assertive, vocal and ambitious phase of their royal careers.

Not only do both the duke and duchess seem very clearly driven by a sense of purpose and wanting to make the world a much better place but next year will mark the Queen’s 70th year on the throne. No matter her unflagging work ethic, even Her Majesty is not immortal. With a once-in-a-lifetime shift in the offing transforming the monarchy into a dynamic force for 21st century good is crucial.

And well, if William and Kate’s ramped up, full-throttle version of royalty did happen to cast the Sussexes’ and their post-Megxit careers a tad in the shade, would anyone with the Kensington Palace Wi-Fi code really be that upset?

There is one other thing from the Bond premiere that we have to talk about, namely, how genuinely warmly the four HRHs were when they greeted one another. Photos of Kate kissing her father-in-law on both cheeks, and also Camilla, reveal a united family that genuinely likes each other.

That image and all of it’s natural warmth (I truly doubt that a single member of that titled group has the acting chops to put on such a show) stands in direct contrast to the picture of the Queen’s family as a chilly bunch of emotionally-deficient toffs that Harry and Meghan painted during their Oprah interview.

Interesting. Very interesting.

In the eponymous Goldeneye theme song, Tina Turner belts out “It’ll take forever to see, What I’ve got.” Kate too.

Like any M-appointed field officer worthy of their 00-status, Kate is one agent of the crown who has today proven that she has a few audacious moves up her sleeves. The woman might not know her way around a martini, a Walter PPK or a vintage Aston Martin, but her aim is just as devastating, and powerful, as any version of Bond.

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

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