William and Kate: Scenes From a Fairy Tale

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The Making of a Duchess

As royal-wedding fever spread across the world, Kate retreated into the cocoon of the royal estates. In January 2011, the Palace announced that Kate had left her part-time job at her parents' party business to "concentrate full-time on preparing to become a member of the royal family." Three decades earlier, Palace staff had assumed that Diana — who came from one of the country's oldest aristocratic families — could intuitively manage royal protocol and the anxiety of a dissected life, despite being just 20 years old. They couldn't have been more wrong: Diana suffered years of torment at the hands of the media before she learned to manipulate it. "The experience must have led the Palace to realize that a new bride in this very public role has to have care and training and a lot of backup," says Debrett's editor Kidd. "Catherine is of course from a very different background. This has sharpened everyone up a bit."

The eight-year courtship gave her a running start. Although she rarely appeared publicly in the lead-up to the wedding — she poured champagne on a new lifeboat in Wales in February and flipped pancakes in Belfast in March, both times alongside William — she seemed at ease. Crowds responded at every turn, partly because of Kate's million-dollar smile and willingness to engage with them, but also because of their own desire to be swept up in the romance.

On April 11, during her final public outing before the wedding, she and the Prince traveled to Darwen in Lancashire, a village 180 miles northwest of London, to open a school. As their motorcade pulled up, 2,000 well-wishers clapped and cheered despite the pouring rain.Kate emerged from her car wearing a navy-blue skirt suit and three-inch heels — and sheltering under a massive umbrella, which she carried herself. "She's just beautiful," Marion Riley, 57, told Time after seeing Kate for just a few moments. "There could have been more guards around her, but she didn't want them. She went to shake hands, and she waved at everybody." Margaret Worthington, 71, seemed even more moved. "She really does appear a nice person," she said. "It brings tears to my eyes."

The next time the world would see Kate, she'd be wearing white.

On April 29, the wedding unfolded like a red carpet, rolling out smoothly from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace and into the living rooms of viewers around the world. All the Queen's horses (well, 187 of them) and all the Queen's men (including 5,000 police officers) took their positions, and a million spectators flooded London's parks and sidewalks. At precisely 10:51 a.m., Kate and her father departed the nearby Goring Hotel. She smiled throughout the seven-minute journey and maintained a serene expression as she stepped onto the carpet outside the cathedral. Trailed by a 9-ft. ivory train, her sister and six young attendants, she made her way toward William.

Anyone — even a future king — can feel small beneath the towering spires of Westminster. During Kate's three-minute walk down the aisle, a nervous and slightly fidgety William bit his lip. "Wait till you see her," his best man, Prince Harry, told him. Kate arrived, and despite the grand setting, the gaze of onlookers and years of expectation, William leaned into her and whispered, "You look beautiful." It took lip-readers to deduce that for the press, but anyone watching got the message.

"That blend of formality with a relaxed atmosphere is something very special," says Richard Fitzwilliams, royal watcher and the former editor of International Who's Who. "People's spirits were uplifted with the knowledge that they seemed so at ease with one another and that the succession is now so secure." For months the royals had stressed the human dimensions of the wedding, including the fact that the father of the bride would contribute toward its costs. Because William is second in line to the throne, behind Prince Charles, the wedding was not an official state occasion, which gave William and Kate the freedom to make it their own. They didn't face pressure to invite heads of state like President Obama. Instead, they filled the aisles with schoolmates, representatives of their charities, and celebrities, notably Elton John, who had comforted Princess Diana during trying times. After their balcony kisses in the afternoon, they drove away from the palace in an Aston Martin decorated with balloons and a license plate that read JU5T WED. That evening they hosted an intimate after party inside Buckingham Palace. Around 2:30 a.m. the DJ played the official last dance: "She Loves You" by the Beatles.

Beyond Westminster Abbey

The Duchess of Cambridge walked down the aisle a commoner and glided back up a royal. She looked calm, even joyful. If she was quivering beneath all the lace and flowers, we may never know. In the many public appearances she and William have made in the year since their wedding — mingling with Michelle and Barack Obama at Buckingham Palace during a state visit, painting at an inner-city arts school in Los Angeles — they appear stronger together than they do apart. But Kate — she of the perfectly coiffed hair and immaculately tailored gowns — hasn't yet given the world an opportunity to see the soul beneath the polished exterior. "I wouldn't say she's establishing an identity of her own just yet, because we haven't seen enough of her on her own," says writer Robert Jobson. "It's a conscious decision to present William and Kate as a team and a couple."

