A school that trains nannies in martial arts and evasive driving techniques sounds like the premise of a Hollywood action movie. But these are reportedly the kinds of lessons a student will undertake if they are hoping for a job looking after younger members of the royal family. Traditionally, of course, a fleet of staffers would be employed to take care of the little ones. Yet in 2014 the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge recruited just one woman for the task: the flawless childminder Maria Borrallo. And the strict rules that Maria has adopted to raise these future potential kings and queens are quite astonishing.
20. Tantrums are unacceptable
Maria is originally from Spain, but she trained as a nanny at the prestigious Norland College in the English city of Bath. And she now lives with the Cambridges at their Kensington Palace home. It’s likely, then, that she’s seen the royal tots have all kinds of angry outbursts – just like any other children their ages. So how do Norland College nannies deal with these stressful situations?
Well, Louise Heren spent a year at Norland College and is the author of Nanny in a Book. In January 2019 she spoke to various publications about her experiences. “The tantrum can build because you’re not observing what they’re trying to get or do. Frustration is building,” Louise told Mirror Online. Norland nannies, then, are trained to be alert to the children’s needs and can manage any situations before they escalate.
19. Follow nanny’s example
Norland nannies are taught a loving and nurturing method of childcare. But that’s not to say they’re pushovers when it comes to strictness. Louise told Mirror Online, “It is about training the children by example rather than just telling them.”
Yet graduates from the prestigious British childcare college are identified by their distinct uniforms, which can appear quite stern and formal. But, as Louise told Fabulous Online, “It doesn’t have to be strict. Just because Norland nannies wear the brown uniform, they look quite old-fashioned, that doesn’t mean their message is old-fashioned. It’s no-nonsense.”
18. Speak Spanish and French
Maria is fluent in Spanish and English – but she also speaks a further four languages. And Louise believes that the nanny encourages the royal kids to speak to her in French and her native tongue, as the children are reportedly learning both languages.
It is Kate and William’s desire that their children learn about other cultures, too. This will mean, after all, that the children will be better prepared for their future royal duties abroad. With head starts on their foreign vocabularies, then, the Cambridges will have good foundations on which to develop their language skills.
17. Strict nap times
It can be difficult as a royal toddler to keep a strict routine. After all, the children may be expected to accompany their parents on royal engagements. Nanny Maria is on top of it all, though. Louise told Fabulous Online, “[She] will know their schedule. [Maria] will be doing a lot of explaining to them what is happening.” But if there’s one thing they won’t deviate from, it’s nap time.
Louise went on, “If the children have traveled on royal engagements, it will be jolly difficult getting the kids to bed because of the excitement and the timetable of events. When you see William and Kate go off to a function and the children aren’t with them, they will be having nap time.”
16. Never use the word “kids”
Louise explained that students at Norland College are taught to avoid using one word in particular when referring to the royal tots. That word is, of course, “kids.” Charlotte, George and Louis are, therefore, likely to be referred to as “children” instead.
This use of language illustrates the strict adherence to protocol – a fundamental aspect of the training that takes place at Norland College. And it’s this professionalism that makes Maria reportedly one of the top nannies in Britain.
15. Go to bed at 7:00 p.m.
One of Maria’s rules is to apparently ensure that the duke and duchess’ children are in bed by 7:00 p.m. But while kids will perhaps balk at the prospect of sleeping at this time, this Norland nanny is prepared for such an eventuality.
Maria has a strict routine when it comes to bedtime for the royal kids, you see. Every night, the children follow a routine that includes bath time, pajamas and a bedtime story, according to Mirror Online. This schedule helps the young ones unwind so that by the final stage of this process they’re ready for some shut-eye.
14. No fuss at meal times
George, Charlotte and Louis are taught from the beginning to keep an open mind when it comes to food. In fact, there’s a saying about staffers who come from Maria’s teaching institution: “You don’t have a fussy eater if you have a Norland nanny.”
According to reports, the children are supposed to try everything that comes on their plates. But the reason behind this is interesting. After all, Louis, Charlotte and George will eat a variety of different food types at galas when they’ve grown up – and no one wants a grimaced face at meal time.
13. Play must take place outdoors
Louise spoke to The Sun’s Fabulous Online in January 2019 about some of the fun activities that Maria will do with the royal children. The author said, “There will be lots and lots of outdoor play, that’s the one thing you could say Norland are old-fashioned about. Loads of fresh air.”
