The Duchess of Sussex today helped give fashion tips to women at a charity helping the long-term unemployed and vulnerable – one of her four new patronages announced today – and declared: ‘I’m so happy to be here.’
Meghan, 37, visited Smart Works, based at St Charles Hospital in North Kensington, West London, which provides high-quality interview clothes and training to unemployed women in need.
The former actress, who is expecting her first child in the spring, wore a £2,600 coat by Oscar de la Renta, a £179 dress from maternity label Hatch and £315 Kimai earrings as she helped employment hopefuls choose an outfit.
The Duchess – who also wore a Victoria Beckham Vanity Box leather tote bag worth £1,695 and Giovanni Rossi PVC pumps believed to cost about £500 – has privately visited Smart Works several times over the last year and worked with some of the women who have benefited from the charity’s support, Kensington Palace revealed.
She told the group, which included two former clients: ‘I’m so happy to be here. You guys know I’ve been quietly coming by… close to a year. It’s nice to be able to now do it publicly and really talk about the work that you do.’
Kensington Palace announced today that Meghan has also taken on honorary roles with the National Theatre and Association of Commonwealth Universities – patronages both previously held by the Queen.
The Queen has been patron of the National Theatre for 45 years and the ACU for 33 years. The Duchess will also be patron of Mayhew, an animal charity based in Kensal Green, North West London.
The Duchess of Sussex walks through clothes racks with Lady Juliet Hughes-Hallett, chair of Smart Works, in London today
Meghan, Duchess of Sussex looks at bags with Smart Works charity chair Lady Juliet Hughes-Hallett in West London today
The Duchess of Sussex puts on a bracelet on Patsy Wardally, during her visit to Smart Works charity in West London today
The duchess heard from staff members about the work of the charity, and met women who have benefited from its support
The duchess picked out a black handbag and tan cape for Patsy Wardally, who got a customer-facing role at London Gatwick Airport after being helped by Smart Works.
‘Green seems to be the colour,’ she joked, prompting laughter from the room as she complimented the 55-year-old on her green coat.
Meghan then picked her out a tan cape and a black shoulder bag to go with a red and white patterned dress. She left the centre after 50 minutes. Mrs Wardally said she felt ‘exhilarated’ to have met the duchess.
She was dressed in a red and white dress while Meghan picked out a camel cape from Hobbs, a black bead bracelet tied with ribbon, which the duchess called ‘quirky’, some simple pearl earrings and a black handbag.
Asked how she felt in the new outfit, she said: ‘More confident, more beautiful, I looked in the mirror and I know it’s me, but the difference in my esteem and everything has just shot through the roof.’
Meghan talks with interview coach Marina Novis during her visit to Smart Works in West London today
The charity in North Kensington, West London, provides high-quality interview clothes and training to unemployed women S
Meghan helped the mother-of-three who gave up work more than a decade ago to look after her autistic daughter
The Duchess is reflected in a mirror as she inspects clothes intended for women returning to work, in West London today
The mother-of-three gave up work more than a decade ago to look after her autistic daughter and came to the charity for help when she decided she wanted to return to the world of work.
Of her new job at Gatwick, which she started last April, she said: ‘I’m so happy, I look forward to going into work every day, and I will be honest, Smart Work taught me to dress and it’s because of them that I got the confidence to go for the interview.’
Mrs Wardally added: ‘She (Meghan) has a lovely little bump. Very nice. She was just making sure the clothes – the dress – was sitting properly.’
Meghan was met at her car by the charity’s chief executive Kate Stephens, and they kissed each other, once on each cheek. She smiled as she was also greeted by the charity’s chair and founder, Lady Juliet Hughes-Hallett.
The Duchess smiles during her visit to Smart Works, one of the four organisations for which she has become royal patron
The Duchess told the group, which included two former clients: ‘I’m so happy to be here’
Meghan picks out clothes with Patsy Wardally during her visit to Smart Works in North Kensington this morning
The Duchess, pictured today, has privately visited Smart Works several times over the last year
The ex-actress wore a dress by Hatch, a coat from Oscar de la Renta and Kimai earrings today
The Duchess waved at the press before heading inside. Women are referred to the charity from organisations such as jobcentres, work programmes, prisons, care homes, homeless shelters and mental health charities.
