Catherine, Princess of Wales: From commoner to future queen

The former Kate Middleton is the daughter of businessman Michael and former air stewardess Carole Middleton. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON - The Princess of Wales has proved a model royal since joining Britain's most famous family, making poised public appearances while avoiding the harsh criticism doled out to her sister-in-law Meghan.

Catherine, who married the now heir to the throne Prince William in 2011, stepped up appearances as his grandmother Queen Elizabeth II retreated from the public eye.

The couple, both 40, played a prominent role during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic and have consistently been the most popular royals behind the late monarch in recent years.

She has balanced royal duties, which included a prominent role in Platinum Jubilee celebrations, with being a hands-on mum to her three children.

Catherine won plaudits for effortlessly comforting her youngest son Prince Louis when he became restless during the Platinum Jubilee Pageant earlier this year.

The former Kate Middleton is the daughter of businessman Michael and former air stewardess Carole Middleton.

She began dating William while studying history of art at the University of St Andrews in Scotland.

The couple have been together ever since - bar a brief breakup in 2007 that Catherine has said made her "a stronger person".

She worked briefly as a buyer at high-street fashion chain Jigsaw before her marriage at London's historic Westminster Abbey in 2011, where she wore a lace-sleeved gown by Alexander McQueen's Sarah Burton.

William's choice to marry a "commoner" after a live-in relationship sharply contrasted with his father, the now King Charles III, in his 1981 marriage to 20-year-old aristocrat Diana Spencer, when he was 12 years her senior.

Catherine has since given little away about her experiences in joining the royal family, unlike her sister-in-law Meghan, who married William's younger brother, Prince Harry, in 2018.

Harry and Meghan sensationally quit frontline royal duties and moved to North America in March 2020, then spoke out about life behind the palace walls.

Meghan, an American former television actress, told Oprah Winfrey in a March 2021 interview that she had a frosty reception, and catalogued her hounding by the tabloid press.

In the early days of her courtship, photographers tracked Catherine's every move, too, drawing parallels to the media treatment of William's mother, who died in 1997.

There were also reports that William's friends mocked her mother's former profession and that courtiers said Carole Middleton used insufficiently "posh" phrases.

William, however, has spoken of his warm relationship with his wife's parents.

Catherine v Meghan

(From left) Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, on July 10, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

Catherine gave birth to Prince George, who will be next-in-line to the throne after William, in 2013, followed by Princess Charlotte in 2015 and Prince Louis in 2018.

She has spoken about her struggles with severe morning sickness, saying in a podcast that she was "not the happiest of pregnant people".

Prince Harry was often photographed at events with his brother and Catherine, seeming to feel relaxed and warm in their company.

When Meghan appeared on the scene, the couples appeared to get on well, prompting predictions that the foursome would become the face of the modern monarchy.

But rumours of a rift began to spread soon after Meghan and Harry's 2018 showpiece wedding at St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle.

The Sun reported in November that year that Meghan had made Catherine cry at her daughter Charlotte's bridesmaid dress fitting.

In her bombshell Oprah interview, Meghan claimed the opposite was true but Catherine had apologised and sent her flowers.

She complained, however, that Buckingham Palace had never corrected the report.

Critics have accused Britain's unforgiving tabloids of targeting mixed-race Meghan in a way Catherine has not faced - a point not lost on Harry.

In November 2016, soon after their relationship became public, Harry said a "line had been crossed", accusing comment pieces of having "racial undertones".

In the aftermath of the couple's accusation of royal racism, much was made of the contrasting treatment meted out to the two women.

'Shop-window mannequin'

Late Queen Elizabeth, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and Catherine during the Diamond Jubilee in London on June 3, 2012. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Catherine has nonetheless provoked criticism from feminist commentators over her perfectly turned-out appearance, even just hours after giving birth.

To be sure, the fact she did not hide her post-partum bump was welcomed.

But British film star Keira Knightley said Catherine's well-groomed look put pressure on women to "look beautiful" and "hide our pain".

The novelist Hilary Mantel even accused Catherine of resembling a "shop-window mannequin with no personality of her own".

Catherine comes across as passionate when talking about some issues, however, particularly children's development and early influences.

"Our early childhoods shape our adult lives," she said.

In July 2021, she launched a Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood.

She is also known as a keen amateur photographer, and has taken her own official photographs of her family in their house and garden.

During the pandemic, William - who caught Covid-19 - and Catherine publicly backed the vaccine rollout. They spoke to medical staff and those hesitant about getting the jab. AFP

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