Happy Birthday to the Princess of Wales – from Waity Katie to pillar of the modern monarchy… and our next Queen

As she prepares to celebrate her 42nd birthday, Catherine, Princess of Wales, might very well take time to reflect on just how much life has changed in the past 12 months.

It had already been an extraordinary journey for Catherine Middleton, from an ordinary – albeit well-heeled – background to a life of royalty.

But the death of Queen Elizabeth II means that she has been asked to make another giant step forward – from supporting cast to starring role.

The Princess of Wales, 42, pictured leaving Nottingham Trent University in October

The Princess of Wales, 42, pictured leaving Nottingham Trent University in October

Kate Middleton during the historic Coronation service of King Charles and Queen Camilla at Westminster Abbey in May

Kate Middleton during the historic Coronation service of King Charles and Queen Camilla at Westminster Abbey in May

Catherine joined a group as part of her Shaping Us campaign on early childhood in September in Sittingbourne

Catherine joined a group as part of her Shaping Us campaign on early childhood in September in Sittingbourne

Catherine tries her hand at archery with the 3rd Upton Scouts in Slough while taking part in the post-Coronation Big Help Out. Prince William and Prince George watch on

Catherine tries her hand at archery with the 3rd Upton Scouts in Slough while taking part in the post-Coronation Big Help Out. Prince William and Prince George watch on

It can’t be easy to take on yet more responsibility, given the demands of a young family, but the transition to the role of queen-in-waiting has been smooth if not seamless.

One aspect of this has been her growing confidence with solo engagements.

It’s clear that William and Kate enjoy working together and the two have become a polished double act.

Kate, though, is now developing a public identity of her own.

Whereas in the past we might have seen her hanging back a little, fitting in where it seemed appropriate, these days Kate is comfortable leading the conversation or playing hostess to major events.

These include, for example, the Together At Christmas’ carol concerts at Westminster Abbey. Last year the princess led the royals in paying tribute to the late Queen .

But Kate is also taking the lead at a host of other, more low-key engagements, such as the visit to a ‘baby bank’, accompanied by her children.

There had been a long courtship before, in 2010, Kate and William announced they were engaged.

But, however privileged a position it might have seemed to most of us, life on the fringes as a royal girlfriend was never going to be a preparation for the job itself.

Indeed, there was a time when she was criticised for her patience and mocked as ‘waity katie’ and there was good reason to believe that her relationship with William would end in nothing but tears.

So it was understandable that Catherine some time to carve  to carve out her own royal role – the more so as there has been the turbulence of ‘Megxit’ and Harry’s departure to America to contend with.

Earlier this year, the Princess of Wales spoke about the struggle of learning to be a royal on a visit to a youth charity.

Away from the cameras, the Princess answered questions from pupils from St Katherine’s School in Bristol about her life, telling them she had never thought about becoming a royal until she fell in love with William.

The Princess of Wales on a visit to Fitzalan High School in Cardiff earlier this month

The Princess of Wales on a visit to Fitzalan High School in Cardiff earlier this month

The mother-of-three inflates an emergency life preserver issued to Royal Navy aircrews during her visit to Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton in September

The mother-of-three inflates an emergency life preserver issued to Royal Navy aircrews during her visit to Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton in September

Despite the mask, Catherine talks to Philippa Matthews, James Middleton, and Carole and Michael Middleton as they attend the 'Together at Christmas' carol service in December 2021

Despite the mask, Catherine talks to Philippa Matthews, James Middleton, and Carole and Michael Middleton as they attend the ‘Together at Christmas’ carol service in December 2021

Prince William and Kate with Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis at the Christmas Day service at St Mary Magdalene Church in December 2022 in Sandringham

Prince William and Kate with Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis at the Christmas Day service at St Mary Magdalene Church in December 2022 in Sandringham

The Princess of Wales takes part during a visit to Maidenhead Rugby Club, Berkshire in June

The Princess of Wales takes part during a visit to Maidenhead Rugby Club, Berkshire in June

Catherine pictured with Roger and Mirka Federer on the second day of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in July
Prince William and Catherine greet well-wishers from the balcony at Buckingham Palace on their wedding day on April 29, 2011

Prince William and Catherine greet well-wishers from the balcony at Buckingham Palace on their wedding day on April 29, 2011

Kate and William pictured on their graduation day

Kate and William pictured on their graduation day

Dame Kelly Holmes, who was at the event, said: ‘She said she had to learn. It’s a struggle to know that you can be accepted and fit in and you are still learning every day.

‘Doing public speaking isn’t a natural thing for lots of people is it? And she was saying she is still working that out but has to project. So you know again, she humanised everything. Not everyone is perfect.’

In the end, it is clear that her efforts have paid off and that the best is yet to come for Kate as she takes on her 40s.

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