Analysis

Grading Kate Middleton's first year as a royal

The Duchess of Cambridge celebrated her one-year anniversary with husband Prince William over the weekend, and critics are raving about her royal debut

On Sunday, Prince William and his wife, Catherine Middleton, celebrated their first anniversary as a regal couple. In the year since their controversially lavish wedding, royal-watchers have been scrutinizing "commoner" Kate to see if she can pull off her high-profile gig more than 30 years after William's mother, the late Princess Diana, charmed the public with her own debut. Critics have been more than charitable. Here, a sampling of their enthusiastic impressions:

1. Kate is saving the monarchyRecent decades have seen the popularity of Britain's monarchy plummet, says Autumn Brewington at The Washington Post. A spate of divorce scandals, the modernization of the government, and economic turmoil are all factors that have soured Britons' on the royal family — until Kate came along and defied the country's expectations. Presenting a "princess-perfect" image and making strategic public appearances, she has managed to make a legion of Brits fall back in love with the monarchy. "The House of Windsor is in good hands."

2. She's outpacing Diana's debutFollowing her marriage to Prince Charles in 1981, Princess Diana was "ill-prepared for the frenzy that awaited her," says Rachel Elbaum at MSNBC. She began making public appearances immediately, and quickly became pregnant with William, complicating her adjustment to the public eye. William and Kate, on the other hand, haven't rushed into starting a family, and Kate didn't make her poised, impressive podium debut until 11 months after the wedding. "Catherine exudes confidence and Diana, at the age of 20, didn't know what confidence was."  

3. She's refreshingly accessible...When Kate's fashion choices make headlines, it's not because her clothing costs absurd amounts; she actually shops at relatively affordable stores like Zara and Reiss, and she often wears outfits from previous seasons, says Max Foster at CNN. Bolstering her down-to-earth persona, she does her grocery shopping at superstore Tesco and waits in line at Starbucks. When the media went into a frenzy over the naming of her new puppy, Kate casually revealed her new dog's moniker — Lupo — during a conversation with Oxford students, instead of turning the name reveal into a strained P.R. op. She has mastered the balance between a public and private life. 

4. ...And perfectly restrainedRather than praise Kate's accomplishments to date, says Victoria Mather at The Daily Beast, it may be more fitting to praise what she didn't do. She did not upstage her husband, the queen, or stepmother-in-law — even though the media may be more fascinated by her than by those three combined. She has developed a "cloak of invisibility" that has helped her lead a relatively normal life. "She's the girl next door, but she's our girl next door."

5. She's a full-fledged royalA true measure of Kate's success in her first year is how warmly she has been embraced by the royal family, says Foster. She has developed a close relationship with her father-in-law, Prince Charles, with whom she often attends the opera and visits art galleries. She also gets on well with the queen. The two have been seen spending a lot of time together. She has already begun "shaping her own identity within the royal family."

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