Every outing is a minefield, every greeting a potential made-for-YouTube train wreck. Take the woman who turned up last month to Kate and William’s whistle-stop appearance in Belfast: she drew a laugh with her vain attempt to get the couple to don silly caps labelled “bride” and “groom.” But her too personal remark about Kate’s recent weight loss—well, that wasn’t so amusing. “It’s all part of the wedding plan,” the bride-to-be replied gamely, stifling any urge to tell the woman to mind her own body mass.
Being Kate Middleton is not easy. The former art history student has made four public appearances in official capacity since Prince William proposed, each time drawing a frenzy of scrutiny. Her hemlines have been measured, her posture checked, her smiles reviewed for width and authenticity. If, heaven forbid, she were to utter an offensive word in public, it would travel the globe at warp factor nine.
Yet unlike Diana, who appeared stricken in her first official outings, Kate moves naturally under the public gaze. “She’s not put a foot wrong,” says Claudia Joseph, the author of Kate: Princess in Waiting. Her poise suggests not only intuition but studiousness, says Joseph, as “Kate the commoner” has reportedly undergone rigorous training over the past five months in the myriad anachronisms known as royal protocol. An archaic requirement to stay two steps behind the prince can be trying: she’s as great an attraction as her fiancé, and gets held up by admirers while William is forging down greeting lines.
To etiquette expert Judi James, Kate’s deportment contrasts pleasingly with other royals’ fidgety stiffness—a manner born of military training that in relaxed moments dissolves into “subliminal anxiety rituals.” “Prince Charles has always played with his cuffs, shoved a hand into his pocket, patted his pockets and used a facial grimace when he’s out in public,” James laments. “Camilla does a little thumb-fiddle and now it’s obvious that William is performing an almost constant hand-wring. Kate, on her last outings, doesn’t appear to be following suit.”
Indeed, she shows the ease of her comparatively advanced age—her chief advantage over the female consorts who have gone before her. At 29, she is the oldest royal bride in British history, notes Lisa Grotts, who will cover the wedding for the Huffington Post. She has also been dating William for seven years, resulting in a palpable comfort level between the two. “They’ve lived together as flatmates and now they live together as a couple,” Grotts says. “So there’s a confidence there on Kate’s part that was not evident with her late mother-in-law. I think it will serve her well.”
That ease was on display recently during appearances in Scotland, Northern Ireland and England’s north. Surrounded by the usual local functionaries with ill-fitting suits and bad haircuts, William and Kate moved like long-time dance partners, pausing for photos yet never lingering too long. In Anglesey, Wales, where they’ve rented a house, Kate delighted residents by joining in the singing of Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, the Welsh anthem, in native tongue. While christening a lifeboat, she not-so-accidentally splashed champagne on her betrothed. Hoots of laughter rose from the assembled crowd.
Though simple, these sorts of gestures play well under the frame-by-frame scrutiny the Windsors must endure on a daily basis. Already, they’ve raised hope that Kate presages a royal family that is, in the words of author Joseph, “more relevant and in touch with the people of Britain.” “She will be the first wife of a British monarch to have graduated from university, displayed her lingerie on a catwalk and lived with a future king out of wedlock,” says Joseph. “I think she’s very much a woman of the 21st century.”