Despite her marriage before millions of viewers, Kate Middleton is still somewhat of a mystery, say royal-watchers.
That's because, in the words of the Buckingham Palace press office, Middleton has been until recently "a private individual." She has kept very much to herself.
Middleton was born in January 1982, making her 5½ months older than Prince William. She is the oldest of three children. Her parents, Michael and Carole, are entrepreneurs who in 1987 started a company called Party Pieces, which sells party supplies. The company, one of the major suppliers of party paraphernalia in the U.K., has made her parents rich.
She met William at St. Andrews University in Scotland in 2001, when they were both students there. Their relationship developed soon after, and she has been photographed with the prince on many occasions.
Though she had no official status until her engagement, by the latter part of the 2000s their relationship was obvious to all. She even attended some family weddings without William when his duties kept him away.
She has, however, always been discreet and has never courted the media.
Because their relationship developed before the advent of social media, she has managed to avoid the Facebook phenomenon.
And because she has been dating William since university, she does not appear to have much of a past, either.
"We probably don't know any more about her than we did about Lady Diana Spencer when she got engaged to Prince Charles," said Joe Little, managing editor of the London-based Majesty magazine, after the royal engagement was announced in November.
"We will be on a steep learning curve."
Marriage to a commoner has become the norm among the latest generation of European royals. In recent years, the heirs to the thrones of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain have all married outside the rarefied ranks of royalty. So Middleton's middle-class background is not an issue.
Part of the reason we don't know much about Middleton is that she became involved with William at a young age and has never had a career of her own.
The long courtship may have prevented her from having a career, said Regine Salens, the Brusselsbased editor of Noblesse et Royautés, an authoritative blog on the activities of European royalty.
But the courtship has served Middleton well in other ways. For one thing, it allowed her to learn to deal with media attention. At that, she appears to have been successful.
It also allowed her and William to be sure of their feelings for each other, and it allowed palace officials to evaluate her both as a potential royal wife and as a future queen.
Lurking in the back of palace officials' minds, of course, is the failure of the marriages of the Queen's three eldest children. Palace officials may have in fact encouraged the long courtship.
After the failure of his siblings' marriages, Prince Edward, the Queen and Prince Philip's youngest son, dated his future wife, Sophie Rhys-Jones, for five years before marrying her in 1999.
As a high-profile royal spouse, Middleton's role will be to assist her husband in his job.
That doesn't mean blending into the woodwork: Prince Philip is no shrinking violet, and no one can argue he has not been doing his fair share of the workload since the Queen came to the throne in 1952.
Each successful royal consort adapts the job to his or her own personality and causes.
"I don't think there exists any precise set of criteria that permit anyone to say whether a particular young woman will or will not make for a good princess," says Salens. "But what seems to me to be absolutely essential is that she and the prince have a strong relationship as a couple. Any monarch must be able to count on his family and in particular his wife.
"Beyond that, the ability to adapt easily to different situations, to speak several languages, and to relate well to people will be valuable assets."
The comparisons to William's mother, Diana, will be inevitable. It probably helps that, with her dark mane, Kate is no Diana look-alike. It also helps that she is entering into matrimony at a much later age - and with a lot more maturity - than the late Princess of Wales. Diana was 19 when she was engaged, barely 20 when she married. Middleton is a decade older at 29.
However, Middleton will have to put Diana's ghost to rest - and quickly.
The best way for her to do that will be for her to develop her own style.
Middleton should try to be herself, says Little, and not copy what others have done in the past.
"It might be best if she did not read the newspapers," he adds.
As she moves from commoner to member of the Royal Family, Middleton's life will change.
On top of mastering the complex protocol, she will certainly begin involving herself with charities.
She will probably see less of her family and friends. She will travel.
It can all seem daunting. Marrying the heir to the throne is not just a personal commitment, but a lifetime career.
In the end, Middleton will be judged on two things: Can she make William happy? And how does she perform the official part of the job as a royal consort?
The first matter is intensely personal. Only William and Kate can know how well they fit together as a couple. Success in the second area depends largely on Middleton's personality.
The most successful female consorts have been able to create public personas that allowed them to do meaningful work. They were at ease in public, and happy to be on display. Diana, for example, used her power as a public figure to fight the stigma affecting AIDS victims and to work against landmines.
Middleton will need to begin developing that public persona - something she has not done until now.
© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette
Read more: http://www.montrealgazette.com/Kate+...#ixzz1KzVSzmA9