Meghan helps mother, 55, who was out of work for 16 years pick an outfit
Meghan helped Patsy Wardally, 55, pick out an outfit during her visit to Smart Works today.
The mother-of-three from East London had trained as a plumber but had stopped work 16 years ago to look after her autistic daughter.
Meghan helped Patsy Wardally, 55, pick an outfit today
She told the duchess how hard life had been for her, but Smart Works had helped her land a job at Gatwick Airport as a passenger services agent.
Mrs Wardally said: ‘It was so exhilarating to meet the Duchess. She picked out a Hobbs cape, a pair of earrings, a bracelet and a handbag for me.
‘She chose things that were fantastic and now I feel much more confident and more beautiful.’
Meghan later picked out a black handbag and tan cape for Mrs Wardally.
‘Green seems to be the colour,’ she joked, prompting laughter from the room as she complimented the mother on her green coat.
The duchess then picked her out a tan cape and a black shoulder bag to go with a red and white patterned dress.
‘Isn’t that great,’ Meghan said as she glanced at Ms Wardally – and then pointing at a pink bracelet which complemented her dress, added: ‘Such a pretty colour, is this one of the accessories here?’
Meghan told Mrs Wardally she ‘loved’ her first green dress and told her the wrap style was great as ‘you can play around with it’.
Afterwards, Mrs Wardally said: ‘I was so happy meeting her! No words can explain it! The things she chose me – I know it’s me but my self-esteem just shot through the roof.
‘She’s very down-to-earth, very straightforward and has gorgeous skin! I was watching her tiny little baby bump and I thought ‘Wow! It’s so small’ as when I was just three months pregnant I was out here – you could see my tummy before you saw me!
‘She chose me some accessories and asked me if my style was ‘simple’ or statement’ and I said ‘simple’.
‘She picked a chunky black bead bracelet and some pearl and diamond earrings which were very my style.
‘She asked me how I got involved with Smart Works and I explained that I used to be a plumber but was out of work for a long time – maybe 16 years – due to my kids.
‘My daughter was diagnosed with autism when she was three and I had to make a decision whether to work or stay at home and look after her. So obviously I stayed at home.
‘Now she’s nearly 18 so I thought it was time for to do something different. I was referred here in February last year for getting the clothes and applying for jobs.
‘I got my job with Menzies at Gatwick airport last April, did all the training and was made permanent after I passed all my probation last November.
‘I feel so exhilarated now I’m back at work – I look forward to going into work. What I look like is so important in my new job as I represent the company and I have to be well groomed.
‘Smart Works taught me how to dress and gave me so much confidence.’
The Duchess first secretly visited Smart Works last March before the royal wedding, and has been back five times since to help in choosing clothes and coaching for women who have job interviews.
Chair Juliet Hughes-Halley said: ‘She’s been to see us privately a number of times and was very hands-on, not just with the clothes but with the interviews.
‘She has fantastic empathy and has been helping to coach some of our clients. She’s a natural and has already made a big difference.’
It was her office which contacted the charity, which provides women with five high quality pieces of clothing for their interview, one-on-one coaching, a further follow-up session with another outfit and the opportunity to join the Smart Works Network, further developing their professional and personal development.
The women are allowed to keep all the clothes, which are suggested from them by stylists and donated both from individuals and big brands such as Burberry, Whistles, M&S, Evans and Hobbs.
After she arrived, Meghan sat down with Ms Stephens, Lady Hughes-Hallett, interview coach Marine Novis, dressing volunteer Louise Warner and two Smart Works success stories in Sarah Barrett and Ashoka Davey.
Meghan told them: ‘It’s not just donating your clothes and seeing where they land but really being part of each other’s success stories as women.
