When Lady Kitty Spencer arrived at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor for the marriage of her cousin Prince Harry to Meghan Markle this past May, she sparked a sensation. Despite the attendance of George and Amal Clooney, Victoria and David Beckham, Priyanka Chopra, and Serena Williams, it was the lesser-known relative of the groom, in an emerald green hand-painted Dolce & Gabbana Alta Moda dress with a Philip Treacy fascinator and jewelry from the Bulgari Heritage Collection, who captured the world’s attention. “WHO IS LADY KITTY SPENCER?” the tabloids screamed, while exhaustive listicles picked apart “Everything You Need to Know About Princess Diana’s Niece.”
It would be easy to assume the 28-year-old model, a first cousin to the second in line to the throne (her father, Charles, the ninth Earl Spencer, is Princess Diana’s brother and William and Harry’s uncle), is accustomed to the public adoration and scrutiny that comes with being a member of the British aristocracy. But for Lady Kitty, the sudden influx of attention was unnerving. “It was definitely unexpected,” she admits, draped across a sofa in a dressing gown at Cliveden House, a historic stately home and hotel in Berkshire, England, where her BAZAAR.com cover shoot has just wrapped. “[My Instagram followers] went from 17,000 to half a million in one night. I thought I had someone else’s phone when I woke up the next morning. I had to turn my notifications off because my phone was going to die.” Never one to share many personal details on social media—her feed mostly features modeling work along with a few photos of siblings and friends—she now worries if her posts should be more considered. “Can I still FaceTime my cat and put it on my Stories?” she asks, only half-joking.
Followers will know that Kitty is devoted to her cat, Baby D, who “only eats people food” and lives with her mother, Victoria Aitken (née Lockwood), a former model, in South Africa where she grew up. She has been based in London since signing with Storm Management four years ago, the modeling agency that launched the careers of Kate Moss and Cara Delevingne, and made her runway debut for Dolce & Gabbana in 2017. But it was the royal wedding that kicked her profile into high gear. Within a week Kitty was made a Bulgari ambassador, and since then, her feet have barely touched the ground, with work in New York, Moscow, Dubai, Beijing and Mexico City, as well as trips to Australia and Italy for events and runway shows, and a return to South Africa for the holidays with her family. “I’ve spent only three nights in England since November,” she says.
Unlike models who may be jaded after a few years of constant hopping on and off planes, Kitty talks with an infectious excitement, describing her encounter with Stevie Wonder backstage at Dolce & Gabbana’s Milan Fashion Week show in September as “one of the coolest moments of last year.” Still, it wasn’t until she hit the runway that she became really star-struck. “I got to walk with Monica Bellucci, Carla Bruni, Isabella Rossellini, Helena Christensen, Naomi Campbell—it was insane,” she says. “We were all standing on the stage, and I was at the back. And when the curtains opened, they were going to shine the spotlight and everyone had to stand in their pose, but I was so busy being in awe of these goddesses, I just stood there staring at everyone. I completely forgot to stand in any way that was photogenic or photographable.”
JW Anderson top and shorts
Kitty is unquestionably beautiful, and holds her own among the Supers, but she’s modest about her contribution compared with that of her fellow models and even suffers from a degree of imposter syndrome. “I do feel like I sort of snuck through the back door and no one’s noticed yet. That’s the feeling I get, especially at shows,” she says. Nor does Kitty expect her modeling career to have the kind of longevity as Naomi, et al.—though it’s something she hopes for. “I keep thinking that this is potentially short term and a really exciting moment, so I’m trying to embrace it for what it is. And then when it does end, just being grateful because it was something I never imagined in the first place.”
Perhaps this is where her professionalism comes from. In the two days I spent with her during this shoot, she put in the hours, intensely focused on getting each shot right, but not so earnest that she can’t crack a self-deprecating joke when she makes a gaffe. “This one’s a personal growth experience,” she laughs as she insists on an extra take for the introduction of her Day in the Life video. “If I mumble, please tell me.”
Phillip Treacy hat
The shoot at Cliveden, photographed by Alex Bramall (who also photographed Princess Eugenie's wedding), paid homage to Kitty’s role within the fabric of the British aristocracy and her aunt’s impact on the world of fashion. The aesthetic took a creative lead from the legacy of Alexander McQueen and his legendary runway shows, while celebrating London’s design heroes of today: Mary Katrantzou, Jonathan Anderson, Simone Rocha, and Richard Quinn. It was a long day. As sets were built and taken down around her, and as she was whisked through the hotel and up and down stairs for each outfit change, Kitty remained remarkably unassuming, despite being surrounded by dozens of people being paid to make her look good, and exuded a genuine warmth.
She is organized too. As she discusses plans for an upcoming trip to Rome with her agent in the back of a car, an uninformed listener might wonder who was briefing whom. Kitty knows better than most how to breeze through an airport efficiently: Her parents divorced when she was six, and she and her siblings—twins Amelia and Eliza, 26, and brother Louis, 24—have been jetting between their mother in Cape Town and their father’s homes in England on a regular basis ever since.
