Kate Middleton: A perfect princess?
Prince William's fiancee Kate Middleton appears to be a model princess -- a discreet and grounded woman with enough star power to win the hearts of the British public.
The 29-year-old has not put a foot wrong in her move from middle-class girl to future queen, no doubt delighting a palace worn down by the scandal of Charles and Diana's divorce and the antics of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson.
Her maternal great-great-grandfather was a miner in the coalfields of northeast England, but Kate's parents were self-made millionaires able to afford the private education that brought her into the prince's circle.
Her reserve has opened her up to criticism that she lacks substance, but the poise with which she has performed her first official duties at William's side has won her widespread praise.
Sporting a smile whatever the weather, Kate has gamely poured champagne over a lifeboat in Wales; worked the crowd on a trip to St Andrews, the Scottish university town where she met William; and flipped pancakes in Belfast.
Throughout, Kate has maintained her image as a normal girl, who just happened to have fallen in love with a prince.
She is pretty but not intimidatingly so, slim but sporty, and her style is high street rather than haute couture -- the white dress she wore in one engagement photo cost just 159 pounds (180 euros, 260 dollars).
Kate was born the eldest of three children on January 9, 1982 in Berkshire, west of London. In 1984, the family moved to Amman in Jordan for her father's job, returning home two and a half years later.
Her parents, Carole and Michael Middleton, met while Carole was an air hostess and he worked as ground crew. In 1987 they set up Party Pieces, a business selling party supplies which made their fortune.
Kate was sent to the elite Marlborough College, where she played tennis, hockey and netball for the school, before spending some time in Florence and Chile in a year off before university.
It was at St Andrews University in Scotland, where she arrived in September 2001 to study history of art, that Kate met William, who was on the same course. They became friends, and gradually fell in love.
During their entire relationship, Kate's halo has only slipped twice.
There was the now infamous university fashion show where she walked down the catwalk in a transparent dress, and then, during a brief split with William in 2007, when she was snapped in a nightclub wearing Playboy bunny ears.
But while her reserve may be music to the palace's ears after the emotional rollercoaster of Diana, Kate's behaviour has sparked accusations that she is little more than the pretty girl standing at William's side.
William's cousin, Zara Phillips, reportedly refers to her as "Little Miss Perfect", while the tabloids disparaged her low-key career and nicknamed her "Waity Katy", accusing her of simply waiting around for a ring on her finger.
After graduation Kate worked as an accessory buyer for a clothing chain before going to work for her parents, where she has kept a low profile.
Andrew Morton, the author who lifted the lid on Diana's unhappy marriage in his 1992 book "Diana: Her True Story", said he believed Kate had a lot to offer but her personality would only be revealed to the public over time.
He said: "She is a steady person, very much a conformist, with a good sense of humour, but I would predict you are going to see a more creative side to her emerge as the years go by. There is a lot more to Kate than meets the eye."
He acknowledged, however, that Kate's work experience does not compare well with what Princess Diana was doing at her age through her charity work, which included dealing with AIDS patients and visiting hospitals.
"I think Kate's challenge is to prove herself beyond wearing a nice frock," Morton told AFP.
© 2011 AFP