HRH The Duchess of Cambridge
Though it feels as if she was just born, Princess Charlotte is now celebrating her first birthday.
While details of how Prince William and Kate Middleton are marking the milestone for their daughter remain under wraps, we have been told they'll be celebrating it privately at their country home. And we're certain there will be plenty of excitement in their household as the little princess opens her first-ever batch of birthday presents.
Low-key celebrations have become something of a theme for the future king and queen, who are determined to give the little princess, and her brother, Prince George, as normal a childhood as possible. The little ones are blissfully unaware of their fate and that George will one day be king, with Charlotte taking the place of his spare heir.
William and Kate have made the decision to allow their children to enjoy an ordinary childhood for as long as they can, delaying the inevitable pressure both will one day have to face. Both George and Charlotte will be famous forever, with their own chapters in the history books.
On the occasion of Charlotte's first birthday, we look at some of the extraordinary ways William and Kate are ensuring that she and her big brother can live as normal a life as possible:
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1. The Middleton Effect: All Princess Diana wanted was for William to marry for love. Her own loveless marriage meant she knew exactly how important it would be to William's future happiness. And wasn't he lucky, meeting Kate days into starting university? It meant a search that can take a lifetime for some of us was relatively quick for William. And while William and Kate may have had their ups and downs, ultimately they were able to grow up together, so when Kate finally said "I Do", she knew precisely what she was signing up for. This is just what he needed as William is extremely determined and, according to those close to him, can be rather hotheaded at times. But he married someone he respects and listens to. So while Kate may come across as demure, with her ladylike mannerisms, the truth is, underneath that delicate exterior is a core of steel. It takes a certain kind of woman to be able to stand up to the future King of England and according to our insiders, there is no doubt she is the one who wears the pants in the relationship.
"William is quite single minded about what he wants, but at the same time the reason he married Kate was because he was prepared to listen to her and he takes her values seriously," says royal expert Tom Sykes. "He thinks her values are good and he thinks her vision of how the royal family can continue in the 21st century makes a lot of sense."
As a result the Middletons have had a huge impact on the future of The Firm, as the royal family is sometimes called. Of course, there's the obvious, they've added a different gene pool into the equation, mixing it up from the usual aristocratic sperm and egg options. But aside from the biology, the Middletons have shown William what a normal family looks like, and how successful it can be, a lesson at the core of William and Kate's unlikely plan for George and Charlotte's royal childhood.
2. Quitting London: Apartment 1A in Kensington Palace is by all accounts bloody gorgeous. After an extensive renovation, the old fashioned wallpaper has been scrapped and instead it is now a fresh and modern looking abode. But when William was given Anmer Hall as a 30th birthday present, it soon became clear that the 10-bedroom Norfolk property would give him and Kate something they desperately yearned for: privacy. The gift came as Kate's popularity was soaring. She had passed her princess training with flying colors, had perfect manners, was seemingly a great mother and devoted wife, and obviously intelligent to boot. Every media organization wanted a piece of her. If Kate even stepped foot outside of Kensington Palace, it became front-page news. As Katie Nichol, author of Kate: The Future Queen explains, living full time in London was intolerable, "They call Kensington Palace the pressure cooker. I think they feel very claustrophobic there. They feel watched all the time and they feel that they can't relax."
Life at Anmer Hall presented them with a completely different future. For a start, there is barely any press attention. It doesn't make economic sense for the London paparazzi to drive hours outside the city on the slim chance they might get a shot.
The hamlet surrounding the estate is inhabited by less than 100 people. There's not even a local pub for the press and fans to snoop around in. And all the residents are fiercely loyal to the royal family. There are no curtain twitchers watching their every move as they take George and Charlotte out for a walk in the fresh country air. No out-of-towners trying to peek at their house: William and Kate have altered their driveway so you can't see anything from the public road.
