William and Kate have been married since April 29, 2011. Video / AP / Getty
This story was one of NZ Herald Lifestyle’s top stories for 2021
There are great blow-dries and then there are the blow-dries that Kate, Duchess of Cambridge manages to achieve.
In her decade of royal life she has unequivocally proven the style staying power of the perfect, bouncy coiffure — and the man behind the mane? Richard Ward, whose signature Chelsea blow-dry is a work of expensive art.
Today, Kate’s signature hairdo is back on glorious display with Kensington Palace having released two new shots of her and husband Prince William to mark their 10th wedding anniversary.
Looking at the new images, what is glaring is how little – save for William’s follicularly-challenged fortunes – has changed: there the duo are in the same variety of innocuous bland smart-casual looks, still beaming, still appropriately affectionate and still peddling the modern-day fairytale party line.
Ditto the gleaming, quail egg-sized sapphire on Kate’s left hand which is prominently shoved into the fore in both of the new pictures.
Thus for today’s round of “what is the palace up to and why” we need to talk about that very conspicuous display of the sparkler, because, to badly paraphrase Sigmund Freud, sometimes a ring is not a ring.
The history of this particular piece of jewellery reads like an unpublished Grimm Brothers tale: Beautiful aristocratic waif chooses a huge ring when she marries a cold prince; the prince proves to be a terrible husband; the lovely princess meets a tragic fate only for her son to find true happiness with the very same bauble.
The 12-carat blue sapphire and diamond creation was never meant to end up on Kate’s hand.
In the dark days after the princess’ death in 1997, her sons were given the choice to select a piece of jewellery as a keepsake.
Harry, then aged 12, picked his mum’s famous ring while William, 15, chose her gold Cartier Tank Francaise watch.
Fast forward to 2010, when William was preparing to finally get down on bended knee and propose to his saintly patient girlfriend Kate, and Harry had an idea.
According to the princess’ former butler Paul Burrell, Harry said to William: “Wouldn’t it be fitting if she had mummy’s ring?”
Quite how Burrell, by then having long been excommunicated from royal life, would know about the brothers’ touching exchange is a mystery though.
For the sake of storytelling, we won’t quibble with the accuracy of this anecdote – however, all of this goes to explain why Kate’s ring is not just an excellent example of how to spend six figures at royal jeweller Garrard, but that it also symbolises generosity and the family ties that bind.
Look closer and its twinkly blue depths also represents the role Harry played in the Cambridges’ union.
Diana once famously — epicly — quipped that “there were three of us in the marriage.” There is a certain interesting symmetry that 10 years ago, there were three people in William and Kate’s marriage, too.
Given that the relationship between William and Harry has been riven of late, such a gentle reminder of happier times and familial love couldn’t hurt.
There is also a less generous potential interpretation here.
While Kate has donned a number of pieces from Diana’s jewellery collection with more day-to-day ubiquity, her sister-in-law Meghan, Duchess of Sussex’s approach appears to have been staked in the symbolic.
Ever since her wedding day in 2018, the former actress has regularly worn heirlooms which belonged to Diana at important moments on her own royal journey.
There was the aquamarine ring she wore to their night-time wedding reception, the diamond butterfly earrings she donned on the day she and Harry announced she was pregnant and the gold Cartier watch which she chose for a portrait taken to mark the Sussexes’ inclusion on the TIME100 list.
Most recently, Meghan opted to wear a diamond tennis bracelet of Diana’s for the couple’s history-making TV interview with Oprah Winfrey last month.
By all rights, Diana’s engagement ring should also have been part of her valuable inheritance from her mother-in-law.
Which is why Kate’s noticeable flashing of that ring, perhaps the most prized and definitely the most famous piece of jewellery ever owned by Diana, in these new shots could also be seen as something of a subtle reminder about just who snaffled the top prize.
A bit of a royal ‘ner ner ne nerr nerr’ if you will.
For both women, there is also the question of whether they are using the trove of bequeathed gems to create a public association between themselves and the late princess.
That is, who can lay most claim to being the Princess of Wales’ natural heir as the people’s princess?
Beyond this, these new shots of William and Kate are a reminder that not only have they made it as a couple, something very few Windsors have achieved, but that they have also made it as essentially co-managers of the decidedly tricky enterprise that is modern working royalty. Together they have built a cohesive unit and become a team pulling in the same direction as each other and, crucially, the same direction as the palace.
As the great Sussex fiasco has illustrated all too painfully, that is not an easy feat.
What the Cambridges have achieved here is something that Harry and Meghan sadly could not: They not only survived, but have flourished in palace captivity.
Look at both brothers and their wives and what comes into focus about royal life is that it all comes down to one thing: Endurance.
Kate has endured scrutiny, criticism, boredom, isolation (I’m guessing), the erosion of any identity outside of her royal status and all the while being shunted hither and fro to open bridges or some such tedious outings.
Kate could be forgiven for, after all of this, wanting to take something of a winner’s lap.
To the victor go the spoils; and to the duchess who has grinned and borne it for 10 years, go the biggest rocks.
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.