‘So that’s in the tools that you give, the interview prep that’s happening, that every piece of it… you do an edit or decide what you’re going to send to Smart Works.
‘It’s not just hand-me-downs, it’s saying ‘OK this is the blazer that I wore that helped me land that interview and I want this to be the piece that helps this woman have that part of her story’ so to know as a woman coming in that you have so many other women believing in you on all the next phases, it’s this piece that makes it so special.’
New mother Sarah Barrett, 38, from Islington, North London, told Meghan that the Monsoon coat she was given helped her get a new reception role in her old school.
She said: ‘Coming here gave me the confidence to be able to change my career.’
Meghan replied: ‘It’s amazingly how you feel when you’re in here. It’s one of those things immediately when you come in… is incredible. It turns it around in a second. You come in feeling so low but you’re reminded of your value.’
Meghan giggled as Sarah exclaimed: ‘You feel like royalty!’
Ms Barrett continued: ‘The experience coming here saved me. I wasn’t feeling so good about myself and I came out of here feeling a million dollars.’
She also told the Duchess she’d recently had a baby, Grayson, 16 months. ‘Congratulations’ said Meghan. ‘And congratulations back to you’ laughed Ms Barrett.
Meghan also highlighted how important the interview coaching was.
‘And in the second phase of it, doing the interview prep is so key, giving all these women the tools to make eye contact, to remind this company why they would be lucky to have them. It’s so key this kind of trading you do to help them feel confident.’
Meghan then got hands on with two ladies, Mrs Wardally and 50-year-old Dionne Johnson in the wardrobe room.
She told Mrs Wardallyshe ‘loved’ her first green dress and told her the wrap style was great as ‘you can play around with it’.
Meghan then chose a Hobbs cape coat to go with a different red dress for Patsy, a handbag, bracelet and earrings.
Mother-of-three Mrs Wardally had trained as a plumber but had stopped work 16 years ago to look after her autistic daughter.
She told the duchess how hard it had been, but Smart Works had helped her land a job at Gatwick airport as a passenger services agent.
Ms Stephens said afterwards: ‘She’s a natural. She’s very empathetic, relates to our clients. She’s very relaxed and puts everyone at ease and offers great advice as well.
Lady Juliet Hughes-Hallett (left), chair of Smart Works, and Kate Stephens (right), its chief executive, welcome Meghan today
Meghan arrived at Smart Works, based at St Charles Hospital in North Kensington, West London, at 11am today
‘She was very hands on in there. She helped with the dressing, the interview coaching…everything. ‘
Duchess helps woman, 30, who took a year off work with depression
Ruma Parvin, who was diagnosed with clinical depression last year, and took a year off work, had a private chat with Meghan.
Ms Parvin, 30, now has a part-time role as an activity host with Sublime Science. She said: ‘There were days where I maybe wouldn’t eat, or have one small meal, and I wasn’t concerned about washing or dressing myself.’
The Duchess (right) does an interview preparation with Ruma Parvin (left) watched by interview coach Marina Novis today
The duchess used the example of fitting your own oxygen mask in a plane before helping other passengers to show how important it is to put your mental health first.
‘You have to make sure your cup is full otherwise you are going to be left with very little for yourself,’ added Ms Parvin.
The duchess gave ‘really positive feedback’ when Ms Parvin said she wanted to launch a wellbeing diary that would be given to school children on their first day of term.
She said: ‘She really listened actively and I loved the fact that she said everybody has mental health issues. She said that everybody has it but just because they don’t speak about it doesn’t mean they don’t have it. It’s extremely important to take care of your mental health.’
Ms Stephens said she believed the duchess heard about the charity after it won an award and revealed she had been secretly visiting them for a year, working with clients.
‘When our clients come they have an interview lined up. We are preparing them to succeed. There’s a lot going on. They need good advice. We are women helping other women to succeed and that is something she [the duchess] has always been about,’ she said.
