Byline: Victoria Mather
She wowed the world at the wedding of the century, and now the Duchess of Cambridge is proving that she can handle the everyday with equal grace and style.
What a difference a year makes. Or, in the case of the Duchess of Cambridge, does not. Which is precisely why the first year of Catherine, the future queen of Great Britain, has been such a success. We know very little more about her now than we did when she walked down the aisle of Westminster Abbey on April 29, 2011, in that ravishing Alexander McQueen dress, which, by combining elegance, tradition, and not a hint of sex, knocked the spots off any royal bride in recent history. And left the sex to her sister Pippa Middleton's bottom.
We know that Catherine has lovely, tossy, shiny hair, but we knew that before, it's just lovelier and tossier. We know that she has a smile that could power the electricity grid of entire cities, but we knew that before, just now every girl's dream is to have porcelain veneers. We know that she has a fabulous figure, but not how fabulous until she alighted in Hollywood and made Nicole Kidman look fat. We know that we are supposed to call her Catherine, but to us she's still Kate.
What we have is a Kate who's great. Precisely for what she does not do. She does not upstage her balding Prince Charming. She does not upstage the queen or her stepmother-in-law, the Duchess of Cornwall. She always hangs back a little, still smiling, not limelight-hogging. At a visit to the London store Fortnum & Mason, the queen, in aqua and gold, looked as if she had been gift-wrapped; the Duchess of Cornwall in dark navy and white stripes, like a zebra; and then there was Kate in the background in a simple pale-blue tweed coat dress, those vital few steps behind saying, "I'm just the new girl." She did not even carry a handbag. She has no ladies-in-waiting, no stylist, just modest confidence. The confidence that comes from having a close, happy family of her own and a husband who loves her.
It is principally for these two reasons that Catherine Cambridge has perfected survival tactics of, first, the cloak of invisibility and, second, being Not Diana. The cloak of invisibility (she comes from the Harry Potter generation, after all) is a result of an agreement between Buckingham Palace and the British press not to reveal where William and Catherine's farmhouse cottage is on the Welsh island of Anglesey, nor to hound her going about her housewifely chores. There was one picture of her pushing a shopping cart in the local supermarket four days after the wedding. After that? Nothing--much helped by the informal collusion of the Welsh people. He is, after all, William of Wales. They go to the local cinema, but mostly it is DVDs, log fires, and television suppers. Prince Harry has been reported as saying it all seems a bit staid, but for William it is the calm before the storm that will be the rest of his official life as king. The watchword is "normal," as normal a life as is possible because it is only going to be short term. They can vanish into the normality of Kate's family home in Berkshire. Diana never had a normal family or home.
The triumph of being Not Diana is one that has been carefully, almost obsessively, orchestrated by Buckingham Palace and Prince William, who is no pushover. All concerned wanted Catherine to have the support and guidance that Diana did not. What was underestimated was the material with which they were working. The Princess of Wales was 19; the Duchess of Cambridge is 30, a mature, proper grown-up. She is also well educated, well rounded, and playful without being coy. Above all, she is there to enhance her husband, not diminish him. For her first speech at the Treehouse Children's Hospice in East Anglia, which she wrote herself, she began, in her pretty, low voice, to gracefully thank the charity for accepting her as their patron, then …