Few remember now, but the regally wrinkled Queen Elizabeth II was once called the World's Sweetheart. Trained for her role from birth by her parents and various tutors, she walked onto the world stage at age 25 fully equipped to do honor to her post. Kate Middleton, now the Duchess of Cambridge, entered the spotlight without a lifetime of preparation, but she seems open to learning how to play her part.
During Elizabeth's 60 years on the throne--the longest reign in the 1,000-year history of the British monarchy, save for Queen Victoria's--she has evolved from ingenue to wise grandmother. To maintain her unique status--what Tony Blair, the 10th of her 12 Prime Ministers, called "a symbol of unity in a world of insecurity"--the Queen learned to keep a delicate balance. If she appeared too mysterious and distant, she would lose her bond with her subjects; if she seemed too much like everyone else, she would lose her mystique.
At a time when leaders of institutions public and private typically come and go every six years or so, the Queen has lasted 10 times that long. She has preserved her aura by not giving interviews to the media and by being careful not to engage too much in her informal exchanges with people, allowing her words to escape like wisps of vapor. After decades in the public eye, she is like a Rorschach test, leaving others to form their impressions of her. They were not uniformly warm: the Queen's cautious approach failed in the week after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, when she was harshly criticized for remaining in the Scottish Highlands and issuing a brief statement rather than returning to London immediately to comfort more than a million mourners who poured into the city. But she recovered by giving a compassionate televised speech, talking to grieving women outside Buckingham Palace and bowing to Diana's coffin in the funeral procession.
When Elizabeth took the throne on Feb. 6, 1952, it was a gentler era. Television was in its infancy. Kate must make her way at a time of nonstop celebrity coverage, when even the tiniest throwaway line can be blown out of proportion. The Queen has learned to live under the magnifying glass, and Kate would do well to use her as a model. Here are five lessons Kate could learn from the Queen:
1. Resist the lure of celebrity and cultivate humility
The young Elizabeth had what playwright Nol Coward called "star quality in excelsis." She and her handsome husband Prince Philip attracted crowds in the hundreds of thousands, but the royal couple refused to let their celebrity go to their heads. "The level of adulation--you wouldn't believe it," Philip recalled. "It could have been corroding. It would have been very easy to play to the gallery." The Queen Mother reinforced this impulse, encouraging her daughter to consider herself "the vehicle through which this love for country can be expressed."