‘Yorkshire lass’ Duchess of Kent says Queen supported her teaching & that she listens to rap

Katharine spoke about her years as an incognito music teacher in Hull to the Telegraph

A Royal we see little of these days, The Duchess of Kent stepped back from royal duties in 2002.

Known for her conversion to Catholicism in 1994, Katharine secretly spent 13 years as a music teacher in Hull, being called ‘Mrs Kent’.  The 89-year-old spoke to the Telegraph about her life and work, giving the newer royal watchers a glimpse into her life of private service.

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Royal editor Camilla Tominey met the Duchess at Wren House, The Duke and Duchess of Kent’s home in the grounds of Kensington Palace. Tominey notes that it was Prince Edward, 86, who answered the door ‘casually in a short-sleeved shirt and corduroy trousers’; the Duke is occasionally snapped shopping around Kensington, taking advantage of his lower royal profile.

Speaking about her time as a teacher, the Duchess explained: “Only the Head knew who I was. The parents didn’t know and the pupils didn’t know. No one ever noticed. There was no publicity about it at all – it just seemed to work.

“Why I don’t know, but it just did. I taught children from the youngest possible age right until the end of primary school.”

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But how does a Duchess go on to teach in the north-east of England? It was on a visit to the school in the 1990s that the journey began…

Nicholas Robinson, a friend and co-founder of Future Talent (the charity Katharine set up 18 years ago) shared: “It was around 1993 when the headmistress invited [Katharine] to see the school and one of the teachers explained how she was struggling to teach music because she wasn’t very musical.

“Katharine being Katharine said: ‘Shall I come and help you?’ And that’s how it started. She went in for one lesson [at Wansbeck Primary School] and stayed there for 13 years. As far as I know she only ever missed two days.”

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Katharine would take the train to Hull “to the school on the once crime-ridden Longhill estate to teach music every Friday, before returning home in the evening”, we are told.

Rumours have long been shared that the Royal suffered from agoraphobia, leading to her relinquishing the role of engagements and handshaking, which the Duchess denies. And the teaching role came with the full backing of The Queen: “There was nothing that I felt I wanted to hide away from,” she insists. “It was just something that happened in my life. I was always – I wouldn’t say proud of it, but I was glad I did it. I was supported through it as well. The Queen said: “Yes, go and do it,’ so I did.”

“I was just known as Mrs Kent,” she said, having “clearly relished the anonymity of it all” Tominey writes.

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The Duchess continued about her teaching work: “I took them out into the town of Hull. I had a little choir and they sang in the hospital. A lot of the children came from single parent families and very deprived areas. It was very, very rewarding because even children from really tough backgrounds – the music did such wonderful things. It really did. They would get up and sing solos. I don’t remember a child ever saying they didn’t want to do their music.”

“We did all sorts of things together,” she explained, including taking them to concerts they would not otherwise have the chance to see, including watching Sir Mark Elder rehearse with the Halle Orchestra, and a concert at Westminster Abbey alongside The Queen.

“When we went to the Halle they were fascinated by it. It didn’t mean a thing to them to meet Mark Elder but they were interested in the instruments and wanted to play them.

“I remember when we went to Westminster Abbey we sat at the back and one of the children spotted The Queen and wanted to run up to her.”

She put on a northern accent to the interviewer: “‘Allo Queen!’ she would have said, so I had to hold her back. They’d never left Hull so Westminster Abbey was quite something for them.”

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It was this teaching work with less privileged children that led her to set up Future Talent in 2004 to “break down barriers, create opportunities and harness the power of music to transform lives across the UK,” especially seeing money be a barrier for talented young musicians.

The organisation grants funding to those wishing to persue a musical career, and has famous musical talent as its patrons, including Sting.

Tominey referenced a story she had heard about loaning a student her own violin, when the youngster couldn’t afford one. “It didn’t go down that well with my family,” she chuckled. “It was a priceless relic.”

“I think she’s still got it…” Katharine shared. The musician is now in her 20s and a successful singer songwriter.

Her own passion for music began at boarding school: “I don’t remember there being much music in the house [Hovingham Hall, where she grew up] but when I went to boarding school, there was a very enthusiastic music teacher. She was full of encouragement and had spare time for you instead of feeling I’m wasting her time, she was extraordinarily good at bringing the music out in you.”

And her tastes today in music are varied: “I just love music. Something that catches my ear on the radio – I don’t really listen to records. If it makes my feet tap then I’m happy.”

“Oh yes I do [like rap music],” she responded, and confirmed she knew Eminem and Ice Cube.

Tominey queried if she ever listened to any thrash metal. “I’d give it a go but possibly not for long,” came the reply. “My husband likes music but very serious music. I’ll listen to anything. I even like beat boxing.”

Speaking of The Queen, Katharine said that she watched the Platinum Jubilee celebrations on the television with “fascination”. “I think she’s an astonishing leader of people. She’s just a shining example to us all. And she goes on. It’s incredible. She’s nearly 100.”

The Duchess referred to herself as “a Yorkshire lass”, having grown up in “I remain a homely kind of person much to my family’s worry. London is not my home, Yorkshire is, still and I’m still a Yorkshire lass, and I’m actually very proud to be a Yorkshire lass. It’s daffodil country. I feel I still belong in the village.”

Perhaps it is this connection to the north that makes her a little different to what many perceive to be the way of the Royal Family.

A memorable moment in the Duchess’ royal career was at the Wimbledon Ladies’ singles final in 1993, when she hugged a tearful Jana Novotná who had lost to Steffi Graff. “I remember it very well indeed,” she said, recalling the scene on Centre Court, almost 30 years later.

“How could you go up to someone and say: ‘Oh, bad luck!’ It was awful for her. She was crying so she got a hug, quite rightly.”

Occasionally the Royal still attends Wimbledon matches, but less frequently in more recent years.

Read the full interview here.

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