On her 30th birthday, Michael Sheather looks back on the royal transformation of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.
It's been a remarkable transformation but Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, has handled everything life has thrown at her with grace, style and more than a little élan since becoming romantically involved with her handsome prince.
From unknown student commoner to Royal fiancée and now wife of the future King, the former Kate Middleton, daughter of an airline hostess and a businessman, has successfully navigated more than 10 years of momentous personal change to emerge as a strong and increasingly vibrant figure on the world stage.
As she turns 30 on January 9, she faces a new decade in which her life will transform yet again, in which she will undoubtedly become a mother and in which there is even a possibility that her husband might assume the throne.
The extensive refurbishments of the couple's new apartments in Kensington Palace are nearing completion and they will move in later this year.
It will present the duchess with an opportunity to show the world even more of her personal sense of style, as well as an opportunity to decorate a nursery.
That's just one of the enormous changes coming for Catherine, so it's safe to say that her 30th birthday marks a new beginning for both herself and Prince William as they embark on their married life together.
Change has been Catherine's constant companion ever since she became involved with the handsome prince as a student at the University of St Andrews in Scotland back in 2002.
Then, she was a reserved and mostly shy teenager — good at sport and undeniably beautiful but demure and content to keep in the background.
Those attributes explained some of the reasons why Prince William found her so attractive; she shunned the limelight as avidly as he did, right from the start.
Throughout the early years of their relationship she remained unfailingly discreet — even during their temporary separation in 2007 when William suffered his now infamous "wobble" — and in fact projected an image of strength and independence as she toured London's nightclubs with her friends.
That self-assurance eventually brought William back to her.
She wasn't always so confident. As a teenager, and distinctly more curvy than she is today, she was unremarkable, with a rounder, girlish face and dressing in shabby jeans and t-shirts.
It was on her gap year studying art in Florence that both her beauty and her self-confidence blossomed.
That transformation continued through her first year at university and by the time William fell in love with her — during a student fashion parade in which she wore a see-through dress — she had completely changed her personal sense of style, morphing into an elegant and contemporary young woman, albeit with a Prada/Sloane Ranger emphasis.
And she may well need that self-assurance. For many, turning 30 is a time for reflection, often about where life is taking you, what the future will be like and perhaps even whether you are heading in the right direction.
Many of the questions that Catherine will ask herself are the same questions that the rest of the world is already asking: How will her first child affect her life? What will parenthood be like? What will it be like to bring up a child as part of the Royal family? And will she be as happy as the wife of the heir to the throne as she thought she would?
As 2012 is the Queen's Jubilee year, more eyes than ever will be on the royals, and it will be up to Catherine to make the role of Duchess of Cambridge her own.
She's already proved her individuality by popping out to the supermarket for groceries — only time will tell what her legacy will be.
Read more of this story in the January issue of The Australian Women's Weekly.
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