Britain might not have been ready to ax the monarchy altogether, but the landslide that swept Tony Blair into the prime minister’s office in 1997, after 18 years of conservative rule, coincided with a low point for royal fortunes. Blair’s “New Labor” Party campaigned on modernizing government and soon transferred powers to assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Britons were warming to the idea that power and position should not stem solely from birthright and tradition. When the popular Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, died in 2002, the Guardian noted that “her death has revealed some significant divisions in the 21st century Britain she leaves behind. . . . The last time the Windsors unified the country was more than six decades ago: ancient history.”
In 2008, Charles became the longest king-in-waiting in British history. Although he worked hard to endear Camilla to the public, their image after their 2005 wedding — horses, Wellington boots and country tweeds — didn’t prompt widespread public excitement about the future.
The next generation, however, was faring better. Charles’s heir, William, was effortlessly popular, and interest in his love life was intense. Many watching the hordes following Middleton wondered about parallels to William’s mother, the “people’s princess,” who, after years of courting media attention, died while trying to flee paparazzi. His girlfriend radiated a star power similar to that of the late Diana. Would she hold up better in the glare of the spotlight?
So far she has, in part because of the road paved by Diana’s experience. During their engagement, William and Kate made only a few official appearances, choreographed to introduce the soon-to-be future queen in each of the United Kingdom’s four territories. Middleton has been slowly acclimated to life as a working royal: She did not appear at her first solo event until February and gave her first public speech only last month.
Those who wondered whether a commoner could handle royal life perhaps did not account for the strength that Kate’s solid family background had instilled. The tight-knit Middleton clan is also tight-lipped. The family does not comment on what is written about them, even when tabloids publish photos of Kate’s brother, James, in a maid costume or when her sister, Pippa, the bridesmaid who shot to worldwide fame, ruffled feathers while partying recently in Paris.