Though their marriage wasn’t to last, Kitty’s parents were united in the decision to raise their children as far as possible from the glare of the British tabloid press, so they relocated to South Africa on her fifth birthday in 1995. To this day, Kitty has limited interest in the media, and mostly absorbs news via background TV. “I don’t sort of sit down to, like, focus,” she says of avoiding current events. “I kind of keep up with what’s going on from talking to people.”
Kitty attended the Reddam House private school in Cape Town and picked up a South African–inflected accent, spending vacations with her father in London and at Althorp, the family estate in Northamptonshire, which the Spencers have owned since 1508. “I’m really glad I had a childhood in South Africa,” Kitty says of her upbringing. “There are not many places in the world where you can actually have something that’s so free, just natural and relaxed. I was lucky to have a childhood there.” That sense of freedom is a luxury that wasn’t afforded her royal cousins, who, incidentally, Kitty refuses to discuss with the media “out of respect”—a policy she doesn’t waver on in this interview.
It was an idyllic upbringing, marred only by the family’s brutal annus horribilis in 1997. It was the year, of course, that her aunt Diana was tragically killed in a car crash with her partner, Dodi Al Fayed, during a paparazzi chase in Paris; and the year that Kitty’s parents separated. Charles went on to marry Caroline Freud in 2001, with whom he had a daughter, Lara, and a son, Edmund. He then became a father a seventh time to daughter Charlotte, after he married his current wife, Canadian philanthropist Karen Gordon. Victoria, meanwhile, married Jonathan Aitken, with whom she had a second son, Samuel, now 15, before divorcing in 2009. Kitty attributes her easygoing attitude to this large family, with whom she’s evidently close, especially the twins, who are just 18 months younger than she and occasionally appear on her Instagram: “I think being one of lots of children, you kind of learn to go with the flow a bit. You become adaptable.”
Mary Katrantzou dress, Phillip Treacy hat
Kitty was only six when Diana died, but the comparisons have remained a constant. Both blonde with similar smiles and wide blue eyes, Kitty has captivated the fashion world in much the same way. For the legendary makeup artist Mary Greenwell, who regularly did Diana’s makeup in the 1980s and ’90s, and created Kitty’s look for her BAZAAR.com shoot, it was a welcome dose of nostalgia. “To have Kitty with me in the makeup chair. It just took me back in time,” says Greenwell, who also worked with Kitty’s mother back in the day, as well as Meghan Markle and Pippa Middleton in recent years.
Kitty is clearly close with Victoria—she tried (unsuccessfully) to call her via FaceTime while Greenwell was doing her makeup—but she stops short of comparing herself. “We are so different, we look so different, we just did a similar thing at different times,” Kitty says. And while her mother is the first person she’d ask for advice, Victoria doesn’t volunteer it. “She’s never said, ‘You should’ or ‘You shouldn’t’. She doesn’t feel the need to force her opinions or her perspective on me.”
It’s that laissez faire attitude to life that unites the three women, according to Greenwell. “Diana was so willing and open—as is Victoria, and as is Kitty,” she says. “Just sort of free—there’s a sense of freedom with all of them. I think the sense of freedom is actually very important, that then they didn’t feel stifled by their upbringing and their circumstances.”
Kitty also shares Diana’s compassion, investing her time in philanthropic work, particularly as an ambassador for U.K. youth homelessness charity Centrepoint—Diana was patron of the organization, a role now held by Prince William—and a trustee and patron for the U.K. military-family charity Give Us Time. Both she and William have taken part in Centrepoint’s Sleep Out, a series of events in which high-profile figures join fundraisers in sleeping on the street for a night to raise awareness about homelessness.
The warmth with which Kitty greets Órla Constant, relationship director at Centrepoint, when we arrive at the nonprofit’s headquarters in London, makes it clear that she is invested in this cause—these are people with whom she spends quality, personal time. Kitty says she has always felt compelled to “give back” but has learned that one must do more than turn up to fundraising parties in order to have an impact. “You’ve got to really choose carefully and put your weight behind a few things that really matter to you, rather than spread yourself so thinly, because it’s easy to do that,” she admits.
Kitty's combination of title, pedigree, and philanthropic endeavors have, at times, had her unfairly pegged as something of a Chelsea socialite by the media, but that frothy stereotype belies an old-soul maturity and introspection that simply doesn’t come from an expensive education—though Kitty is certainly well-educated. She studied psychology, politics, and English literature at the University of Cape Town before moving to Florence, Italy, to study art history and Italian. She then earned a master’s degree in luxury brand management from the European Business School at Regent’s University in London, which gave her a unique insight into the operation of the brands she works with today, though she never imagined that it would be in this capacity. “I suppose I always thought I would go into [fashion] from a more creative angle, maybe a collaboration or having a luxury brand of my own.” Is a Lady Kitty collection on the horizon? “Maybe that’s further down the line,” she muses.