Louise went on, “[There will be] lots of bike rides, playing with their dogs [and] potentially some gardening. Norland are very into teaching children through play.” She added, “Yes, you are getting mucky with your hands in the soil, but you are learning how to plant. If it is tipping it down, they will still go out. Wet weather is just inappropriate clothing; you have to put the right stuff on.”
12. Must behave in public
There is a level of expectation on the children when they accompany their parents on public engagements. Louise told said, “There will be no messing. That’s because Maria will be aware that as they step off planes, holding mom’s [hand], smiling and waving to the crowds, there can’t be any crying or terrible twos or tantrums.”
Of course, life as royal toddlers is different from that of other children, and Maria must have the princes and princess prepared for formal appearances. So on top of behaving correctly, the royal kids must be dressed appropriately as well.
11. Limitations on screen time
Kate and William reportedly decide the amount of time that George, Louis and Charlotte can spend on iPads and watching television. And as you’d expect, it’s pretty limited. So if the children aren’t watching re-runs of Frozen, what do they do instead?
Well, Louise told Fabulous Online that the royal children will often pass the time putting jigsaws together or playing educational games. And in terms of the types of hobbies that the children enjoy, Marie Claire reports that George is a fan of ballet.
10. Choose their own activities
Norland childminders reportedly get the children involved in arranging their own activities as soon as they are old enough. By allowing the youngsters to plan the day, you see, there can be little room for argument. For instance, if the child chooses to bake a cake or go for a bicycle ride in the park, it’s an activity they chose for themselves and are therefore more likely to commit to it.
Louise told Mirror Online, “It means that the nanny has got some control, but the child has chosen what to do and is happy that they got the choice.” Allowing the royal kids the chance to plan their exercise also gives them a taste of the independence they will enjoy in later life.
9. Always wave back
As well as performing typical nanny duties, Maria must remember who she is helping to raise: royalty. Louise explained that Kate likely prepares her children for public engagements by letting them know in advance what’s going to happen. And one of the golden rules that the kids must follow is a curious one.
Before a public event, the children are told who they will meet and if anyone waves to them, they must wave back. Louise told Mirror Online, “[Maria’s] job is to keep them happy, safe and well, but equally they need to be presentable and well-behaved when they are on parade.”
8. Mealtimes are a learning opportunity
When George, Charlotte and Louis sit down to eat their meals, Maria takes it as an opportunity to continue their education. Of course, at such a young age, the royal tots are still learning some of the basics.
So, while the royal children are chomping down on their dinner, Maria will use it as a chance to get their brain juices flowing. According to MailOnline, “This includes everything from them practicing their math skills by counting out the cutlery and china to developing their knowledge of color when selecting certain items.”
7. Choose their own food
In a similar way to having the children select daily activities, Maria will also offer them options at meal times. Then, if there are any objections from the child, the nanny has grounds for a comeback. Yet the royal youngsters will not have free reign; their options will be limited to a choice of food selected by their elders.
For instance, the children may be offered several vegetables to have with their meal, and they can pick two. Louise told Mirror Online, “If they are informed beforehand, you don’t get a grizzly child.” And it’s a double win for Maria because she can get the kids to practice their colors while they’re choosing which veg they want.
6. Always be presentable
Being in the public eye, the royal children are always expected to be smartly dressed. Louise said, “You get up, have breakfast, you go to school and you wear your school uniform whether you like it or not. It would be quite like the average British school children.” And that’s another job that falls, in part, to Maria.
Smart dressing is something that Maria will be familiar with from her days at the prestigious Norland College, of course. According to News.com.au, students have to pay around $1,200 for a series of uniforms that change according to the seasons. The publication said, “Shoes must be plain brown/leather… flat lace-ups. In summer, nannies wear light tights and white gloves. In winter, they switch to dark tights, brown gloves and coat.” The website went on, “The practical uniform consists of dark blue trousers and jumper and a lighter blue polo shirt. Fingernails must be short, clean and without nail polish.”
5. Wash hands before meals
As dinner approaches, George, Charlotte and Louis will be encouraged to wash their hands ten minutes before they eat, as per Norland College teachings. While that’s an important task for any child before sitting down to dine, the institution believes that it’s helpful to forge set procedures when it comes to daily routines such as eating.
Norland nannies believe very strongly in the significance of routines – particularly for the more important parts of the day. Louise explained to Mirror Online, “Children understand routine, but they like to be informed of [what it is specifically]. Even if lunchtime is half an hour later, the clues that lead up to it stay the same.”