Co-founder and volunteer Lady Juliet Hughes-Hallett, who started her career at Vogue, said: ‘She is really good at it. It’s not something that’s easy to do. But she instantly wanted to get stuck in.
‘When you see these women dressed well their shoulders go back, their confidence blooms and they think ‘this is possible. I can get this job’.
‘The interview techniques are also really important and she [Meghan] has been really good at that. She’s a natural coach. She helps our clients feel safe, comfortable and protected. There is a real natural empathy about her. There’s something about her, which is mighty.
‘If you have failed at 50 interviews, and some of our clients do, you can feel rock bottom. Our clients have had a hard time. They are so demoralised by failing that all we have to do is make them feel they are looking great.
‘The clients are given the clothes for their interview and then are given a capsule wardrobe to last them until their first paycheck.
‘The thing is that clothes are our armour. If you have got it on, you feel invincible. We need everyone to feel fabulous when they leave.
‘For the volunteers this is so rewarding. These women are bright, brave women who are going to try and get a job again after numerous rejections.
‘We are very lucky because our charity is such good news and it is such a lovely thing to be able to do. And the great thing is that it delivers. ‘
She added: ‘The duchess involvement is really wonderful for our clients, they all know who she is, they feel pleased and proud to have her as patron for the charity.
Meghan joins a discussion at Smart Works with volunteers and women the charity has helped succeed in job interviews
‘She really fits in and it’s always just really fun when she comes, which is a lovely thing to be able to say. The women we dress and coach are just wonderful. They are brave and deserve to get the job.’
Dress like a Duchess! Meghan’s outfit in full
Coat: Oscar de la Renta oversized midi coat; £2,600
Dress: Eliza dress by Hatch; £170
Shoes: Giovanni Rossi PVC pumps; price unknown but similar styles cost around £530
Bag: Victoria Beckham Vanity Box leather tote; £1,695
Jewellery: Felicity earrings by Kimai; £315
Lady Hughes-Hallett said: ‘It will make an enormous difference to our clients to have her as our patron.
‘Many of our clients are referred from job centres and now hopefully more will come, because who doesn’t want to look like her?!’
Ms Stephens said the Duchess had made several private visits to the Smart Works centre last year.
She added: ‘She’s really hands-on and involved, and has a natural empathy with people that we’ve been really impressed by, she’s amazing. She puts people at their ease. It does feel slightly surreal.’
The duchess heard from staff members about the work of the charity and met women who have benefited from its support.
Meghan’s appointment at the National Theatre had been widely expected after she met privately with the theatre’s director Rufus Norris, but Kensington Palace had remained tight-lipped until 9am today.
The Duchess of Sussex, who is expecting her first child, was met at her car by Smart Works chief executive Kate Stephens
The Duchess had made several private visits to the centre already, and was described as being ‘really hands-on and involved’
The Queen had been patron of the theatre, but it had been widely expected she would hand one of her patronages to her new granddaughter-in-law at some point this year.
From theatre to animal welfare, why Meghan chose her patronages
The National Theatre has produced more than 800 plays since Hamlet, starring Peter O’Toole, opened in 1963.
Meghan has held private meetings with Rufus Norris, director of the National Theatre, and she is seen as a good figurehead for his attempts to broaden its appeal and increase diversity both on and off-stage.
Interestingly, however, Mr Norris did suggest in a recent interview that he feared the theatre’s royal links could put off younger audiences.
He said: ‘This country is still very class-divided and anything that adds to that perception, that this place is not open to everybody, could be a downfall.
‘I fear that for some people that [the ‘Royal’ in RNT] adds to that perception.’
US former actress Meghan has attended several public events relating to the theatre since her engagement.
She enjoyed the Royal Variety Performance with Prince Harry, visited retired members of the entertainment industry in a care home, and toured a theatre in Chester with the Queen.
ASSOCIATION OF COMMONWEALTH UNIVERSITIES
Meghan will also take on the Queen’s patronage of the Association of Commonwealth Universities, which was established in 1913.