The knowledge she gleaned about the luxury business has served her well as a model, and is likely one of the reasons she’s working with brands in long-term ambassadorial roles, though she believes the industry as a whole—and brands’ expectations of models—are going through a shift; evolving away from the physical to, as she calls it, having some substance. “I think the word 'model' has changed,” she explains. “It’s so great that you’re not just a face— you’re an extension of the brand, and they care that you have philanthropic interests and that you have, perhaps, another talent or something to talk about.”
A sensible approach to mental health and body image is important to her. Diana suffered from bulimia, and Victoria has spoken honestly in the past about her struggles with anorexia, and her battles with drug and alcohol addiction. Rather than deterring Kitty from modeling, these experiences made her realize the importance of healthy wellbeing. When in London, she’ll do Spinning or barre classes, balanced by brunch at Granger with her girlfriends; she destresses with reruns of “comfort TV” such as Sex and the City, Gossip Girl, and Friends. During her video shoot, she grabs a Pret A Manger sandwich for lunch with the rest of the team and gushes about her favorite truffle pizza, found in Monaco, at Avenue 31. “It’s all just melted cheese—it’s heaven,” she rhapsodizes, adding that she appreciates body shapes are diverse, and that hers is no exception.
“I guess I’m doing these things on my own terms,” she says. “I don’t think it’s my job to starve to fit into an outfit. If I’ve agreed to do something for a brand or whatever, I look after myself but I’m not obsessive or unhealthy. If a brand wants to work with me, and think their designs look good on me, then they can give them to me in my size.”
Sid Neigum dress
And they do. Kitty was so overwhelmed by the grandeur of her gown during a fitting for the Dolce & Gabbana Alta Moda show in July, set against the backdrop of Italy's Lake Como, that she found herself wiping away tears. She shared the video on Instagram, writing it was “a dream I had never dared to have.” Recently, the brand's outspoken founders, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, have been caught up in a string of controversies, most notably in China, where an online campaign featuring a Chinese model attempting to eat Italian food with chopsticks sparked widespread accusations of racism, ultimately forcing the cancellation of a runway show in Shanghai. Though Kitty doesn't touch upon these controversies, she is effusive about working with the brand, describing it as “a family,” and shares how she often talks to Domenico and Stefano “about their upbringing and what inspired them and how they got to where they are.”
Kitty’s personal style is significantly more understated than those Alta Moda showstoppers—her go-to is an Eric Bompard cashmere turtleneck (“I've got this in 10 different colors”), Frame leather trousers, and Aquazzura boots—though she says she does love dressing up. “I’m definitely always overdressed, but that’s okay,” she says. “The rest of my family is very jeans and T-shirts.”
She hates shopping (“My idea of a nightmare would be a shopping mall,” she admits), but has amassed a significant shoe collection regardless: “It’s worrying,” she says when I ask her how many pairs she owns. “Maybe, about a hundred? Is that a lot or a little?” They’re mostly heels, as well as some sneakers for the gym, but not for the street. “Those dad trainer things everyone’s wearing, I don’t know why that’s happening,” she says of the trend. “Also, those really tiny sunglasses.” Instead, she leans toward the 1950s aesthetic of Sophia Loren and Grace Kelly, the screen idols whose biographies she devours. She doesn’t shop for vintage garments, though she enthuses about the vintage look. “I love Old Hollywood glamour,” she says. “I love the classically feminine and properly tailored and celebrating any shape.”
She carries a Bulgari handbag, but also treasures her mother’s vintage Chanel purses. On her hand is a ring gifted to her by Bulgari when she first started working with the brand. Kitty’s affinity for all things Italian extends beyond Bulgari and Dolce & Gabbana—brands she loves for being “bold, and out there”—it began when she lived in Florence for school, and it remains one of her favorite cities in the world. “I always crave going back,” she says. “I like to be on my own there. I like anywhere that’s as lovely to be alone in as it is to be with someone.”
She won’t reveal if she’s single or not, nor will she discuss her exes specifically, though she split from 47-year-old real estate developer Niccolò Barattieri di San Pietro after three years in 2017. “I’ve been really lucky. I’ve always had really lovely, straightforward boyfriends,” she says, revealing that she’s still friends with all of them. “Whenever anything exciting happens in my life, or sad, the serious boyfriends I’ve had will be the first to get in touch and the first to be supportive.” She has no tolerance for game-players and describes herself as a romantic. “I don’t see the appeal of going for anyone who’s too complicated or not trustworthy,” she says. “I just like people who are kind.” Kindness, she says, is an underrated quality. “If you haven’t got kindness you haven’t really got much. The men that I’ve been with have been kind and still are. And it’s lovely because it’s like a greater form of friendship in a way.”
These values are critical when families are involved. Niccolò had three children with his ex-wife, and it’s important to Kitty that anyone she dates gets on with her family too. “I like it when they have a lovely family that I can spend Sundays with.” And while she’s soaking up every minute of her success right now, it is this kind of future that she craves. “I just want a happy family, and I want to be married with children,” she says matter-of-factly. But for now, at least, as she prepares to jet to Rome for her next engagement, fashion wants a lot more from Kitty. And she’s only just getting started.