Pearson, Allison, Newsweek
Here comes the smart, sexy, grocery-buying, blessedly normal commoner who could save William--and the royal family.
When Catherine Elizabeth Middleton marries William Arthur Philip Louis Windsor, a prince of the royal blood, in Westminster Abbey on April 29, she will be scoring a number of firsts. Kate will be the first royal bride to have a university education, the first to live with her husband before marriage, the first to have a mother who used to be a flight attendant. Most impressively of all, Catherine will one day be the first queen of the realm to have fallen over at a roller disco in a pair of yellow hot pants.
Over eight long years as William's girlfriend, that roller-rink tumble is one of the very few times she put a foot wrong. Whatever snobs may say about the suitability of the match, far from lowering the tone of the monarchy, the middle-class girl who endured the longest job interview in history could well save it. "William loves Kate, but he's also very fond of the Middleton family and spends a lot of time with them," says one of their circle. The close-knit Middletons represent "the ordinary domestic happiness William would like to achieve in his own life. It's definitely something he aspires to--settled, contented domesticity." After the appalling, headline-grabbing dysfunction of his parents' marriage and divorce, it might also be just what the royal family needs to revive its popularity.
Kate was 19 years old when, in the fall of 2001, she turned bright red and scuttled shyly away after meeting a fellow student known as William Wales during their first term at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. They became friends, but it wasn't until eight months later--after William watched Kate take part in a fashion show, modeling a garment that can best be described as a spider's web crossed with a bikini--that the prince decided the sweet girl who shared her lecture notes with him was definitely hot. Fast-forward eight years, and Kate is two months away from her 29th birthday when, slender as a wand and smiling for England in a royal-blue Issa dress, she walks with William into an electrical storm of cameras at St. James's Palace to announce their engagement to the world.
Over the course of those eight years, the quiet, sporty brunette, famous at school for her record-breaking high jump and tenacious character, earned the humiliating nickname of Waity Katie. Why didn't the art-history graduate find herself a proper job, the British press demanded. Kate's failure to get a ring on her finger became a national joke. She was accused of being dull, even a doormat. But, as a friend of the couple points out, Kate couldn't risk accepting any job that made her look as if she was cashing in on her boyfriend's name. She was stuck between a hard place and a rock. And not just any rock--it was the priceless engagement ring that had belonged to William's adored late mother.
"Kate's bright, very artistic, and a hard worker," says the friend, and her academic record supports that claim: she got a top grade on her math A levels and wrote her master's dissertation on Lewis Carroll's photographic interpretation of childhood--a murky, sexually charged subject. "If she hadn't met William, she would have had a conventional career," this friend maintains, "but she's been driven by a desperate desire not to do anything that's tricky for him."
Here was a modern young woman, who, like Princess Diana, was known for her kind heart and love of dancing, wore [pounds sterling]40 polka-dot dresses from Topshop, and suddenly found herself auditioning for a role in a cantankerous ancient institution where people change their clothes five times a day and which still runs according to rules that would make Queen Victoria feel at ease. "The Windsors are a deeply weird bunch," says Jennie Bond, the veteran BBC court correspondent. As an unmarried woman, Kate has never been invited to the family Christmas, and her parents won't be presented to the queen until the wedding reception. …