The West

Fairytale first year for royals
Prince William kisses his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, on the balcony of Buckingham Palace after the Royal Wedding in London. Picture: AP.

A few days after an estimated two billion people watched her multimillion-pound wedding to Prince William, Kate Middleton was back home in Anglesey, doing a bit of grocery shopping.

She was photographed wearing jeans and pushing a trolley through a supermarket carpark on the remote Welsh island.

The press were astonished.

If this was royalty, it was not of the kind Britain was used to.

William and Kate, it seemed, really were determined to do things their way.

The royal wedding was not just two posh kids getting married. It was a gear change for the royal family. The wedding showed Britons that William and Kate were willing to challenge pomp and protocol and let their personalities shine through.

They put trees in Westminster Abbey and culled the guest list of superfluous dignitaries in favour of friends and charity workers. Kate even did her own make-up.

In the year since they have continued to live, without servants, in their Anglesey cottage and William has continued his military career. Their honeymoon was even delayed because William, wanting to be treated like any other officer in the military, would take leave only when he was operationally able.

None of this makes them "normal" of course. They have a seriously cosy life with lovely palaces, estates and radically disproportionate privilege to inherit. But pared down, their story is just like anyone else's: they met at university, fell in love, moved in together, broke up for a while, missed each other, got back together, and about eight years after it all started, got married.

In Britain their "normality", youth and clear love for each other has been like someone hitting the restart button on the idea of monarchy, refreshing it for the new millennium.

William and Kate have made the royal family cool, chic and more relevant.

The last time such a gust of fresh air blew through Buckingham Palace, it ended in disaster and tragedy. Part of the William and Kate magic is that, this time, the fairytale seems to be real. Things are being done differently - following the model set by Australian-born Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, who was eased into royal life without setting a foot wrong.

So, over the past 12 months, tantalisingly, Britons have been drip-fed access to their future queen as she gets used to the job.

At first the Duchess of Cambridge was seen among gaggles of royals, then with William, then eventually without William and, finally, she gave her first solo public speech. It has been carefully stage-managed.

The process of choosing which charities she would officially champion was teased out in that painfully piecemeal way that Justin Bieber and Kylie Minogue now release albums.

First it was announced she would pick charities, then she visited a few, then we learnt she had picked four, then we found out which, then she visited them.

And every time she leaves the house there is CNN-style wall-to-wall coverage about what she is wearing.

Last year Harper's Bazaar named Kate "best dressed Brit", but she supposedly rejects the label of fashion icon. So do many in the fashion industry - especially when she is seen not only recycling her own dresses but wearing her mother's hand- me-downs.

Kate's taste varies from high fashion to high street but freelance fashion stylist Tom Sykes reckons the Duchess has got it about right, noting even the Queen recycles outfits.

"I can't fault Kate in her appearance," he said. "I swear she has a flock of birds that fly in through the bedroom window to do her hair in the morning like something from a Disney film. There is never a hair out of place, nor a blemish on her skin."

Her choice in wedding dress made Sarah Burton from Alexander McQueen an instant fashion icon, while simply wearing a frock from a retail chain will see it fly off racks across the country.

In July, when the couple toured Canada and the US, people of all ages lined the streets in the kind of hysteria normally the reserve of teenage girls.

It was suddenly clear to all back home in Britain just what a commodity the young couple are, not just for the royal family, but for Britain.

They were proud.

At one event - similar in spectacle to an American presidential campaign rally - the chap introducing them bellowed, "Please welcome, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge" as if he were summoning them into a boxing ring. The Queen, one imagines, would not have been amused. But then, that's the old monarchy, not the new. And that's the point.

The public would always have fallen in love with a beautiful young couple, but it helps that William seems to have become the man his mother would have wanted him to be.

Someone who can engage with everyday people, who will strip some of the stuffiness from the House of Windsor, who is as "normal" as possible considering the accident of birth that will one day put him on the throne.

Thanks to these young royals, the monarchy is not just an anachronism, something kept out of nostalgia, there is real excitement about its future. <div class="endnote">


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