By Max Foster, London (CNN) — The Duchess of Cambridge is one of the world’s biggest, if not the biggest, stars right now. Twelve months on from her marriage to Prince William, she is credited with reinvigorating the British monarchy and arguably helping secure its future.
It may look like Catherine, or Kate as she is popularly known, has breezed through her first year of official engagements, but the apparent ease belies a great deal of hard work and careful planning.
When a senior royal source earlier this month told CNN that Kate had “achieved her objectives,” it was no surprise that he used the language of boardrooms.
St James’s Palace, which looks after after the duke, duchess and Prince Harry, has deliberately taken a corporate approach to Kate’s role. Aides equate her to a chief executive and regard themselves as advisers — she calls the shots but they are there to help.
This has been the case since the outset. Every element of Kate’s wedding to Prince William last year — from the cake to the trees in the church — were either dreamed up by the couple or approved by them.Kate didn’t go into this naively. She had been William’s girlfriend for several years before they wed and she had already experienced the dark side of royalty. At one point, she had been forced to move out of London because of paparazzi aggression.
By the time William and Kate announced their engagement, they both felt she was ready for the spotlight. The prince made sure the palace gave Kate the support she needed and this year she got her own assistant private secretary, Rebecca Deacon.
The duchess has had the best available training, nearly all of it in-house. Palace staff provide day-to-day support but William has taken the lead, with backup from his father, Prince Charles, and grandmother, Queen Elizabeth.
The palace didn’t know how easily the duchess would take to official duties, but when William said she was ready, they trusted his judgment. As soon as the couple arrived in Canada for their first overseas tour last year, it was clear she had already mastered the walkabout.
She has since gone on to complete the full range of public duties expected of a working royal. CNN’s royal source confirms Kate has completed her “induction” as a “fully fledged member of the royal family.”
The palace is clearly thrilled. When the source talks about Kate’s character, it reads like a wish list for a successful CEO: “She is strong-willed. She knows her mind. She is professional. Not much fazes her. She is confident enough to handle it.”
Kate’s composure is also down to the fact that she feels comfortable with her appearance.
She buys most of her outfits herself in regular stores such as Zara, LK Bennett and Reiss. She occasionally visits upscale stores like Burberry and Amanda Wakeley but usually arrives unannounced. Often, the first a designer hears that the duchess has bought an outfit is when she appears in public wearing it.
Surprisingly, her outfits are often from previous seasons and the duchess isn’t averse to bringing out old favorites.
Kate isn’t a fashion icon, even if she does have a huge impact on sales, but she does have an uncanny ability to pick something that suits her and the occasion. She knows how to make herself feel comfortable.
Another element to the duchess’s apparent ease in front of huge crowds of press and public is down to coping mechanisms.
Gallery: Photographer’s year with the duchess
Once she steps out of the car at a public engagement, Kate usually homes in on someone in the welcoming party or crowd. While that person is delighted by being center of her attention, they are also helping her block out the frenzy around her.
It’s not just a superficial exercise. The duchess wants to make the most of her visits, learning what she can, and she can only do this by engaging directly with the people involved.
Royal photographers often complain that Kate shies away from their lenses hides or behind her hair. The royal source accepts “she doesn’t look at the cameras, but it’s not deliberate. She blocks out the media. she forgets they are there. She has commented several times after an event that she forgot the cameras were there.”
This may have helped with her first speech last month in the UK town of Ipswich, which was broadcast live globally via CNN. She had a potential audience of billions, but wasn’t told until afterwards. Pre-warning would have added to the pressure.
Although William had been coaching her via phone from the Falklands, an example of his hands-on role, her inaugural address was delivered in her own style: slow, controlled and measured.On occasion Kate has taken matters into her own hands. When a media frenzy erupted around her new puppy, the palace was inundated with queries about its name, but the duchess refused to let her new pet become a public relations issue.
Instead she wanted the name — Lupo — to come out naturally, which it eventually did during a conversation with students at a school in the city of Oxford.
The Lupo incident illustrates that the duchess clearly sees a line between her public and private lives. According to the palace source, Kate treasures the normality of her personal life.
“She goes to Starbucks, goes shopping and spends time with her family,” he said. “The palace takes an incredibly hard line on privacy so she can have a private life and go to Tesco [a superstore] and Starbucks. The princes get their normality from the [military] service.”
And her late mother-in-law, Princess Diana, read what the papers said about her — as does William — Kate does not keep a close eye on how the media is covering her, but is mindful of their interest.
The royal source says she is aware of her stardom and that it stems partly stems from Diana’s legacy. She takes the comparison to Diana as “a compliment” but is clearly doing things her own way.
So we’ve had the wedding, the full range of public appearances … what next? The source tells CNN: “The palace would never discuss, confirm or deny rumors about pregnancy until she is ready to announce it.”
The duchess has passed her first year of royalty with flying colors, at least in the palace’s view. William may not always feel comfortable in the limelight but, according to the source, his wife may have found her niche.
“For her, the public engagements are a joy. She enjoys it.”
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