There had been rumblings and whispers of something big coming from Kensington Palace. This week we finally found out exactly what’s been in the works when Catherine, Princess of Wales unveiled a major new public awareness campaign centered around the importance of early childhood.
Called “Shaping Us,” the princess’ new initiative is intended to improve our collective understanding of how critical the first five years of life are in shaping the adults we grow up to be. The aim is to move the subject out of the realm of scientific research and recast it as “one of the most strategically important topics of our time.”
“The way we develop, through our experiences, relationships, and surroundings during our early childhood, fundamentally shapes our whole lives. It affects everything from our ability to form relationships and thrive at work, to our mental and physical well-being as adults and the way we parent our own children,” Kate said as the campaign launched on Tuesday.
“By focusing our collective time, energy, and resources to build a supportive, nurturing world around the youngest members of our society and those caring for them, we can make a huge difference to the health and happiness of generations to come.”
To ensure that the conversation reaches a broad spectrum of society, the 41-year-old mom of three has enlisted several British celebrities to support the push for greater awareness. The campaign also features a 90-second animation that illustrates how babies and young children are the product of their earliest interactions and surrounding environment. You can check it out here, but it’s also being screened at theaters around the UK from Friday and appears on electronic billboards in the heart of London at Piccadilly Circus.
Kate chats with students at the University of Leeds to hear their perspectives on her “Shaping Us” campaign.Chris Jackson/Getty Images
Over the course of the week, the drive to increase public understanding around the topic has seen Kate undertake engagements in London and Leeds, speak with students about the campaign’s short film, launch a dedicated Instagram account to continue the conversation online and more.
The campaign coincides with new research from the Royal Foundation’s Centre for Early Childhood that showed a shortfall in public understanding of child development. The new data reinforced the work of the public comms drive as it revealed that around one in three adults reports knowing just a little or nothing about how children develop in the first five years.
The princess has been working closely with Centre for Early Childhood’s Advisory Group, which provides strategic advice and oversight on how to bring about lasting change.
Eamon McCrory, professor of developmental neuroscience and psychopathology at University College London, said our earliest years are when “more than a million connections between the nerve cells in our brain are formed every second – faster than at any other time in our lives.”
“These connections drive our development, building the foundations for all future learning, behaviour, and health,” continued McCrory, who is also one of the advisory group members. “By ensuring children and parents are supported during this critical period we – as individuals and a society – can positively influence the lives of the next generation for decades to come.”
Carey Oppenheim, another member of the advisory group and early childhood lead at the Nuffield Foundation, added that “parents and carers cannot do this alone.” She says families should be supported, whether that’s through individual efforts from neighbors and friends or through wider community efforts and nurturing environments designed “with young children and their carers in mind, such as quality early education and childcare, accessible local parks and safe, affordable housing.”
A campaign video took over the famous billboard at Piccadilly Circus in central London.Yui Mok/PA Images/Getty Images
A spokesperson for Kensington Palace told CNN that the early years awareness initiative had become Kate’s “life’s work.”
“This will be The Princess’s primary campaign going forward, her life’s work. She wants to see society change,” the spokesperson said.
The campaign has faced some pushback, however, from critics calling for investment rather than another megaphone. Mine Conkbayir, a member of the Practitioners of the Early Years Sector, told Sky News “we are well accustomed to MPs and royalty visiting early years settings” but “nothing is done.”
“The time has long passed for ‘awareness.’ We need action – long-term investment and funding in the early years,” she said, adding that a lack of financial resources and government support has led to the closure of early years centers.
That may well be the case, but securing financing isn’t an issue Kate can remedy. Her royal remit prohibits her from getting involved in government programs. She’s generally expected, as are other working members of the family, to steer clear of politics and avoid undermining the government’s work.
The Waleses attend a pre-campaign launch event, hosted by The Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood, at BAFTA on January 30.Eddie Mulholland/WPA Pool/Getty Images
Some may also look cynically upon the campaign as the family’s latest effort to move beyond the drama of the past couple of months. But the truth of the matter is that a project like this takes time to prepare and instead signals Kate’s desire to define herself in her new role as Princess of Wales.
Kate has shown her commitment to understanding the impact of early childhood development for years at this point, so it’s hardly surprising that she’s putting it at the heart of her work.
