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Kate Middleton Was Bullied in School for Being "Too Skinny and Meek"

"At lunch she would sit down with people and they all used to get up and sit on another table."

Whenever Kate Middleton steps out for a royal engagement, she is always the picture of poise and confidence. Ever since her wedding to Prince William in 2011, the duchess has been widely praised for her low-key and warm-hearted manner as well as her numerous initiatives to promote the importance of children's emotional and physical well-being. But what many don't know is that there's a very personal reason behind Kate's passion for helping kids thrive in today's stress-filled society: She was mercilessly bullied during her middle school years.

While middle school is a hard time for many children, it turns out 13-year-old Kate had a particularly rough go of it, thanks to a band of bullies who made her life miserable at the boarding school Downe House. It was Kate's status as "the new girl" that made her an easy target.

While most students enrolled at the posh Downe House School at age 11, Kate arrived two years later as a "day pupil" who commuted daily from her parents' home in Bucklebury. Students at Downe House were reportedly obsessed with status and looked down on commuters who were in the minority. "It does make a difference going from 11," Georgina Rylance, a former Downe House student, told The Sunday Times weeks before Kate's wedding in 2011. "You have two years of bonding, your first time away all together. Even some of the most popular girls in my school had a hard time when they came in at 13."

In Sean Smith's book Kate: Unauthorised, one source reportedly told diarist Richard Kay: "In our peer group she was regarded as a nonentity. All the social-climbing girls—and there were lots of them at Downe House—thought she was not worth bothering with."

Another Downe House alum, Emma Sayle, told Katie Nicholls in her book Kate: The Future Queen, "It is a very cliquey school and there was a lot of pressure. The girls were all high achievers, and there were lots of girls with eating disorders. Everyone wanted to be the best, the fittest, the prettiest. I think Kate was miserable from the start."

Kate was so miserable, in fact, that her parents, Carole and Michael Middleton, pulled her out of Downe House in the middle of the school year after just two semesters and enrolled her at Marlborough College, where she finished high school. The Daily Mail quoted Kate's Marlborough classmate Jessica Hay as saying the real-life mean girls at Downe House teased the future duchess for being "too skinny and meek."

"When she used to go to lunch she would sit down with people and they all used to get up and sit on another table," Hay said. "[Kate] said that there was a group of girls that called her names and they stole her books and stuff—little things like that."

It's clear Kate's own experiences with bullying have had a lasting effect on her. In an open letter to one of her royal patronages, the British children's charity Place2Be, the duchess wrote about the importance of young people's mental health. "For many children today, the world can feel a scary and daunting place," she wrote. "While we might not always feel brave inside, even the smallest act—such as sharing a worry or asking for help—can be incredibly courageous. Helping children to feel confident about seeking support can have a transformational impact on their lives."

Kate and Prince William also support London-based Beatbullying as part of their charitable foundation. And in 2017, in a speech on World Health Day, William revealed that Heads Together, the country-wide mental health program in the U.K., had been Kate's idea. Together with Prince Harry, they launched the initiative in 2016.

"It was Catherine who first realized that all three of us were working on mental health in our individual areas of focus," William said. "She had seen that at the core of adult issues like addiction and family breakdown, unresolved childhood mental health issues were often part of the problem." And for more on the Duchess of Cambridge, check out Why Kate Middleton Is the Royal Family's "Secret Weapon" in 2020.

Diane Clehane is a New York-based journalist and author of Imagining Diana and Diana: The Secrets of Her Style.

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