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‘Phenomenal’ Kate Middleton is ‘pretty good at everything’ admits charity chief
October 8, 2020
Kate Middleton is known for her empathetic and graceful public persona, but what's she really like behind the scenes?
Tracy Rennie is the deputy chief executive and director of care at East Anglia Children's Hospices (EACH), of which the Duchess of Cambridge has been patron since 2012.
She's had a front-row seat to how Kate has grown over the last eight years, going from a shy new princess to a confident senior royal.
"It's been interesting because privately, she always came across extremely confident and caring, and she was able to talk to you really easily," Tracy told the Mirror's royal podcast Pod Save the Queen.
"You felt really comfortable with her. But seeing her grow publicly, so thinking back to that first speech, in front of the world, it was just phenomenal. She did brilliantly.
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"Just recently she opened our Nook hospice, last November. The confidence publicly now just shines, but the private confidence and the way she is with people has been amazing since day one."
Kate first visited EACH just a few months after her wedding in November 2011, a visit that took Tracy completely by surprise.
"I had a phone call when I was having my lunch from a colleague who works at St James Palace just to say that the Duchess of Cambridge would like to come and visit the hospice, and would that be possible," she said.
"After I had stopped choking on my lunch, I went 'oh blimey, yes, that would be brilliant'."
The first visit went well and the charity got a follow-up call from the Palace the very next day.
"Our first thought was oh no, what have we done wrong," Tracy said.
"The second bit was that she would like to consider becoming patron of our charity. We were completely blown away, because we really genuinely had no idea."
She said from Kate's very first speech in which she opened EACH's Treehouse Hospice in Ipswich, she was "incredibly caring, compassionate and friendly, down to earth".
"She just connected really well with the staff, the volunteers and the families that she met," she said.
"It's been really exciting right from the outset."
Tracy said having such a high-profile patron has helped people understand why EACH's services are so vital, as well as connect the charity with other hospices around the world.
"We never underestimate the impact that she has when she speaks to family, and also when she speaks to staff and volunteers," she said.
"She really recognises how hard people work, and the stresses and strains on emotions of volunteers working with the charity as well."
Alongside public visits, Kate also pops in privately for more relaxed sessions to talk to families and understand what's going on. She also organises lunches for the volunteers.
Tracy recalls one occasion when a little girl wanted to play with Kate, who showed she's "not frightened to have a giggle".
"[The little girl] didn't realise who she was, she just saw a lovely lady with long hair – this little girl likes long hair – she ran across to her, grabbed her hand and took her into the sensory room and that was it.
"The Duchess kicked off her heels and just went into the room and started playing. To me that was a really lovely thing that you're not going to see in the public arena. That was really special."
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Kate also has a gift for comforting people going through very hard times, such as when she visited a grieving family who had lost a child days before.
"For someone to go into that room, to talk to people who were still obviously very shocked and the grief was very rare, they were very tearful, the way she reached out to them and spoke to them, and the comfort she offered in her words and understanding," Tracy said.
"By the end they were actually having a bit of a laugh, but actually it was appropriate and it was lovely. I've got so many memories, but they are memories where I think wow.
"In my job, I do this all the time, it's what I've been trained to do, but for somebody to be able to be like that with all the difference audiences and doing so well – she seems to be pretty good at everything she tries to do."
EACH has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, having to cancel all events and become a "virtual hospice" overnight. Kate contacted the charity earlier this year to ask if she could write to staff and volunteers.
"She recognised how difficult it might be changing our ways of working during Covid," Tracy said.
"That was lovely to get that letter. She initiated it, we didn't ask and that was really motivational. People were really please that she was thinking about us."
The Duchess recently made her first post-lockdown visit to the charity for Hospice Awareness Week.