Captain Preet Chandi, a British army medic, has just achieved something truly incredible.
Yeah sure, she just spent 70 days traversing nearly 1600 km of Antarctica, skiing for up to 15-hours-a-day while dragging a 90 kilo sled in minus 50 degrees temperatures and breaking the World record for the furthest unsupported solo polar expedition.
Bloody impressive for sure, but what’s really amazing? Stunning?
She was the recipient of The Hug heard around the world.
Let me explain.
When Captain Chandi took off in November to begin her history-making adventure, it was with Kate, Princess of Wales as her official patron, what with the royal family having quite the soft spot for frostbitten exploits. (King Edward VIII was a supporter of both Scott and Shackleton and we all know far too much about Prince Harry and his icicle of a “todger”.)
So, the 32-year-old made history and right on schedule, Kate turned for a post-polar engagement with her last week, where the HRH was slated to have a crack, for the cameras natch, at Captain Chandi’s gruelling training regime.
However, where things really deviated from a by-the-book Kate outing (with the princess wearing one of her now-trademark blazers and looking suspiciously like an up and at ‘em real agent intent on hitting her sales targets) came when she first saw the captain on her arrival.
And at this point, Kate did something she very, very rarely does: She immediately embraced Captain Chandi.
Now, this would be an unusual but touching moment on its own but then Kate followed this up only one day later by repeating the same move when she spied her school history teacher during an official outing to Cornwall with husband Prince William.
While visiting the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth (ah, the tedium of princess-ing for a living) Kate saw Jim Embury, who had taught her as a teenager, hugging him and telling him, at one point, “I’m trying to teach my daughter all the things you probably taught me.”
What’s so fascinating here is not just that Kate went off script not once but twice in less time than it normally takes for Princess Anne to muck out her entire stables complex but that this comes in the wake of some very particular claims made by Harry and Meghan, Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s during their drawn-out, eye-rolling ‘documentary’ and his memoir.
First, came the couple’s Netflix series – six overwrought episodes – where they retold their story, from their Instagram ‘meeting’ to sharing a tooth aching deluge of tooth achingly cutesy selfies to their decision to escape the reaches of the royal family and the British press. (Curiously it doesn’t seem to have occurred to them that the leering lenses of the paparazzi also exist in California, and that they would be repeatedly shot out and about enjoying all of their stars’n’stripes flavoured freedom.)
Anywho, a key part of Harry & Meghan’s narrative arc was the Sussexes’ disintegrating relationship with the Waleses.
Meghan said her first meeting with Kate: “I was a hugger, always being a hugger. I didn’t realise that that is really jarring for a lot of Brits. I guess I started to understand very quickly that the formality on the outside, carried through on the inside. That there is a forward-facing way of being … But that formality carries over on both sides. And that was surprising to me.”
That depiction of the princess as something of a frosty sort who showed no sign of welcoming Meghan into the secret sisterhood of the travelling tiara carried over into Harry’s book Spare.
He writes that when the two couples appeared at their first joint appearance in early 2018, it “left a little mark” after Kate only “reluctantly” shared her lip gloss with the former Suits star and then “grimaced.”
Later that year, in Spare’s telling, Kate told Meghan during an air-clearing session, that the American had ‘hurt her feelings’ after ‘talking about her hormones’, declaring “We’re not close enough for you to talk about my hormones!”
I’ll leave it to you to decide if this was all just a culture clash, one woman a fluent, lifelong hugger and the other the product of centuries of emotional repression having been baked into the British DNA, or more about character.
Either way, the end result was that their docuseries and his chart-topper of a book was the impression that despite the warm smiles she merrily dispensed in public, in private the Princess of Wales was a bit of a cold fish.
Which is why it’s so tantalising that after having gone nearly 12 years only dispensing, as far as I can tell, one other freely-given, clearly very affectionate hug (to an adult she was not related, mind) she doled out two of them in the space of days. (That one hug-ception? In 2018 when Kate spotted Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, a midwife who had helped deliver daughter Princess Charlotte, in the crowd during an engagement, at which point the princess immediately stopped to throw an arm around her.)
While it would be delicious to put Kate’s affection spree down to some calculated, carefully-plotted-out-in a-monogrammed-Smythson-notebook plan, the Great Hug Double was obviously a product of nothing but serendipity; the universe deciding to put two people she clearly has very warm feelings towards in her path.
But really, the ‘why’ in this doesn’t matter – what does it have the impact, which is that she has just managed to oh-so-subtly rebut Harry and Meghan’s depiction of her as stand-offish.
And this is, of course, the second time that the future Queen has managed to counter one of their claims without so much as uttering a peep.
In one episode of Harry & Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex said of royal dressing: “If there’s a group event but then you also shouldn’t be wearing the same colour as one of the other more senior members of the family.”
Within 24-hours of, the entire royal family, down to those distant cousins lost in the double-digit nether reaches of the line of succession, rolled up to Westminster Abbey for Kate’s annual carol concert. The fact that her sister Pippa Middleton and Anne’s daughter Zara Tindall both chose nearly the exact same shade of maroon as Kate was wearing, and had dressed daughter Charlotte in too, did not go unnoticed.
(So too did Queen Camilla and Sophie, Countess of Wessex both turn up wearing white and Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie both roll up in checks.)
Insert a dramatic eyebrow raise here.
In both last year and last week’s instance, what is really fascinating is that this is royal-ing 101 in that actions are speaking louder than words.
In the aftermath of Harry & Meghan and to a much more consequential extent Spare, Buckingham and Kensington Palace have remained totally and utterly schtum. Nor has a single, solitary member of the royal family said a thing.
But they have been doing a heck of a lot of ‘doing.’ King Charles and Queen Camilla have been very noticeably and energetically embracing Britain’s ethnically diverse communities, including hosting a Buckingham Palace reception timed with Lunar New Year while we’ve seen Kate roll out the biggest project of her career to date, with Shaping Us, an early childhood push complete with a national advertising campaign.
Meanwhile, the King has also opened three of his properties, Castle of Mey, Dumfries House, and Highgrove, as ‘warm spaces, to help those struggling with the cost-of-living crisis and in January said he wanted to redirect nearly $2 billion in profits from a wind farm on Crown Estate land to help the nation.
What we’re seeing is a ramping up of an attempt to make the monarchy look like an institution that embraces and supports diversity and which above all else, Cares with a capital ‘c’.
Given that much of this would have been in the works for months (or even years in Kate’s early years case) and the palace generally moving with all the speed of a tranquillised mammoth, I don’t think any of this constitutes a deliberate reaction to Harry and Meghan’s recent claims.
But … that doesn’t change the fact that this version of the royal family – big-hearted and caring – serves as a particularly timely antidote to the Sussexes’ prime time dogma of royal callousness.
It looks a lot like an accidental fightback might be on.
And in the meantime, if I were one of Kate’s old form heads or her geography teacher, I’d be getting out there. How often does one get a change to get a hug from a future Queen?
Daniela Elser is a writer and a royal commentator with more than 15 years’ experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.
Originally published at www.news.com.au