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Duchess of Cambridge happy and glorious one year on

By Maureen Coleman

One year on from her marriage to Prince William, the Duchess of Cambridge’s natural charm has breathed new life into the Royal family.

On April 29, 2011, Prince William married his Bucklebury bride Catherine Middleton while an estimated two billion people around the world looked on. For commoner Catherine, it was the dream wedding she had longed for, though there were dark moments in their eight-year relationship when she had been forced to question her Prince's commitment.

Cruelly dubbed Waity Katie for standing by the heir to the throne and showing remarkable patience during their lengthy courtship, it seems implausible now — when we see them together — to think that William decided, five years in, that Catherine wasn't to be his wife after all.

But after three months apart, they rekindled their romance and the fairytale wedding was on.

It's been an incredible 12 months since then, not just for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge — to give them their proper titles — but for the Royal family as a whole. Who could have predicted that Catherine's official acceptance by the Royals would have been greeted with such global interest and that, along with her Prince, they would renew respect for the monarchy and give it a much-needed boost?

The death of Princess Diana in 1997 and the public's subsequent anger and outpouring of grief saw the Royals' popularity dwindle and the monarchy plunged into crisis. Will and Kate mania has been a massive PR coup. Politicians love them, Hollywood A-listers love them, even the most hardened of cynics grudgingly admit that the young couple has selling power. And, most importantly for Catherine, as the Queen prepares to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee this summer, it is understood Her Majesty is delighted with the public's overwhelming response to the Royal newcomer.

Even before Catherine and William were wed last April, the pretty brunette with the beaming smile and the English Rose complexion had managed to win over the nation. In the run-up to their nuptials, the couple made their first visit together to Northern Ireland, where she tried her hand at flipping pancakes, encouraged by the Prince. Up to 100 people were allowed to line up on the edge of the lawns of the City Hall in Belfast to greet the young pair. They also took time out to meet with representatives from the Northern Ireland Cancer Fund, who were hosting the Shrove Tuesday fundraising event. But while the crowds were thrilled to see William in the flesh, it was his blushing bride-to-be whom they had really come to glimpse. And just like Diana — the mother-in-law she never got to meet — every aspect of her appearance and behaviour was closely scrutinised.

The visit was declared a success and Catherine passed the test with flying colours. Indeed, their association with Northern Ireland was further cemented when, on the day of the wedding, the Queen bestowed the titles of Baron and Baroness Carrickfergus on her grandson and his new wife, along with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the Earl and Countess of Strathearn.

From the moment she stepped out of her Rolls Royce at Westminster Abbey last April 29, her status as style icon was well and truly sealed. Her lace and satin dress, designed by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen, was hailed a fashion triumph. Her stunning veil was held in place by a Cartier tiara — a gift from the Queen herself — while the finishing touch was her dazzling 18 carat sapphire and diamond engagement ring, a poignant reminder of the late Diana. Prince William had proposed with his mother's own ring and on the day the engagement was announced to the world, he proudly declared: “It is very special to me. It was my way to make sure my mother did not miss out on today and the excitement that we are going to spend the rest of our lives together.”

But while a handful of celebrities, including Mary Portas and Vivienne Westwood, have criticised Catherine's fashion credentials, claiming she plays it too safe and conservative, it seems the public can't get enough of her style. The blue Issa dress she wore to announce her engagement sold out, prompt

ing copy-cat versions all over the high street. Her love of nude court shoes and even nude tights have seen an increase in sales of both and outlets like Reiss and LK Bennett have benefited from the ‘Kate Middleton effect'. Despite some commentators dismissing her trademark Kohl-heavy eye-make-up as too dark and too harsh, Catherine has refused to bow to pressure and retains the look that she feels comfortable with.

Katrina Doran, local stylist and editor of online fashion bible Sugahfix.com, says the Duchess of Cambridge is not so much a trend-setter as a classic fashion icon.

“Kate most definitely deserves to be a style icon — she dresses in the true definition of ‘style' which is not dictated by fashion trends,” she said.

“Similar to someone like Jackie O, Kate's style is very classic and she doesn't really take risks. She favours figure skimming dresses and shows her legs but rarely shows anything above the knee. It's a very demure look which is 100% appropriate for her position in the Royal family.

“She does use a little humour and fun though, like her Maple Leaf hat on her tour of Canada — it showed how you can use a little wit in fashion but still look utterly chic.

“One of my favourite outfits was her sparkling pale pink Jenny Packham dress that she wore to the Absolute Return for Kids gala event. The colour, the shape, the little fluttering sleeves, everything about it was just stunning.

“Also I love the fact she has worn Warehouse and Whistles which makes her so much more accessible. Kate also favours a long sleeve which adds elegance to any outfit. And top marks for making nude tights acceptable again.”

Given her new-found role as a much-lauded fashionista and the easy-going manner with which she handles the public, comparisons with Diana are inevitable. Last month she made her public speaking debut at the opening of the Treehouse Children’s Hospice in Ipswich, without Prince William by her side. The 30-year-old, who wrote her own speech, said she was “hugely honoured” to be involved with East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices (EACH) and found their support and care for families of children with life-threatening conditions “inspirational.” The media went into an immediate frenzy. But while some British newspapers homed in on her short, but well-rehearsed speech, others singled out her sartorial choice and her ever-decreasing weight as the subjects of interest. Horror of horrors, had she worn the dress before? Or worse still, borrowed it from her mother Carole, who'd been spotted in a similar one at Ascot two years ago? And was her weight loss down to her separation from her husband, on a six-week secondment to the Falklands as a search-and-rescue pilot, or her increasing nerves at being thrust into the spotlight?

Worryingly, it was the Diana phenomenon all over again. But royal watchers believe Catherine can handle the intense pressure and is less vulnerable than the late Princess of Wales. Catherine also has age and maturity on her side. Diana was only 20 years of age when she married Prince Charles, who was 11 years her senior. According to sources, the Royal family is determined not to repeat the mistakes it made with Diana and that Catherine is being well-briefed, supported and nurtured by those around her, including the Queen herself.

There was much surprise when Her Majesty sidelined the other young Royals and chose to invite Catherine to accompany her and Prince Philip to the East Midlands to launch her Diamond Jubilee tour of Britain. It was a significant vote of confidence from the Queen and royal commentators were bemused to see them sitting side-by-side in the front row of a fashion show at Leicester's De Montfort University.

If the couple's two week tour of Canada and Los Angeles last year is anything to go by, it certainly seems Catherine is finding her feet as the new People's Princess.

Privately, she may have been terrified at the prospect of so high-profile a trip, but she threw herself into it with gusto, winning the hearts of everyone she met. In Canada, where William is destined to be King, the newlyweds were greeted with near-hysteria. In Los Angeles, Hollywood’s heavyweights were falling over themselves to meet them. Actress Nicole Kidman gushed: “They make me smile. I love them.”

Tomorrow the royal couple will celebrate their first wedding anniversary together, away from the public gaze and after a week of joint engagements in London.

The pair are believed to be staying at Balmoral in Scotland. After all, it was at St Andrews in Fife where they first met and William is keen to make it a romantic occasion.

It's been an eventful year for them both and one which will give them plenty to ponder over. They have risen to the challenges at home and abroad, have shown a united front to the world and have injected youthful vigour into the beleaguered British monarchy.

The girl once dubbed Waity Katie has shown that persistence does pay off. And more than that, she has brought a sense of optimism back to the monarchy. The young bride from Bucklebury has blossomed and grown in the limelight and the ‘Kate Middleton effect' looks poised to continue.

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