It's hard to believe that it's only been a year since Kate Middleton became the Duchess of Cambridge. In the last 12 months, Kate has gracefully negotiated the relentless press attention, made numerous public appearances, rubbed shoulders with the Obamas and the Sarkozys, and become a fashion icon who is worth a reported £1 billion to the economy.
Photo: PAAnd yet, I'll admit, this time last year I wasn't a fan. It wasn't that I disliked Kate, I just didn't think she was particularly interesting, let alone aspirational. Last year I wrote that I couldn't imagine that she would ever become as popular as Diana - and doubted that she would share her late mother-in-law's ability to connect with the general public. I wrote that 'Waity-Katie's' lifestyle choices "single-handedly set feminism back 30 years" and that I'd seen "more aspirational Disney princesses." How wrong I was. A lot can change in a year - and it has taken just 12 short months for Catherine to revitalise the royal family. Of course, she hasn't done it singlehandedly. William has helped, so has Zara. And Prince Harry becomes more popular by the hour. But it's Kate - a middle class girl from Berkshire - who has really made a difference. It wasn't so long ago that the Royal Family seemed embarrassingly out of touch, and a series of embarrassing gaffes didn't help their public image. Prince Phillip could usually be relied upon to liven up public appearances with a startlingly ill-advised comment; Harry was the 'Playboy Prince'; the Duchess of York was accused of attempting to sell access to her ex-husband, Prince Andrew, who was himself embroiled in a series of scandals due to his links to the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, and his trade dealings with despotic regimes on behalf of the government. Even Diana, the 'People's Princess', became tabloid gossip fodder when she made the decision to talk publicly about her failed marriage and her battle with eating disorders. More recently, Zara Phillips's new husband Mike Tindall hit the headlines within weeks of their marriage, when he was spotted with a mystery blonde in a New Zealand bar. But there hasn't been so much as a whiff of scandal associated with Kate and William - and there's every indication that it's going to stay that way. Refreshing, eh? Not only that, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are something of a rarity: a high-profile couple who seem genuinely, and blissfully, in love. Much like the Obamas, they appear to have a healthy and mutually supportive relationship - and Kate radiates happiness and contentment. We're so used to women in the public eye complaining about the attention, fretting about their appearance or bemoaning their failed relationships or single status that we shouldn't underestimate quite how novel this is. Reality TV has made private lives public and, for the last decade, newspapers and magazines have traded on exclusive celebrity interviews where everyone from reality TV stars to Hollywood A-Listers divulge the most intimate details of their lives. Of course, Royal protocol bars Kate from spilling the beans about the realities of her life and her relationship. Her gradual emergence into public life indicates that she's been prepared for her new role in a way that Diana never was, so the chances of her opening up on a televised documentary are less than zero. But the fact that no one else has leaked any inside information to the press indicates that Kate inspires an unusual degree of loyalty among her friends or has no skeletons in her closet - probably both. On the subject of closets, Kate's wardrobe is also hard to fault. She's obviously obliged to play it safe, sartorially speaking, so I try to overlook the nude tights, beige heels and matronly frock coats that she so often brings out for public engagements. Most of the time, Kate expertly pulls off the designer-mixed-with-high-street look that's typical of so many British women of her age - and she does it without looking over-styled. In fact, her wardrobe brings to mind that of another senior royal - and it's not who you might think. While Diana liked nothing more than a statement dress, Kate's style is more understated. She favours classic tailoring, demure hemlines and a classic court shoe. Which makes you wonder if she's been taking style advice from the Queen herself, who is always immaculately dressed and knows how to wear her clothes, rather than letting them wear her. And that's not where the similarity ends. In public, Kate - like the Queen - is the model of decorum. She never puts a foot wrong, is gracious and composed - and she's only been doing this since last April, while the Queen has been doing it for for 60 years. Before she married William, Kate seemed curiously out of step with today's career-focused women. But that's beginning to change: she's already the patron of four charities and is expected to take on more commitments in the coming year as she carves out a role for herself within the Royal Family. She's proved that she's capable, competent and is becoming increasingly confident. By Ceri Roberts
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