"She was very impressed by the fact that Catherine loved William for himself, not for his title, and this was a loving friendship and companionship," The Queen: Her Life author Andrew Morton told E! News in November. "William is someone who thinks things through, like his grandmother does, and he thought through this relationship and he didn't rush into it."
The queen was often doing what she thought was best in order to secure the monarchy's future after she was gone. And while the royal family gave her plenty of headaches—the harrowing headlines not slowing at all in what turned out to be the final years of her life—Kate kept pretty quiet throughout.
Now the Princess of Wales—the title previously held by her institutional-cage-rattling late mother-in-law Princess Diana—Kate is one step closer to being queen and has long since secured her position as the royal who made it known she was up for the job and has barely stepped wrong since.
"She's always carried out her role with the family very well," royal expert Jonathan Sacerdoti told E! News in the days after Kate's title change. "She's somebody that is immensely popular with the public. They absolutely love her."
"She's admirable," The Palace Papers and The Diana Chronicles author Tina Brown noted on Kara Swisher's Sway podcast last April. "She took 10 years before William married her. Kate looked at the situation and she said, 'I can do this. I will do this. I'm going to devote myself to it.' Essentially, it's kind of like the royal version of taking the veil."
That being said, Brown added, "I think she's found it constricting. I think sometimes she's found it very painful, actually, living in that. But she has decided that's what she's going to do, and she's doing it...Self-discipline isn't a very modern attribute, essentially, but she does have it and I admire her for it."
In announcing that William was succeeding him as Prince of Wales—a title historically bestowed on the eldest son of the reigning monarch—Charles said in an address broadcast Sept. 9, the day after the queen died, "With Catherine beside him, our new Prince and Princess of Wales will, I know, continue to inspire and lead our national conversations, helping to bring the marginal to the center ground where vital help can be given."
But first, the couple—married now for almost 12 years and together for the better part of 20—had a matriarch to mourn. And, due to yet another quirk of the royal rigmarole, how they comported themselves as the U.K. said goodbye to the woman who'd been on the throne for a record 70 years influenced national sentiment about the fate of the entire institution.
"Of all the incredible tributes that came out of the royal family, there wasn't one from the new Princess of Wales," The New Royals author Katie Nicholl, who's also written books about Kate and William, said on Vanity Fair's Dynasty podcast. "She has been completely silent in her mourning in all of this, and she's let her presence do the talking—and it's a very powerful presence."
Nicholl also observed that the attendance of Kate and William's two eldest children, Prince George, 9, and Princess Charlotte, 7, was a deliberate choice on the couple's part. (Too young to quite understand the significance of what was happening, Kate later said, 4-year-old Prince Louis remained at home.)
It sent out "such a powerful message about dynasty, about succession, about the security of the succession," Nicholl said, "and I don't believe that William and Kate for a moment would have made that decision lightly. Anyone with young children knows that, to take them to a funeral, is a big decision. But particularly to a funeral that the world, quite literally, is watching."
Though to one degree or another, the same could be said every time Kate leaves the palace gates.
While she and William were greeting well-wishers outside Cardiff Castle last June, a woman told the then-Duchess of Cambridge that she'll be "a brilliant Princess of Wales" one day, the exchange captured on video by an onlooker. Kate graciously thanked her, adding, as she gestured toward William, "I'm in good hands."
But, seemingly unconcerned with royal watchers who accuse her of not being particularly exciting, Kate has leaned into what's expected of her. And that's worked out perfectly so far.
"Kate has been successful because she understands the importance of being part of a team and she has developed the ability to glow and to stand out," historian Robert Lacey, who's worked as a consultant on The Crown, is quoted in Nicholl's The New Royals. "She gives out a message of supportiveness to her husband, her own family, and to the wider royal family. She seems likely to be a Princess of Wales who does not detract from her prince but instead forms a unit."
On a personal note, Kate shares the occasional relatable anecdote about parenting and her kids—most of them overheard in conversations with members of the public—and relishes talking to other moms about their experiences, early-childhood development being one of her favored causes as a senior royal. She rocks a tiara, but also re-wears a lot of her clothes, even the gowns. And the Prince and Princess of Wales' 2022 Christmas card featured her and William in jeans, with George, Charlotte and Louis sporting shorts.
When the photos are just of the children, it's fair to guess that their mum was behind the camera ("Everyone's like, 'Mummy, please stop taking photographs,'" she shared last year). Kate also plays piano—she accompanied singer Tom Walker during a Christmas service she hosted at Westminster Abbey in December 2021. And the athletic royal always looks delighted when her itinerary includes a stop at a sporting event or gives her an opportunity to pick up a field hockey stick, having starred on her school team.
After she was named Princess of Wales, a royal source said that Kate "appreciates the history associated with this role, but will understandably want to look to the future as she creates her own path." She and William, the source added, would "approach their roles in the modest and humble way they've approached their work previously."
The royals' de facto "never complain, never explain" motto has been tested in recent years, though, in the wake of Harry and Meghan moving to California 2020—and the demand that the family explain at least a little hasn't eased up since.
In fact, Kate's 41st birthday Jan. 9 may be but a blip this year in the wake of Prince Harry's revelations in his memoir Spare, which is out Jan. 10. And, judging by the details plucked out so far—William allegedly knocked Harry to the ground during an argument about Meghan Markle, Harry claimed Kate was livid when Meghan joked that she had "baby brain" a month after Louis was born—it comes packed with bombshells. (Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace have declined to comment on these allegations.)
But though the KP communications office is going to be busy for awhile, the Wales family will likely be doing what they did for Kate's 40th last year—celebrating quietly, likely at Adelaide Cottage in Windsor Home Park, where they've primarily lived since George, Charlotte and Louis started at nearby Lambrook School in Berkshire in September.
If not always both, one or the other parent is always around for school drop-offs and pickups, tea time and bed time, Kate and William having stressed their commitment to giving their brood a tightknit, normal-as-possible upbringing.
"I think the things that really resonate with me most is the simple things and I see that even now with my own children, is actually, life now is so busy, so distracting," Kate said in a rare interview on the Happy Mum, Happy Baby podcast in February 2020, "and actually sometimes the simple things like watching a fire on a really rainy day provides such enjoyment.
"I remember that from my childhood—doing the simple things, going for walks together—and that's really what I try to do with my children as well, because it totally strips away all the complications, all the pressures as a parent. And I think these experiences as well mean so much to children and the world that they're in, which is a real adventure, really, for them."
And at the end of the day, it's only Kate and William's turn to prepare for the lasting security of the entire monarchy now. No pressure.