Can Kate Middleton play piano? The Princess of Wales is a former pianist, flautist and chorister

19 July 2023, 11:15

Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton teases piano performance on ITV show Royal Carols: Together At Christmas

By Kyle Macdonald

A look at Kate Middleton’s musical history as a young pianist, chapel singer, school flautist and – eventually – orchestral conductor.

Catherine, Princess of Wales is renowned for her many royal duties and her support of numerous charities, as well as being someone with many sporting loves, particularly on the hockey pitch.

But as became clear after her much-praised public piano debut on Christmas Eve 2021, music, and especially piano-playing, has also been a big part of her life.

Can Kate Middleton play the piano?

The Princess of Wales has played the piano in public twice in recent years; at a special Westminster Abbey Christmas service in 2021 with singer Tom Walker, and once again in 2023 during the opening of the finals of the Eurovision Song Contest. She made a prerecorded cameo appearance, featuring last year’s winning song ‘Stefania’ by Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra.

And it appears that the Princess of Wales’ musical studies may have begun – as they do with so many – with the 88 keys.

Teacher Daniel Nicholls taught Kate the instrument from the ages of 11 to 13. He also gave music lessons to her brother James, sister Pippa and mother Carole.

And although we’re certain our student both gave her studies diligence and was supported well, it seems her teacher might have been quite realistic about any high-flying pianistic ambitions in her future. “I don't think she was ever going to be a concert pianist,” Nicholls remarked in 2011.

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Inside Catherine, Princess of Wales’ musical history
Inside Catherine, Princess of Wales’ musical history. Picture: Getty/ Alamy

But never forgetting his famous pupil, Nicholls composed a special piece for Catherine and Prince William ahead of their famous wedding ceremony in 2011.

After her piano endeavours, it seems her attention switched to the flute and singing. Catherine has said she played the woodwind instrument throughout her school years at St Andrew's in Pangbourne, Berkshire, until the age of 18.

It is reported that she played in the school's chamber orchestra, and in a senior flute group – named the Tootie-Flooties – along with her younger sister, Pippa. Friends have also said she was a deputy head chorister in the chapel choir.

Alongside her instrumental studies, she achieved Grade 5 in both singing and music theory.

In royal circles, she's in very good company. In her youth, Queen Elizabeth II played piano and sang madrigals at Windsor Castle. Princess Diana studied piano, and enjoyed a spot of Rachmaninov. And her father-in-law, HRH The Prince of Wales, studied the cello in his younger years.

Read more: The time Princess Diana casually sat at a piano and played Rachmaninov

Piano teacher Daniel Nicholls, at the piano he taught the Middleton family, in Bucklebury
Piano teacher Daniel Nicholls, at the piano he taught the Middleton family, in Bucklebury. Picture: Getty

Did Kate Middleton conduct an orchestra?

As with so much in art, culture and music, those studies in formative years can place you in good stead for the unexpected things of the future.

When 12-year-old Kate Middleton was diligently practicing her piano and studying music theory, probably not in her wildest dreams would she have thought that she might be stepping onto a maestro's podium to conduct one of the world's finest symphony orchestra, as a member of the British royal family.

But that’s just what happened in July 2017 when Catherine, now married to Prince William, visited Hamburg. On a tour of the German city’s spectacular new concert hall, the Elbphilharmonie, she and her husband joined 250 schoolchildren to take part in a session introducing the musical instruments of the orchestra.

Prince William and Kate Middleton visit the Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra in 2017

As part of the proceedings that day, and with the world's press looking on, the Duchess took a baton and conducted the renowned Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra, in a few thundering chords of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5.

And we reckon she did very well.

The lesson? Kids, young adults, and all of us – make sure you give your musical studies time and care, as you never know what the future might hold.

Away from music, the arts are very important to the Princess of Wales. She studied art history at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, where she met Prince William in 2001. Her interest in the visual arts, photography, design and textiles has led her to be Patron of the National Portrait Gallery since 2012, authoring content for exhibitions at the gallery.