As a result, Anmer is their main home base and creates an idyllic bubble for George and Charlotte to grow up in. A protected world not dissimilar to the environment middle class Kate inhabited as a child. It's the kind of freedom George and Charlotte would never get to enjoy if they were brought up in the glare of central London life.
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3. The Anti-Downton Abbey, More Upstairs Than Downstairs: By some accounts, there were times during Prince Charles' childhood that he spent more time with his nannies than his parents. It was a traditional detached royal upbringing, something Diana was determined to rebel against. Diana knew that while William had been born with a huge responsibility to the crown, first and foremost he needed to be loved so he could become a dedicated older brother and hopefully, one day, an exemplary husband and father.
William has embraced the same philosophy. Spending time with Kate's close-knit family has helped that.
William and Kate are determined to be as present as possible to avoid giving George and Charlotte the kind of childhood Charles endured. Despite their unusual lifestyles of constant public appearances with ribbon cuttings and hand shaking, they want to keep their close-knit family unit just that. Carole and Michael Middleton will be on hand to help, as will Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles, when their schedules permits. But aside from that, they are determined to keep their staff small and intimate.
Explains Tom Sykes, "William and Kate load the dishwasher themselves. They do a lot of things, which frankly a lot of people in their position wouldn't do. And that is very much Kate's decision. If you want to be able to rule this country as a person who is in touch with the other people in this country you have to do some of things that they do. It's quite a smart move."
4. From Upper Class to Working Class: As an air ambulance pilot, William's hours can be long. At times he relies on copious amounts of caffeine to stay up throughout the night. George and Charlotte will grow up witnessing a dad who is willing to roll up his sleeves to get a job done, rather than just sit by the fire wearing fluffy slippers and doing the crossword puzzle in the newspaper, like the Earl of Grantham in Downton Abbey.
Taking an ordinary job was a conscious decision on William's part. It will ultimately teach the kids that this is what a normal family looks like. William does not have to work a regular job; he has chosen to. It's an important lesson for the third and fourth in line to the throne. And then, of course, there are the Middleton grandparents, who have made millions of dollars through their Party Pieces business.
5. Controlling the Press: William is not exactly a huge fan of the press. It's understandable considering how hounded his mother and his wife have been. We all love to read and look at pictures of the royal family and other celebrities. The resulting popularity keeps them relevant, but it can also be a huge burden.
Nowadays some celebrity children have become as famous as their celebrity parents, and William and Kate know they need to be able to control that because that will likely be George and Charlotte's destiny too. And, so, William and Kate have been very clever in their dealings. There is an understanding between them and the press: We give you a little, and you give us some space in return.
We saw it when George was born. We all watched as the new family left the Lindo Wing with the pictures beamed around the world. What other celebrity would ever hold a press conference on the steps of their maternity ward? And, in return, most of the media won't publish unauthorized pictures of the family. We know that (with the exception of Kate) this family has been born into this life, they have no choice. We need to try to give them space when they ask for it.
The unusual business relationship that William and Kate have with the press is something they are using to maximum effect to try and give George and Charlotte some space to grow up away from the limelight. They want their children to stay relevant, for the sake of the monarchy, but without ever being over exposed.
William and Kate are determined to bring up two very ordinary children, well-balanced kids who will one day lead very bizarre lives and rule the monarchy.
HRH Duchess of Cambridge
"Diana tried very much to give William and Harry normal lives. But they were always photographed, there was always someone lurking in the bushes," says Katie Nichol. "William really doesn't want that for George or his sibling so by being in the countryside they can just have a normal childhood, which is what Kate had and is what I think William loves about the Middletons. And that's something he'd loved to emulate for his own family."
It was just a few years ago that we were debating the point of a royal family, but now, thanks to Kate and her very modern husband, the future of George and Charlotte looks to be as stable as can be. And that's something they desperately want more than anything in the world because for these children to become exceptional, they need to first become ordinary.
(Originally published May 5, 2015, at 9 a.m. PT)