William and Kate: Scenes From a Fairy Tale

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On Nov. 16, 2010, just minutes after the announcement that Prince William would marry his longtime girlfriend Kate Middleton, British Prime Minister David Cameron delivered a statement of congratulations, helicopters circled Buckingham Palace, and news channels were looping footage of the young couple sharing intimate moments at a garden party. The nonstop chatter of royal watchers immediately followed, their discussions revolving around what Kate would wear down the aisle and whether that aislewould be in St. Paul's Cathedral, where William's parents, Prince Charles and Princess Diana, married 30 years earlier, or Westminster Abbey, which wouldn't raise the specter of his parents' drawn-out divorce.

Despite the glare of the media spotlight, 28-year-old Kate must have felt a degree of relief. On that day — after an eight-year courtship that had survived constant speculation, relentless pursuit by paparazzi, a high-profile breakup and an even higher-profile reconciliation — the royal family had finally made public what Kate had known or at least privately hoped for years: The future king really had found his queen.

With that single announcement the royal constellation added a new star. Kate pulled an entire nation into her orbit, bewitching royal supporters, everyday Joes, and girls too young to spell her name. The international curiosity stemmed partly from the walls the royal family had erected around her. William, no doubt, wanted to protect his would-be bride from the media intrusion that some say robbed him of his other great love, his mother. Even so, in the months leading up to the April 29 wedding, the media brought an ever-slimmer Kate into sharper focus — not merely as the future Mrs. William Windsor, but also as a commoner who had risen to the apex of British society and a style maven who had launched a thousand knockoff dresses along the way.

By most accounts the wedding showcased Britain at its best. In a spectacular show of pomp and pageantry, austere Britain seemed, for a few hours, anyway, to throw off concerns about the economy, the euro and civil unrest (though rooftop snipers were in position to ward off the threat of terrorism). Rich and poor gathered on the streets outside Westminster Abbey and along the regal thoroughfares leading to Buckingham Palace, hoping for a glimpse of the horse-drawn carriage carrying the newlyweds toward their future. But Prince William and Kate — dubbed Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, that morning — knew the spectacle afforded the public more than an afternoon of free entertainment and that it symbolized much more than the union of husband and wife. For the hundreds of millions of people around the world watching on TV and online, it was a reminder of monarchy's charm and unifying power. Yes, economic woe grips Britain. Public distrust of politicians is multiplying by the day. And millions of the royal subjects face a potentially less prosperous tomorrow. Yet in the year since their wedding, William and Kate have managed to burnish the Windsor family name. Whether visiting charities that work with homeless youth or walking the red carpet for the London premiere of War Horse, Mr. and Mrs. work as a team. "It's been a long while since Britons have had a young, good-looking couple to cheer about," says Robert Jobson, author of William and Kate: The Love Story. "It's certainly given the monarchy a younger, fresher feel — and a bit more relevance as a result."

The couple has managed to exhibit a common touch without sacrificing the mystique of royalty. While William, who turns 30 on June 21, pursues his military career as a search-and-rescue pilot with the Royal Air Force, they've continued to live in a four-bedroom farmhouse on the island of Anglesey in North Wales. They've chosen not to employ a chef, butler or valet, and Kate has declined ladies-in-waiting. In February 2012, a royal aide revealed that William would like to extend his military service beyondmid-2013, when his current three-year commitment ends. That would limit the couple's public duties and allow them to start a family in relative privacy. "The appearance of normality makes people of their age able to connect with them," says Debrett's Peerage and Baronetage editor Charles Kidd. "That will inevitably change when the Queen's reign ends and the Prince of Wales succeeds. These are precious years."

The public successes the duke and duchess have racked up aren't put down merely to luck or the skilled hands of their choreographers. They stem from Kate and William's obvious strength as a couple. Long before they contemplated living as husband and wife, they navigated a long, occasionally tumultuous courtship. William was born into the firm. Kate has had a long apprenticeship.

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