From Katie to Princess Catherine

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Goodbye Waity Katie. Hello Princess Catherine. The transformation of Kate Middleton, which began in earnest with the announcement of her engagement to Prince William last fall, is nearly complete now that she and her prince have toured the country ahead of their April 29 wedding at Westminster Abbey.

The young woman whose natural ways and wholesome good looks charmed the nation when she hit the scene eight years ago as William's girlfriend is soon to be replaced by a new, glossier version, more chic and trained in royal ways.


Kate Middleton -- Image of article From Katie to Princess Catherine

In movie terms, Middleton, 29, is ready for her close-up, having endured a lengthy courtship with several breakups along the way. Through it all, she's shown herself to be a formidable woman who knows exactly what she's getting into, harboring respect but not awe for the royal family she will soon be joining - and perhaps revitalizing.

The former college girl is a future queen, unless death, divorce or revolution intervene. That gives her words, deeds - and even her fashion choices - a gravity they did not carry before. But she must continue to demonstrate patience and staying power, since it may well be several decades before William becomes king.

Much has been made of Middleton's "commoner" background. While it's true she does not come from an aristocratic family, she has been raised in affluence, with her successful parents able to send her to an exclusive boarding school and to the University of St Andrews in Scotland, where she met William when they were first-year students studying art history.

They were friends at first, part of a small group of upper crust chums, but became romantically involved soon afterward, spurred reportedly in part by William's presence in a front row seat for a charity fashion show at which Middleton wore an eye-catching see-through dress over matching black underwear.

They kept their romance largely under wraps until William let down his guard a bit during a 2004 ski vacation and was seen with his arm around Middleton as they waited to board a lift. They looked very comfortable together - and seemed to be in love.

One of the knocks against Middleton has been a whispering campaign that she set out intentionally to catch a prince, perhaps even choosing St Andrews because she knew William would be there.

Whether rooted in fact or just envy, those rumors have never been completely dispelled.

During the long years of courtship, Middleton shunned the press, never granting an interview in which she discussed her feelings for William or the royals. People may think they know her personality but for the most part they are basing their judgments on appearances and expectations, not on anything Middleton has shared with the public.

"She understands the importance of mystique," says British historian Andrew Roberts, who predicted that Middleton - like Queen Elizabeth II, will never give an extended, tell-all interview like the ones Princess Diana gave when her marriage was collapsing.

The only public hint of Middleton's feelings came the day last November when the engagement was announced. She and William met briefly with the press and she told reporters she was somewhat intimidated about joining the royal family in such a prominent role.

"It's quite a daunting prospect but hopefully I'll take it in my stride," she said as television cameras whirred. "But William's a great teacher so hopefully he'll be able to help me along the way."

In the short appearance, Middleton also denied persistent reports that she had kept a poster of Prince William on her wall when she was growing up and spoke about the late Princess Diana in glowing terms.

Since then, she has made a series of appearances with William and has seemed to thrive on having contact with the British public, even as she does seemingly mundane tasks like lowering a flag to start a foot race.

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