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The Duchess of Cambridge stuns in three new photos to mark 40th birthday

Happy Birthday Kate!

kate middleton 40th birthday portraits
Emily Nash
Emily Nash - London
Royal EditorLondon
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Gazing straight at the camera, this is the Duchess of Cambridge as you've never seen her before. Wearing a striking red one-shouldered gown, her hands in the pockets and with her naturally wavy hair lifted by the breeze to reveal diamond earrings on loan from the Queen, she looks every inch the high fashion model.

The portrait is among three breathtaking images taken by acclaimed photographer Paolo Roversi to mark her 40th birthday on 9 January.

Taken at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in November, Kate radiates an ethereal beauty in three exquisite gowns by Alexander McQueen, the British label that created her historic wedding dress.

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She is also seen in two black and white shots, one smiling into the camera, wearing a floaty, ruffled white gown and with her hair styled in soft curls. In a nod to sustainability, the silk jacquard lace organza and tulle dress was created from remnants of fabric from previous collections.

Another recalls the traditional royal portraiture of Cecil Beaton as the Duchess poses in profile in another flowing, off-the-shoulder gown and wearing diamond and pearl earrings that belonged to Diana, Princess of Wales, her late mother-in-law. She also wears a three-strand pearl bracelet, also thought to be Diana's. 

HELLO! understands that the Duchess, who studied art history at university, had a distinct style in mind and the photo shoot was very much a collaboration between her and Paolo. She is said to be "delighted" with the results. 

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kate middleton 40th birthday portrait 2© Paolo Roversi

The Duchess wears three dresses by her wedding dress designer, Alexander McQueen

Italian-born Paolo was commissioned following a conversation between Kate and the National Portrait Gallery, of which she has been patron since 2012. They met virtually ahead of the shoot.

He said last week: "Taking the portrait of Her Royal Highness, The Duchess of Cambridge, was a true honour for me, and a moment of pure joy. I was moved by her warmth and friendly welcome and enchanted by her shining eyes that reflected the loveliness of her soul and her smile showing the generosity of her heart. It was a profound and rich experience for me, an unforgettable moment. I have met a wonderful person, a person who, with her positive energy, can bring hope to the whole world."

Jill Wanless, editor of HELLO! Fashion Monthly, says: "This is Kate's model moment. She looks polished, confident and more glamorous than ever before. She has reached the peak of elegance in these goddess dresses, with tousled hair and that confident smile. We can't wait to see what's to come in her next four decades."

The Duchess and Paolo drew inspiration from 19th century photography, which was the focus of Kate's undergraduate thesis. 

Her keen interest in portraiture and photography from the period later saw her collaborate with the NPG on the Victorian Giants: The Birth Of Art Photography exhibition in 2018. And she chose Kew Gardens as a location to "reflect her passion for the power of nature and its positive impact on mental health," according to a royal source.

MORE: How Kate Middleton has celebrated her birthday through the years

kate middleton 40th birthday portrait 1© Paolo Roversi

The Duchess wearing Princess Diana's pearl drop earrings

The new images show the Duchess at her glamorous best and confident in her looks as she enters her fifth decade. They follow a wonderful photograph of her with the Duke shared by Kensington Palace on 1 January to mark the New Year.

William and Kate, in a glittering gold Jenny Packham dress, are seen holding hands and beaming happily in the back of the car driving them to the James Bond premiere last September

The 40th birthday portraits will form part of the permanent Collection of the National Portrait Gallery which re-opens in 2023 following re-development work.

In the meantime, they will feature as part of the NPG's UK-wide Coming Home project, which sees portraits of public figures on display in places they are closely associated with.

MORE: Kate Middleton's low-key birthday plans: is this where she's celebrating?

kate middleton 40th birthday portrait 3© Paolo Roversi

The Duchess also borrowed the Queen's diamond drop earrings 

The new images of the Duchess will appear in Berkshire, St Andrews and Anglesey over the course of 2022, with further details to be confirmed.

The project has enabled works from the National Portrait Gallery's national Collection to travel to towns and cities across the UK, providing communities with the opportunity to see famous works locally. The latest images will join another 16 portraits of the Duchess in the gallery's collection, which include her engagement and wedding photographs.

In 2020, 100 finalists from her hugely successful Hold Still photographic competition saw their images of life in lockdown added to the permanent collection and last year they featured in a book by the same name.

The Duchess is a keen amateur photographer, whose portraits of her own children have graced the covers of newspapers and magazines across the globe. And her poignant images of Holocaust survivors and their grandchildren were recently on display as part of the Generations: Portraits of Holocaust Survivors exhibition at the Imperial War Museum.

Last time we saw an official portrait of the Duchess taken for her birthday she cut a far more casual figure, sitting on a fence at Anmer Hall in jeans and a sweater, in a photograph taken by Matt Porteous as she turned 38.

But her new images strike a far more regal tone as she steps up her duties in preparation for her future as a very modern queen.

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