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Catherine, Princess of Wales

The royal journey of Catherine, Princess of Wales

From relative commoner to royalty, Catherine, Princess of Wales has captured the hearts of millions around the world. Here is the remarkable journey of grace, resilience, and philanthropy that has shaped the life of the beloved princess.

Image: Isaaack /

She may officially be Catherine, Princess of Wales, but many – even those in the media – still fondly refer to the future queen simply as Kate Middleton. It’s a testament to how intensely popular she became when she was still years away from being one of the highest-ranking royals.

It’s also perhaps a reflection of how, before catching the eye of Prince William, she lived a relatively ordinary life, with a relatively ordinary background. But while they may be commoners compared to the royals, the Middletons are a formidable dynasty in their own right.

Her father, Michael, is descended from generations of prominent figures whose lineage can be traced back to at least the Tudor era, and who have long had aristocratic ties. In fact, his own father – Catherine’s grandfather – forged a friendship with Prince Philip back in 1962 when he served as co-pilot alongside the prince during an extended tour of South America.

Meanwhile, Catherine’s mother, Carole, who hails from a working-class background, gained huge success in the 1980s by founding her own party supplies business from her kitchen table. As a result, the Middletons were able to send Catherine to highly prestigious schools, including the famous Marlborough College in Wiltshire.

From here, Catherine studied for her degree in art history at the University of St Andrew’s – but only after a very active gap year which saw her working as a deckhand at a marina in Southampton, where, according to one skipper, she was up at dawn scrubbing boats and being ‘the general dogsbody’.

Catherine continued to show an appetite for hard work by taking a waitressing job while at St Andrew’s. Here, what was supposed to be an ordinary student experience, took on legendary proportions when she struck up a romance with fellow undergrad Prince William. The story of their budding relationship has become a part of royal lore, with the most mythologised episode being the charity fashion show where William was reportedly wowed by the sight of Catherine strutting down the catwalk in a see-through dress (costing £30 to make, the dress was later sold at auction for £78,000).

The courtship became the talk of the world, although the Middletons were understandably reluctant to spill the beans to the ravenous press hordes. ‘We are very amused at the thought of being in-laws to Prince William,’ her dad told reporters in 2003, ‘but I don’t think that is going to happen.’

He was almost proved right in 2007 when Catherine and William split up. ‘We were both very young, we were finding ourselves,’ William later explained. They reconciled soon after, and during a trip to Kenya in 2010, William proposed using the engagement ring which once belonged to his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales.

Their wedding at Westminster Abbey in 2011 was one of the biggest media events of the decade, with an estimated global viewership of around 162 million. Catherine officially became the Duchess of Cambridge at this point, and it wasn’t long before she had her first official royal engagement as Duchess: meeting Barack and Michelle Obama at Buckingham Palace during the US president and first lady’s official state visit to the UK.

Catherine’s first solo royal engagement came a little later that year, when she was unexpectedly asked to fill in for her father-in-law, the then-Prince Charles, at a London charity event. Catherine went down a storm with the VIP guests, receiving plaudits for her natural warmth and charm.

Another milestone came the following year when she gave her first official speech abroad. This was at a hospice in Malaysia, which was fitting given her work as patron of East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices back home. Charities and organisations which help children have always been close to Catherine’s heart – she is also the patron of the likes of the Evelina London Children’s Hospital and Action for Children, and she made waves in 2020 when she launched a major national survey on early development, named ‘5 Big Questions on the Under 5s’.

Bringing forth over half a million responses from parents, carers, and teachers, this was hailed for starting a new national conversation on how early development builds the foundations for a happier society, with one professor of neuroscience saying that Catherine’s work was ‘likely to expand and have a long-term impact on the field’.

Catherine has since launched the Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood to foster more research and collaboration in this field. She has also been highly active in other charitable areas, serving as patron for organisations as diverse as SportsAid and Action on Addiction, where her work destigmatising substance abuse and other forms of addiction has drawn comparisons with Diana’s work with HIV/AIDS patients.

She’s an equally vigorous cultural and sporting ambassador, serving as patron of everything from the National Portrait Gallery to the Rugby Football Union, and known for her love of sailing and photography. Needless to say, she’s also a fashion icon, with the phrase ‘Kate Effect’ describing how any halfway affordable outfits worn by her tend to sell out in shops around the world.

Created Princess of Wales in 2022, Catherine balances her numerous royal duties with being mother to Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis, and continues to be one of the most influential and talked-about royals of modern history.

In March 2024, Princess Catherine released a statement that she was undergoing preventative chemotherapy treatment for cancer. She and her husband said they were ‘extremely moved by the public’s warmth and support’ following the announcement.