It is the world’s first and oldest global university network, with more than 500 institutions across 50 countries. It aims to promote the value of higher education to society and how this is boosted by international collaboration.
The ACU manages scholarship schemes – including the UK government’s three major scholarship programmes and The Queen Elizabeth Commonwealth Scholarships.
Just last month Meghan met with university leaders, academics and international scholarship students to discuss how higher education can help fight issues such as human trafficking, gender inequality and climate change.
She graduated with a degree in 2003 in theatre and international relations from Northwestern University, Illinois.
The Mayhew animal welfare charity in Kensal Green, North West London, was established in 1886 and is funded only by public donations.
It works to improve the lives of dogs, cats and people – bringing educational initiatives and preventative veterinary care to communities.
Among its schemes are one working with homelessness charities across the capital to ensure people and their dogs can be kept together.
Meghan has a long history with animals, going back to when she adopted her first dog, Bogart, whom TV presenter Ellen DeGeneres asked her to take home.
The Duchess is also known to have supported various animal rescue centres in Los Angeles.
Created in September 2013, Smart Works is a charity helping long-term unemployed and vulnerable women.
Three in five women successfully return to work following their involvement with the charity.
The Duchess has visited it several times over the last year and worked with women helped through coaching and interview preparation.
The charity also provides complete outfits for job interviews, aiming to dress 3,500 women this year across their two London offices, and additional bases in Edinburgh, Manchester, Reading, Birmingham and Newcastle.
Smart Works is also supported by celebrities including Samantha Cameron and Louise Redknapp.
In recent years, Meghan has travelled to India and Rwanda working on projects to help women in challenging situations.
Today’s announcement is a major milestone for the American-born former actress, outlining the first steps of her public life as a member of the monarchy.
News of Meghan’s patronage with the theatre on London’s South Bank comes after a news item entitled ‘The Duchess of Sussex announced as our new Royal Patron’ with today’s date – January 10 – was last night unexpectedly posted on its website.
It was taken down quickly – but not before royal watchers had spotted it.
Press releases are often prepared by PR teams days in advance – suggesting someone accidentally put the story ‘live’ while preparing it for future publication.
Meghan, 37, who is expecting her first baby with Prince Harry this spring, today announced details of which organisations she wishes to champion as part of her public work imminently.
She has visited a number of charities since her wedding last May – including the Hubb Community Kitchen and various groups supporting female empowerment and education.
Last month the biggest clue to her taking over as National patron came when the Court Circular, the official record of the Royal Family’s work, reported: ‘The Duchess of Sussex today received Mr Rufus Norris (Artistic Director, the National Theatre).’
It is a good match for Meghan, a former actress who was starring in hit US legal drama Suits when she met Harry and gave up her career to marry him.
Today, Mr Norris said: ‘I would like to thank the Queen for Her Majesty’s long and unwavering support and service to the National Theatre.
‘We were honoured when the Queen became our patron in 1974 and have celebrated many moments together including, in recent years, the Diamond Jubilee and the marking of our 50th anniversary.
‘It is a privilege to welcome the Duchess of Sussex as our new patron.
‘The duchess shares our deeply held conviction that theatre has the power to bring together people from all communities and walks of life. I very much look forward to working closely with Her Royal Highness in the years to come.’
The duchess is expected to carry out a public visit to the National Theatre in the coming weeks.
Dr Joanna Newman, chief executive and secretary general of the Association of Commonwealth Universities, said: ‘We are absolutely delighted that HRH The Duchess of Sussex has chosen to become Patron of the ACU.
‘The Duchess shares our passion for the transformational power of higher education, and Her Royal Highness’ support will help champion higher education as a force for good in the Commonwealth and beyond.
‘We would like to thank Her Majesty The Queen for her support, and we look forward to working closely with The Duchess as our Patron.’
Mayhew tweeted: ‘We’re honoured to reveal that Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Sussex has become a Patron of Mayhew.
‘We’re thrilled that HRH shares our commitment to improving the lives of animals and people, and are excited to make a difference together.’
