Kate’s rebranding masterclass that may finally see off Meghan
As Rishi Sunak was restructuring his Cabinet ahead of a coming general election campaign, the Princess of Wales was preparing for her own mini reshuffle as she, too, goes into battle.
Five months since she moved up to the second tier of the monarchy, the Princess has started beefing up her top team to make sure she succeeds not only with her “life’s work” on child development, but also with the task of besting Meghan Markle.
Ever since the publication of Prince Harry’s book Spare, which was less than kind to Kate, she has rarely been out of the public eye, while the Duchess of Sussex, who has unquestionably become her nemesis, has retreated to the shadows.
The timing may be coincidental (royal events are never last-minute additions to the diary) but the Princess is without doubt in the midst of a rebranding exercise, and the evidence so far suggests she is winning her battle with the woman who dared to suggest she had “baby brain”.
A recent poll by Ipsos showed that while the Princess is viewed positively by 60 per cent of the British population, the Duchess is viewed positively by just 19 per cent of people. And all the signs are that she is determined to consolidate that advantage.
Last week saw the launch of Shaping Us, the early childhood project that she hopes will come to define her, complete with a slick cinema advertising, social media and billboard campaign.
Dressed in a red trouser suit at the unveiling ceremony, she looked every inch a woman who means business. Her power dressing was the physical manifestation of a change of attitude that has been coupled with a recent hiring spree.
The Princess has appointed branding and marketing expert Alison Corfield to be her new private secretary, in a highly significant gear change from what has gone before. Rather than looking to government departments for staff, the Princess has gone for a woman who started life as a Virgin Atlantic flight attendant and is “cut from a different cloth” than traditional courtiers, according to those who know her.
The sharp-elbowed Corfield will be the Princess’s new right hand woman, and her brief, when she starts the job later this year, will be to take Brand Kate to the next level.
One royal insider says: “You can often see the ambitions of individual members of the Royal family by the hires that they make.
“When Prince William hired Simon Case [now the Cabinet Secretary] to be his private secretary in 2018 that showed a new maturity of outlook in his ambitions, as Case was a more heavyweight appointment than what had gone before.
“What the Princess of Wales is doing is a very clear sign that she is redefining herself now that she has this new role. The role of heir, or wife of the heir, brings opportunities and also responsibilities as you represent the monarchy not only around the country but also around the world. She has a greater platform now, so she needs the right team to deliver for her.”
The same source says that while the Princess “comes across as a warm and gentle character” she is “at her core” a woman with a steely determination, as well as being deeply aware of the power and potential that comes with her elevated position.
“She is extremely strategic and methodical, and she takes her work very seriously,” says the source.
One of Corfield’s tasks will be to turn Shaping Us into the sort of brand that will outlive the Princess, in the same way that the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme, the Prince’s Trust and even the Invictus Games have become part of the national psyche and ensured a legacy for Prince Philip, the King and Prince Harry.
At the age of 41, the Princess is launching her big idea rather later in life than Prince Harry or the King, who were both in their twenties when they set up Invictus and the Prince’s Trust respectively, which is largely because the Princess and the Prince of Wales prioritised having a family when they got married.
Those close to the Princess also feel she has never had the credit she deserved for the Heads Together campaign on mental health, which was her idea but which was launched as a joint campaign with Princes William and Harry. Allies say it became “a success with many fathers”, meaning it has never been associated with the Princess. Its impact, though notable, is also far harder to distil than the tangible, measurable success of the “DofE” or Invictus.
That is where Corfield comes in. The Princess wants Shaping Us to be a lifelong project, but in order for it to succeed it must first get noticed. “The great challenge with these things is always to turn good intentions into outcomes,” says one person who has worked with the Royal family in the past.
Corfield worked closely with Jamie Oliver on his school dinners campaign to cut child obesity, with which he will always be associated, and she also helped the Labour MP Stella Creasy to launch a campaign to get more mothers to stand as MPs. Both campaigns were heavily political, and the Princess will need political backing if she is to maximise the chances of success for her early years campaign.
She has already talked about the need to “invest” in child development in the 0-5 age group, which has been interpreted as a hint to ministers that more money would help under-fives with their social and emotional development.
Significantly, the Princess’s second major hire of the year also comes with plenty of experience of politics. Christian Guy, who will become director of the Royal Foundation’s Centre for Early Childhood in the spring, is a former Downing Street special adviser and one time speechwriter for Sir Iain Duncan Smith.
He will lead a team of around half a dozen full-time staff at the Centre for Early Childhood, which was founded in 2021 and shares office space in central London with the Royal Foundation, the Prince and Princess’s umbrella charity.
Eamon McCrory, professor of developmental neuroscience at University College London, is one of eight experts on early development who is advising the Centre, working closely with the Princess. Asked whether the campaign might eventually bring about political change, he said: “Potentially, over time. That’s not the focus of this campaign but clearly national and local politics have a role to play in early years development.”
The Princess settled on early years development after realising during countless meetings with people affected by homelessness, addiction and mental health that a lot of their problems could be traced back to problems that began before the age of five. She became convinced that in many cases, those problems in adulthood could be prevented at source if children got off to a better start in life.
Prof McCrory describes Shaping Us as: “A landmark in the Princess’s work. It is the culmination of many years of looking into early development. It is going beyond involving professionals and is now aiming to engage every part of society. She has incredible curiosity, insight and experience across a range of specialist areas.”
He says changes in attitudes towards mental health over the past decade could act as a template for how the Shaping Us campaign could affect society, and that “by changing attitudes you can also change our behaviour as individuals, as we have seen for example with climate change”.
Unlike the Duchess of Sussex, the Princess has an audience that is ready to listen. An Ipsos UK poll on attitudes towards the Royal family published last month showed that even before the Shaping Us campaign, favourable attitudes towards the Princess are higher among women than men, and that she is popular with 45 per cent of people aged 18-24, rising to 67 per cent among those aged 55 to 75.
The Duchess, meanwhile, is less popular with women than men, and has only 26 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds on her side, a figure which never tops 30 per cent in any age group or social grade.
The Princess, then, needs no help in winning a popularity contest with the Duchess, particularly with the exposure the Waleses will have at May’s coronation ceremony. If she gets her new campaign right she will hope that she is still making a difference to people’s lives long after her son Prince George becomes king.