She may be a hip young thing with the world at her feet but there’s something delightfully old-fashioned about Kitty Spencer.
The 26-year-old would rather read a book than look at a screen (“my ideal evening would be a bubble bath and a good book”), finds cooking for friends therapeutic (“I’m making rack of lamb tonight”), and uses social media carefully (Instagram is her only public profile).
The latter has more than a little to do with her family ties. Lady Kitty Spencer is the eldest child of the 9th Earl of Spencer, Charles, and his first wife, model Victoria Lockwood, and the niece of Diana, the Princess of Wales.
It is 20 years in August since Diana’s death in a car crash in Paris and her father’s subsequent blistering speech at his sister’s funeral. Kitty was only a child at the time but knows most journalists will ask her about not only her late aunt but also her famous cousins, William and Harry.
While she reportedly has a good relationship with the princes, she always politely but firmly declines to answer any questions about the royal family.
The reluctance is understandable. In an interview with Vanity Fair last year, when she said she was so lucky to have a few special and happy memories of Diana, it was breathlessly re-posted on websites around the world as if she was revealing all. Far from it. The UK tabloids and royal rags can carry on about her glamorous life but the softly spoken beauty tells me that her way of coping is simply not to engage with the unreality of it all.
“I’ve always worked hard to have a healthy level of self-worth and I think that the charity work I do is great in terms of that because it means that everything is constantly put into perspective for me. I have tremendous gratitude for my own family and for the life that I live,” she says.
“But, on a practical level, I don’t read articles about myself, whether they are positive or negative … I don’t even look at the pictures. I don’t have Google alerts or anything like that and I obviously then don’t read any comments under any articles. I just don’t believe in entertaining any sort of negative energy in that way; I know it’s not good for the mind.”
None of it matters in the greater scheme of things, either. “So long as I’m living a life that’s full to me, as long as I’m being kind and giving back and as long as I know my family’s proud, I can put my head on the pillow at night.”
Just as it was with Diana, charity work is important to Kitty. The two causes she works closely with in London are Give Us Time, which helps families reconnect after soldiers return from a tour of duty, and Centrepoint, which tackles youth homelessness and provides support for people aged 16 to 25.
“Both of these charities emphasise the importance of family in different ways and I think that’s probably why I was drawn to them,” she says.
“We don’t do a good enough job of looking after our servicemen and women when they risk everything and come back from war, and I also think the levels of youth homelessness in England are absolutely unacceptable. It’s just crazy that people of this age don’t have four walls or a pillow to put their head on each night.”
She believes everyone should give back in whatever way they can but thinks it’s also important to find causes that mean something to you. It’s one of the reasons she jumped at the invitation to come to Perth as a special guest at Bentley Polo in the Valley next month. The annual event, one of the hottest tickets on the social calendar, raises money for Youth Focus, which Kitty felt was a good fit with the other causes close to her heart.
“I’ve been reading up about Youth Focus,” Kitty says, leaving you in no doubt she has. “It’s crazy how the numbers are increasing of young people facing issues like depression and anxiety and having suicidal thoughts. My siblings are all aged between 12 and 25, which is the age group that Youth Focus supports, and they’re such formative years — I just think it’s very important that young people have access to free and professional mental health care.”
She’s also really looking forward to another trip Down Under, having spent time on the east coast in 2015. “I just love Australia, I’ve always said to Storm (her management company) if anything comes up in Australia, just let me know.”
Kitty grew up in South Africa, where her parents moved when she was little and where she stayed with her mum and three younger siblings when her parents split in 1997 and her father moved back to the UK. She has several other siblings from subsequent marriages.
She never felt torn between two worlds because she was lucky enough not to have to choose one over the other.
“South Africa is such a great place to grow up. It’s not dissimilar to Australia really, it’s just really beautiful and a very healthy upbringing for a child, with lots of time spent outdoors in nature. I think a South African childhood definitely gives you just wonderful foundations for life so I’m very grateful that my mother decided to raise me there,” she says.
“But I’ve had the best of both worlds definitely because now living in London, being in an exciting city in my twenties, it’s worked out really well.”
Kitty studied politics, literature and psychology at university in South Africa before doing Italian and art history in Italy, and then moving to London five years ago to do a masters in luxury brand management — “I like being a student so I tried to prolong that for as long as possible”, she says with a laugh.
While she acknowledges how much she is enjoying the combination of charity work and assignments through Storm, she would like to use her masters in the future. “Whether that means creating my own brand or collaborating with someone else, that remains to be seen.”
She certainly has a bit of inside running. Aside from front-row appearances at leading fashion weeks, she made her catwalk debut for luxe brand Dolce & Gabbana in Milan last month.
“It was such a pivotal moment in the fashion industry and the show was incredibly moving and powerful,” she says, clearly still buzzing from the experience.
“I loved just being part of something that celebrated real people. On the ramp there were families, young children, older women, puppies … it just felt like a really wonderful celebration of life, it was beautiful and joyful. And as a brand obviously I love Dolce & Gabbana, I love how they celebrate femininity and curves.”
Neither Kitty nor her sisters felt any pressure growing up to be like their model mother. There weren’t even any scales in her house.
“I’ve always focused on balance really, exercise and eating relatively healthy but nothing excessive or extreme. It’s all about balance,” she says.
“So I didn’t have scales and my daughters won’t either. My mum’s brought us up with a very healthy outlook for that sort of thing.”
Kitty, who grew up wearing shorts and T-shirts, describes her own style as less about trends and more about choosing what works for her.
“I think women look best when they know who they are and accept themselves and I, for example, have curves so I accept that not all trends will suit my shape,” she says.
“I like things that are a little cinched in at the waist because that sort of style makes me feel feminine and confident.”
While she lists Ralph Lauren as another favourite designer, she’s also a fan of Australian fashion. “I’ve got a lot of Zimmerman in my cupboard, a lot of Scanlan and Theodore and when I came over last time Alex Perry designed the most beautiful dress for me … I came home with an extra suitcase on my last trip!”
She’s also keen on our great outdoors and unique fauna. “I love all the animals in Australia, especially the koalas, so I hope I get to hold one of those,” she says.
“And the people are lovely, too. They seem to have the best of South Africa and England — warm and friendly and laidback like South Africans but they still have that dark and dry sense of humour, which is very English.”
It’s International Women’s Day when we speak, albeit almost over at my end of the world. Kitty had earlier posted the meme of Wonder Woman in all shapes, sizes and colours to her Instagram page, wishing everyone a happy IWD. What would her advice for young women be? “The most important thing is compassion, not just for other women but for men, too, for everyone. Compassion is a real strength. Kindness is an underrated quality.”
Just before I hang up, she thanks me for staying up to call London at a time that worked for her. “I really appreciate it, I know it’s very late for you, so thank you very much.” Old-fashioned manners are underrated, too.
Bentley Polo in the Valley is at Duncraig Stud on April 2, see polointthevalley.com.au.