And Smart Works said on Twitter: ‘We are honoured to announce that HRH The Duchess of Sussex will become the royal patron of Smart Works.
The Duchess’s decision to support Smart Works reflects her passion in supporting women and her commitment will help women in need across the UK.’
Juliet Hughes-Hallett, its chair and founder, said: ‘An acknowledged champion of women and their rights worldwide, the Duchess will motivate ever more women to come to our centres and get the job that will transform their lives.
‘The Duchess’s patronage will inspire the women we serve and help them reach for the stars.
Ms Stephens said: ‘We are delighted that the Duchess of Sussex is our royal patron. It is our vision that we have enough centres nationwide to reach every woman who needs us. The support of The Duchess of Sussex will help us enormously in achieving this goal.’
The Duchess will visit Mayhew on January 16 to meet with staff, volunteers and beneficiaries, and hear more about the animal welfare charity’s initiatives, from community engagement to international projects.
A history of royal patronages dating back to George II as Meghan takes on charity roles (and how Diana ended her links with 100 charities after divorce)
The Duchess of Cambridge (pictured at Sandringham on Christmas Day last month) has 17 patronages
The Duchess of Sussex has become a fully paid-up member of the royal family by taking on her first patronages.
Lending their name and giving their time to charities is an important duty for the Windsors, and the associations often last for decades.
The royals are currently patrons or presidents of more 3,000 organisations and charities in total. Meghan’s first four patronages represent a key step for the duchess, who is still in her first year as a newbie royal.
According to the royal family’s website: ‘Royal patronages add status to an organisation, and visits and involvement from a royal patron can often bring much-needed publicity.’
Meghan will have been inundated with requests from charities asking for her support since marrying the Duke of Sussex in May. Members of the royal family each receive hundreds of pleas each year.
Most royals tends to limit their patronages to a manageable number to allow them to devote enough time to each.
The Duchess of Cambridge has 17 and has focused on early intervention for children.
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh have more than 1,000 patronages between them, many of which were inherited from previous monarchs.
According to he royal family’s website, the most influential member regarding patronages is still the Queen.
‘The Queen’s patronage carries the most weight, and Her Majesty receives the most requests for patronages of all the members of the royal family,’ the site says.
Diana, Princess of Wales, made a shock announcement following her divorce in 1996, when she ended her links with more than 100 charities
In 2016, following her 90th birthday, the Queen stepped down from 25 patronages, including the NSPCC, which was taken over by the Countess of Wessex, and the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, which went to Kate.
The first recorded patronage was George II’s involvement with the Society of Antiquaries in the 1700s
Now she has handed two over to Meghan, with the duchess becoming patron of the National Theatre and the Association of Commonwealth Universities.
But the monarch – the nation’s longest reigning sovereign – still has 599 patronages or associations. Philip stepped down as patron or president of more than a dozen organisations when he turned 90 in 2010.
He was patron, president or a member of 785 organisations at his retirement in 2017, and continues his association with them behind the scenes.
Diana, Princess of Wales, made a shock announcement following her divorce in 1996, when she ended her links with more than 100 charities.
She resigned her position as patron or president from all but six – Centrepoint, the English National Ballet, the Leprosy Mission, the National Aids Trust, London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children and the Royal Marsden Hospital.
Those she stepped down from included Help the Aged, Barnardos, Relate and the Parkinson’s Disease Society.
The princess – William and Harry’s mother who died in a car crash in 1997 – said she made her decision ‘with great sadness’, but wanted to concentrate her efforts on fewer causes.
The first recorded patronage was George II’s involvement with the Society of Antiquaries in the 1700s.
The organisation was concerned with architectural and art history, conservation and heraldry.
It still exists today and and the Queen’s cousin, the Duke of Gloucester, is its patron.
Patronages generally reflect a royal’s interests, such as the Duchess of Cornwall, who is president of the National Osteoporosis Society after both her mother and grandmother died due to the brittle bone disease.