4. Help lay the table
Despite being royalty, the Cambridge children aren’t waited on for every task and activity. So they’re expected to help out rather than have everything done for them. For instance, laying the table is another important part of the meal-time routine for the children.
And Maria doesn’t miss a trick, because putting the right number of cutlery, cups and dishes on the table in preparation for dinner is used as an opportunity for the kids to practice counting. Illustrating how the eating process goes, Louise explained, “Ten minutes to go, wash your hands, can you help me lay the table?”
3. No night lights
Although Kate and William’s children are still very young, there are times when no one will be at close quarters. For instance, when they are asleep. So another of life’s hurdles Maria will help the youngsters overcome is being left alone in the dark. They need to be comfortable sleeping through the night on their own, you see.
Norland nannies prefer to achieve a restful night for the youngsters without the aid of lights, though. But, as Louise explained in Nanny In A Book, “Although a night light is not necessary for helping your baby go off to sleep, a low lamp you can switch on when checking on [them] that does not create a blaze of light could be useful.”
2. Abide by the sticker chart
Reward charts can often be used to recognize when a child has done something good. But when it comes to nannying the Norland way, the opposite is also true. So a sticker chart is sometimes utilized when it comes to marking unwanted behavior.
Of course, a sticker chart will help teach the royal children how to behave properly – reminding them of past mistakes. But this “no-nonsense” upbringing, as Louise told Fabulous Online, is different in other ways, too. For instance, naughty steps are banned – rather than embraced – as a parenting method.
Of course, keeping up appearances is a must – even for a royal child. And a big part of the Cambridge children’s lives will be spent in the public eye. Louise explained to Fabulous Online that Maria will make sure that the kids are alert and ready to go out with a smile on their faces when they’re in public.
Smiling when carrying out your duties is an important aspect for any royal family member when out in public. Louise explained to Fabulous Online, “[Maria will] say, ‘This is your opportunity to show mommy and daddy just how wonderful you are, and you are to smile and be really good for them, and then we can go inside and play.’”
Perhaps having strict rules is good, then. After all, hiring a stranger to work in your home always carries with it an element of uncertainty. They may be the loveliest person you’ve ever met and great with your kids – but you never know the full story. This is what happened to Mary Robertson, an American businesswoman who had moved to London in the 1980s. She hired a polite young teenager to work as a nanny for her young son and thought little else about it. Not until she discovered a slip of paper under her couch, that is, and realized who the new help really was.
When in 1980 Mary Robertson and her husband, Pat, moved from the U.S. to upmarket Belgravia in London, it soon became clear that they would need an extra pair of hands to help look after their eight-month-old son, Patrick. So, they decided to employ a nanny on a part-time basis, and a local bureau duly sent over an 18-year-old woman who was shy but polite and hard-working. Robertson instantly liked her.
“She was lovely, with perfect English skin, a slight blush on her cheeks, and clear blue eyes,” Robertson would later recall of the young woman in a book that she published in 1998. “She looked just like the suburban teenagers I had known in America, only ever so much prettier.” Robertson and her husband, then, welcomed the teenager into the family home.
Robertson paid the nanny just $5 an hour to perform her duties and yet was very pleased with the teenager’s work. She was great with Patrick and happy to pitch in with the housework. She did, however, love to eat. One time, Robertson went to the kitchen to re-heat some stew – only to discover that her employee had cherry-picked the meat from it for her lunch. Other than that, the nanny was a delight and brightened up their London home. Robertson considered her a friend – but was to discover that she was not what she appeared to be.
The businesswoman only discovered who her new employee was when she happened upon a bank deposit slip that had fallen underneath a couch. The information the slip contained was pretty amazing. It confirmed that the nanny had never even remotely needed that $5-an-hour job. Also on the piece of paper was the teenager’s full name: Lady Diana Spencer.
Robertson was downright shocked to realize that a member of the British aristocracy had been playing with her baby and doing the laundry, and she decided to bring the subject up with the nanny as soon as she could. But when Robertson told the teenager how surprised she had been to find out that she was actually a Lady, the young Diana shrugged it off as though it were no big deal.
“I said, ‘It’s quite a surprise for us to have you with your impressive background – I mean a title and all – looking after Patrick.’” Robertson recounted to the LA Times in May 1998. “She smiled, gestured with a toss of her right hand, and said, ‘Oh, that.’ The subject never came up again… In 1980 Diana was a happy, normal teenager.”