Additionally, the princess’ confidence – both with the public at official engagements and around her daily duties and responsibilities – has grown significantly. These days, she’s incredibly comfortable leading conversation and conducting solo engagements. And as the spouse of the immediate heir to the throne, she will want to take greater control over her projects and press on with formalizing her individual brand in preparation for the years ahead.
So, while some may brush the project off as standard fare from the Windsors, the reality is that this is an exciting moment for the monarchy. This is the next Queen reaffirming her priorities and her passions, and outlining her vision for what will define her in the future.
What else is happening?
King Charles will not feature on new Australian banknote.
Australia’s new $5 banknote will not feature the British monarch, but rather a design that honors “the culture and history of the First Australians,” its central bank announced Thursday. The design will replace the portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) said in a statement, adding that the decision was made after consulting with the Australian government. However, the move doesn’t mean the King won’t be on any Australian currency.
File photograph of Australian dollar banknotes of various denominations.Brendon Thorne/Bloomberg/Getty Images
Did you know?
King’s charity is opening royal residences for free hot meals.
A new weekly program to fight loneliness and the ongoing cost-of-living crisis has seen several royal properties open warm spaces for their local communities. The Winter Warmers initiative, organized by the Prince’s Foundation, the charitable network Charles set up while still Prince of Wales, has opened the doors at several residences so local people have a warm place to chat, develop friendships and engage in social activities like crafts and boardgames.
From January to March, the public can enjoy hot drinks and soups at Highgrove in Gloucestershire as well as two properties in Scotland – Dumfries House near Glasgow and the Castle of Mey in Caithness – which “have all become welcoming havens of warmth and social opportunity,” according to the charity.
“At a particularly hard time for many, we felt we had the capacity in the quieter Winter months to utilise our spaces to benefit those in the surrounding communities, many of whom perhaps cannot afford to heat their homes or whom may not have the opportunity for social interaction,” Emily Cherrington, the foundation’s executive director, said
Charles gets involved during a tea dance hosted by The Prince’s Foundation to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, at Highgrove, near Tetbury, western England on May 31, 2022.Ben Birchall/AFP Pool/Getty Images
The new initiative is part of the Prince’s Foundation’s wider mission to grow communities and combat the effects of social isolation. Another feature of the program is monthly tea dances, where 130 guests enjoy afternoon tea, dancing and other entertainment. Last summer, the charity held tea dances at several royal properties (including Highgrove, where then-Prince Charles took to the dancefloor, as pictured above) to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
“We hope that, by offering a space for people at these three communities across the UK to meet for a cup of tea and some enjoyable activities, we can play a small part in ensuring our guests benefit from some warmth and friendship each week,” Cherrington added.
Thousands of “warm banks” have opened their doors across the UK this winter, as household budgets are squeezed by spiking energy bills and inflation reaches a 40-year high, leaving many scrambling to pay for basic necessities.
Photo of the week
Alastair Grant/AFP Pool/Getty Images
Camilla, Queen Consort poses for a photograph with troops during a visit to the Lille Barracks in Aldershot, southern England on January 31. It was the first visit in her new role as colonel of the regiment. The ceremonial military role was previously held by embattled royal Prince Andrew.
From the royal vault
A stunning gold pendant linked to one of the most famous British royals in history has been unearthed in England.The Trustees of the British Museum
An amateur detectorist managed to do something most fellow hobbyists can only dream of. Charlie Clarke had been metal detecting for just six months when he unearthed a stunning gold pendant linked to one of the most famous British royals in history.
The pendant – which experts have since described as a “once in a generation find” – features the symbols of the infamous Tudor King Henry VIII and his first wife, Katherine of Aragon. It hangs from a chain composed of 75 links and is attached by an enameled suspension link in the form of a hand. Katherine married Henry in 1509, having previously been married to his older brother, Arthur, Prince of Wales.
Clarke told CNN of his “outstanding” discovery in an interview on Wednesday. “Nobody thinks you’re ever going to pull out that, in my lifetime especially – I can imagine in 30 lifetimes.”
The heart-shaped pendant weighs 300 grams (10.6 ounces). One side is decorated with a Tudor rose entwined with a pomegranate bush growing from the same branch. The reverse shows the letters H and K – for Henry and Katherine – linked together. Both sides are inscribed with “TOVS + IORS” underneath, a pun on the French word “toujours,” meaning “always.” Read the full st