The Duchess of Kent, like some mythic figure from Olde Britannia's folklore, has been seen in public for the first time in almost three years. She made a surprise appearance at an event for her music charity, Future Talent, in London.
The Duchess, who these days prefers to be known as Katharine, stepped away from her royal duties in 2002 — much like Harry and Meghan — to pursue her great passion, music. Her last public appearance was in September 2019, when she hosted a concert at St James’s Palace for the Royal Northern College of Music. She is known for her great contribution to arts, hospice, suicide and ME charities. ‘Old age should be the happiest time of your life,’ Katharine, who turned 89 in February, once told Sue Lawley on Desert Island Discs. But who is this most mysterious member of the Royal Family?
Who is the Duchess of Kent?
Katharine Worsley married the Queen’s cousin, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, in 1961. She is the daughter of Sir William Worsley (who captained Yorkshire County Cricket Club) and enjoyed an idyllic Yorkshire childhood among the rolling hills, forests and cricket pitches of Hovington Hall, her father's family seat. The photographer Cecil Beaton once described her as ‘the perfect outdoor girl’. When she was 24, she met the Duke of Kent, stationed with his regiment nearby, at a private party (they were keen to get married straight away, but her father asked them to wait). Today, the Duke and Duchess of Kent have three children, Lord Nicholas Windsor, Lady Helen Taylor and George, Earl of St Andrews, and ten grandchildren, including Lady Amelia Windsor — a model at Storm Agency, the same talent agency that scouted Kate Moss, dubbed ‘the most beautiful royal’.
What was their wedding like?
Mega. The Queen attended on 8 June 1961, natch, as well as the Queen Mother, the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles and Princess Anne, who served as a flower girl. There were also royals from Denmark, Greece, the Netherlands and Norway in attendance. It was at this wedding that the future King Juan Carlos of Spain — who famously abdicated and went into exile after a string of financial and extramarital scandals — would meet his royal bride, Princess Sophia of Greece and Denmark, too.
What did she wear?
She was a real trendsetter. A military wife who wore the occasional tiara, Katharine had gained global recognition for her sense of fashion, and was often voted one of the world’s best dressed women (she was the first member of the Royal Family to be snapped in a mini skirt). Her wedding dress was a haute 1960s fashion indeed. Designed by John Cavanagh, on the recommendation of her future mother-in-law, Princess Marina, it featured a round neck with fitted sleeves, as well as a full skirt with 15-foot train. ‘There were some concerns that the dress was too awkward and heavy to manoeuvre, with the bride reportedly practising her curtsey multiple times,’ says Tatler’s Rebecca Cope. ‘She borrowed a diamond and pearl tiara from her mother-in-law’s collection, one that had belonged to her husband's grandmother, Queen Mary. The same tiara was later loaned to Katharine’s daughter, Lady Helen Taylor, on her wedding day in 1992.’
Why did she step back from royal life?
Having studied music at Queen’s College, Oxford, alongside French, until the age of 25, Katharine ‘was very sad to slowly have to give it up’, she told Sue Lawley on Desert Island Discs in 1989. ‘I hoped music would be my life.’ And eventually, she couldn’t stand being away from her first love. Withdrawing from Royal Duties in 1996, the Duchess took up a position as a music teacher in Wansbeck Primary School in Kingston upon Hull, keeping her royal identity a secret from students. She also gave piano lessons in a rented studio flat near her official residence at Kensington Palace.
Was her life a fairytale?
No. In 1978, the Duchess was hospitalised for several weeks due to ‘nervous strain’. Reports by the BBC stated that the Duchess suffered from coeliac disease and Epstein–Barr virus, whose symptoms resemble those of ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis, also known as ‘chronic fatigue syndrome’). She also tragically lost two children in childbirth after a bout of German measles. But in 1997, speaking to The Daily Telegraph from her home in Kensington Palace, where she became friends with Princess Diana, the Duchess insisted she is a 'robust individual' with 'no history of ill health'. According to The Daily Mail, the duke is understood to have consulted the Queen about the possibility of a divorce which, he felt, would be better for them both. The Queen counselled against it, however, and the couple struggled on.
What else is she known for?
In 1994, she became the first member of the Royal family to convert to Catholicism since 1701. She received the approval of the Queen and has said it was a personal decision. She told the BBC: 'I do love guidelines and the Catholic Church offers you guidelines. I have always wanted that in my life. I like to know what's expected of me. I like being told: You shall go to church on Sunday and if you don't you're in for it!'