She was indeed. In addition to being a part-time nanny to the Robertson family, Diana was also working as a teacher at a London nursery school throughout that year. She utterly loved the work, too, and her passion for caring for children was very much evident to her friend and employer. “I think children were really the focus of her life,” Robertson told the Chicago Tribune in 1997.
Sadly, though, this happy and normal life was soon to be shattered. Diana had already begun dating Prince Charles, immediate heir to the British throne, and consequently the press were keen to track her every move. Shortly after Diana accompanied Charles to the Royal Scottish estate of Balmoral, at the invitation of the Queen herself, the paparazzi turned up at the street the Robertsons lived in. It was very awkward indeed for the shy young woman.
“[Diana] stood in the doorway of the bedroom and asked for my full attention, and said photographers were waiting for her,” Mary Robertson reminisced to Time magazine in 2001. “It was because she had been at Balmoral. She said she had been to see Charles. But she specified that he had not invited her up there – his mother had. Then she added a cute line: ‘Gee, he’s 32. I’m only 19. I never thought he’d ever look twice at me.’”
More and more pressure was heaped on Diana as her relationship with Prince Charles grew serious. Occasionally she would have to phone Robertson and cancel her duties for the day because the press were lurking outside her door, waiting for her to appear. In fact, at one point, as Robertson related in her book, The Diana I Knew, her nanny turned to her and said, “I will simply die if this doesn’t work out. I won’t be able to show my face.”
Eventually, Diana handed in her notice to the Robertsons. But while they were sorry to see her go, it was impossible for her to continue. It was expected that Charles would propose to her soon, and members of the Royal Family simply could not have “normal” jobs. Shortly afterwards, meanwhile, Pat Robinson was re-posted to the U.S. by his employers, and Mary assumed that she would never see Diana again. But she did.
Robertson was delighted when she heard that Diana was going to marry Prince Charles and overjoyed when a wedding invitation arrived for her and her family. She had never expected the beautiful aristocrat to even remember them, but Diana was absolutely determined that they remain friends. At the wedding, she introduced Mary and Pat Robertson to Charles as “Patrick’s parents.” And following the nuptials, the former nanny and her employer continued to exchange letters.
Diana’s missives to Robertson were always full of affection, but she never mentioned how her relationship with Charles was faring. In reality, her marriage proved to be a mistake almost from the get-go – but she never let on. Sometimes, meanwhile, after she had given birth to her own children, Diana would meet up with the Robertsons. “If either of my boys turn out like Patrick, I will have no worries,” she wrote to Mary once. And the two grew closer and closer.
This meant that Robertson was utterly devastated when, in the early hours of August 31, 1997, a friend telephoned her to say that Diana had died in a car crash. The sudden wave of phone calls from the press, desperate to get in touch with Diana’s old friends for interviews, did nothing to alleviate Robertson’s grief, either. She was surprised to learn, however, that she and her family were actually invited to the funeral. The Palace had gone through Diana’s files and found their contact details.
Robertson attended the funeral alone while her husband stayed behind with Patrick and the couple’s second child, Caroline. She paid her respects and then returned to the U.S. But, keen to channel her grief into something constructive, she began writing a book about her experience. The publication of The Diana I Knew was announced in May 1998, with some of the proceeds to go to Diana’s favorite charities.
After the publication of the book, Robertson continued her ordinary life as a businesswoman and mother. She was, however, happy to give interviews about her late friend. In 2007, ten years after Diana’s death, Robertson appeared on CNN and showed some of the correspondence that the late princess had sent her. And those letters would appear again in 2017 when Robertson did an interview for TV news magazine show Inside Edition.
Even some fans of Diana were unaware that she had once worked as a humble nanny. And the story that Robertson told the program viewers – that of people coming together despite differences in social class – touched many hearts. It was clear, too, that she was still sad about losing her old friend.
“Did Diana refer to the time she worked with you as the…?” the Inside Edition interviewer began to ask. “The happiest year of her life, yes,” Robertson finished. She knew – as did the audience – that Diana’s life with Charles had been deeply troubled and traumatic. It must, then, have been reassuring to the Robertsons that Diana had experienced at least some positivity before her marriage and then her untimely death.
After watching their children grow up, with little Patrick attending Brown University, Mary and Pat Robertson continue to enjoy their quiet life. Diana would almost certainly be relieved about that, too, bearing in mind how the lack of privacy in her own life contributed so much to her misery. Mary has thought about that as well. She told People that she has stated in her will that Diana’s letters to her must never be sold. One last favor to an old friend.