Occasionally there are glimpses of a rich inner life. In January the duchess announced the four charities she will support as an official patron. Two of them — the National Portrait Gallery in London and the Art Room, a charity that uses art as therapy for children — reflect a lifelong interest in the arts. Her choice of East Anglia's Children's Hospices, based in Cambridge, hints at her desire to make her role as Duchess of Cambridge more than titular. And, according to a Palace source, working with Action on Addiction, which helps children and families coping with substance abuse, reflects her observation that addiction is "at the heart of many of the social issues she was looking at." On Feb. 8, while William was deployed in the Falkland Islands, the duchess made her first solo appearance, at the Lucien Freud exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. On Valentine's Day she visited a Ronald McDonald house in Liverpool, and sampled smoothies at a non-alcoholic bar called The Brink. At each event cameras flashed, the duchess smiled, and crowds cheered a woman standing on her own.

She does have support, of course. During William's six-week tour of duty, which ended March 21, Kate grew even closer to the royal family. On March 1 she looked delighted as she accompanied the Queen and the Duchess of Cornwall on a tour of Fortnum & Mason, a luxury department store in London with a celebrated teashop. It was the trio's first official joint engagement; they wore varying shades of blue in a show of togetherness. A week later Kate accompanied the Queen and Prince Philip to Leicester, where they watched a student fashion show at De Montfort University. Kate frequently whispered into the Queen's ear, underscoring the comfort and ease of their relationship. "The Queen has made a lot of time for the duchess," a senior royal aide told CNN at the end of April. "[Kate] gets on very well with the Queen. They have a warm relationship as was evidenced in Leicester."

Even if she flourished with her husband away, the true magic of Will and Kate may lie in the "and." Prince Charles and Diana seemed to recoil from one another in their engagement photographs, and throughout their marriage he resented that she overshadowed him. William, however, openly admires his wife and values her influence. As he said not long before their wedding, "She's got a really naughty sense of humor, which kind of helps me because I've got a really dry sense of humor." His public speaking engagements now seem less wooden, as if her glamour rubs off on him, giving him the confidence to speak straight from the heart. "She knows her task is to support him," says Fitzwilliams. "It isn't a competitive relationship. When they are together you see how strong the teamwork actually is."

It's an exportable commodity and one that will help them preserve the link between Crown and Commonwealth — the band of 54 independent countries that once made up the British Empire, 16 of which retain Queen Elizabeth as symbolic head of state. Polling data from May 2011 showed that 55% of Australians age 14 or older prefer to keep the monarchy — the highest level since 1991. In August, Canada quietly restored the "royal" prefix to the Royal Canadian Armed Forces.

More than any other event, the couple's 11-day tour of Canada and the U.S. in the summer of 2011 cemented faith in their ambassadorial abilities. Only 18 international journalists followed Queen Elizabeth II on her Canadian tour in 2010. Nearly 300 followed the duke and duchess in 2011. "It was a real rejuvenation of the monarchy in Canada," says Christina Blizzard, a Canadian journalist who trailed them for her book Young Royals on Tour. "And the crowds weren't just made up of traditional monarchists, who one would assume are older white people." Locals praised their patience: The military timing of the tour mattered less to Kate than giving high-fives to children. William managed to win over crowds in Quebec City — a bastion of republicanism — by delivering a speech in French.

The defining moment, however, came in Calgary, when the duke and duchess met a 6-year-old cancer patient on an airport runway. Diamond Marshall, whose mother had passed away from cancer four years earlier, had written to the Children's Wish Foundation asking to meet "Princess Kate." Wearing a pink hairband across her bald head, she presented the duchess with flowers and a friendship bracelet before diving into her arms. Kate seemed delighted, and Diamond broke into tears. "Kate didn't make the mistake of bending over Diamond. She got down and talked to her on her level," Blizzard says. "There were some very cynical journalists on that runway, but there wasn't a dry eye in sight."

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